International aid organizations and the local Turkish and Syrian communities have been rallying Ottawa residents help the millions of victims of the powerful earthquakes that devastated parts of Turkey and Syria in early February leaving more than 52,000 dead.
The Syrian Cultural Association and the Turkish Student Association of the University of Ottawa held fundraisers within days of the Feb. 6 earthquakes, collecting money as well as clothing, tents and other necessities.
Sami Shukri, of the Syrian Cultural Association, said there was a good turnout at the events, with many participants contributing.
Shukri has family in Syria affected by the magnitude 7.8 and 7.7 quakes that hit southern and central Turkey and northwest Syria. He said some people are going into their homes amid fears the buildings could collapse on them and that many are sleeping in cars if they’re fortunate enough to have one.
“A lot of our infrastructure — none of it has been prepared for such a powerful earthquake,” he said.
‘I just want everyone to not forget that what you’re seeing on the news — these are real people, that could be your family.’— Sami Shukri, Syrian Cultural Association
As of early March and amid ongoing aftershocks, nearly 46,000 deaths in Turkey and at least 6,700 in Syria had been confirmed. More than 20 million people have been affected by the quakes, which have left more than 1.5 million people without homes, according to the United Nations.
Rain Alkhalel, a design executive with the Syrian Cultural Association and a refugee from Syria, said she has family and friends whose lives have been upended by the earthquake.
“My country cannot handle any more hurt, and any more pain, and any more destruction,” she said. “I’m just praying and trying to do my best from afar. As you can imagine it still hurts that I can’t be there and help out. But I’m trying my best here.
“Everyone there is my family at the end of the day, so we’re just trying our best to make sure they get the help they need.”
The Syrian Cultural Association has held several fundraisers, raising thousands of dollars to support relief efforts.
“I just want everyone to not forget that what you’re seeing on the news — these are real people, that could be your family,” Shukri said. “I just wish people weren’t so desensitized to the horrible things going on in the world.”
In the days after the quake, the Turkish Embassy in Ottawa invited Ottawa residents to support aid agencies in responding to the disaster.
“Those who want to help the disaster victims within the scope of the earthquakes that occurred on Feb. 6, 2023 and caused great damage in Kahramanmaraş and the surrounding provinces can donate via the links below,” the embassy stated.
‘This is a crisis it’s going to go on for a long time. We celebrate the donations that have come in so far, but it’ll never be enough. We need to keep going. We need to keep helping.’— Marg Buchanan, senior manager of marketing and communications, Humanitarian Coalition
The Ottawa-based Humanitarian Coalition unites 12 Canadian aid organizations in responding to international disasters and coordinating fundraising.
Marg Buchanan, senior manager of marketing and communications for the coalition, said it’s easier to direct donors to the umbrella organization rather than deciding which of 12 agencies to support.
“As we see the images and we get the news, the disaster unfolds,” she said. “And you realize just how awful it is. It’s very scary, it’s very tragic.”
Buchanan said that there has been a surge of support from many people, including local businesses and individuals participating in fundraisers.
Within 10 days of the earthquake, the coalition had raised $9.5 million.
“This is a crisis it’s going to go on for a long time,” she said. “We celebrate the donations that have come in so far, but it’ll never be enough. We need to keep going. We need to keep helping.”
Anyone wishing to make a donation to support victims of the earthquake can do so at www.together.ca.