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Saturday, May 18, 2024 — Houston, TX

Rice, Houston communities come together to support victims of Turkey and Syria earthquakes

jennifer_liu_earthquake
Jennifer Liu / Thresher

By Maria Morkas     2/21/23 11:42pm

The Rice and local Houston communities are working  to fundraise, gather supplies and raise awareness to support victims of the devastating 7.8 and 6.2 magnitude earthquakes that hit Turkey and Syria earlier this month, with a current death toll surpassing 46,000.

Can Erdogan, an international student from Turkey and the president of the Rice Turkish Student Association, said he was working on homework when he first received the news.

“I called my mom — she didn’t answer. I called my dad, but he didn’t answer. I called my grandma, she didn’t answer, I called my uncle — no response. And then these no responses kept going, and I started to get a little anxious,” Erdogan, a Hanszen College senior, said. “After a few hours, I was prepared for the worst … Some of my friends lost their families, our house is in ruins — it’s wrecked right now. Just to be able to hear that the rest of my family [is safe], I think I’m the luckiest person alive. But not everybody’s as lucky as me.”



Brian Bishara, an international student from Damascus, Syria, said he knew he wanted to help even though his family wasn’t affected. 

“We know a lot of people here in the US who want to help and donate but want to donate to organizations within Syria, [not international organizations],” Bishara, a Lovett College sophomore, said. “I’m acting as a vessel for money to move from the US to Syria … I am able to collect donations here, and my family back home is sending it to different organizations so it’s being put to good use.”

According to Bishara, these organizations are providing local help and supplies to affected areas in Syria. Moving forward, Bishara said that people need to continue raising awareness about lack of access due to economic sanctions and donating to help Syria.

Bayzhan Mukatay, a Wiess College sophomore, helped organize a last-minute donation drive to collect supplies from Rice students, which were sent to the Houston Turkish consulate.

“I printed out posters and put them all over the Rice campus, letting people know that we were collecting supplies at Wiess Commons,” Mukatay said. “Within a day, we managed to collect about three large boxes of supplies.”

When Bayzhan arrived at the Turkish consulate, he said he saw numerous volunteers organizing and sorting the incoming supplies.

“They asked for more volunteers to help manage the workload,” Mukatay said. “I heard that other Rice students also drove and helped sort supplies, which was really heartwarming to see so many people unite.”

The Office of International Students and Scholars also held a drive to collect clothes, blankets and sleeping bags to donate to the Turkish consulate. Elmira Ganiyeva, the OISS manager and senior international adviser who is helping coordinate the drive, said Rice’s response echoes its culture.

“When we sent  an  OISS announcement, I didn’t expect students to bring in items, there was no expectation for the students to bring in something,” Ganiyeva said. “But we had students bring in cash, donations and clothes. I am so grateful to the students, staff, faculty and all the people who participated in this and supported it.”

The Middle Eastern and North African Student Association held a fundraiser on Feb. 17 to raise awareness and funds about the situations in Turkey and Syria. President of MENA SA Jana Alghamdi said she remembers being shocked when she first heard the news of the tragedy.

“As the Middle Eastern and North African [Student] Association here at Rice, we need to make sure to speak on this topic and try to help out as best as possible,” Alghamdi, a Will Rice College junior, wrote in an email to the Thresher. “Thus, we decided to do a fundraising event in which we would sell boba for $5 … and baklava for whatever price they were able to donate.”

Elif Dundar, a research coordinator at the Baylor College of Medicine, helped initiate a drive through the office of communications and community outreach. They are collecting coats, boots, sweaters, tents, sleeping bags and generators, among other equipment. Dundar said that they plan to donate the items to the Turkish Consulate General of Houston. 

“With so many families displaced amidst freezing temperatures, there has been a huge need for tents and blankets to provide short-term relief to the housing crisis,” Dundar said. “The drive started on Friday, and we have already seen an incredible outpouring of support just a few days in.”

The National Association of Christian Churches in Houston has also been collecting supplies, like canned foods, tools/equipment and generators to name a few, to aid those impacted by the earthquakes. 

Mukatay, who is originally from Kazakhstan, said that because Turkey is culturally, ethnically and religiously close to him, seeing this tragedy unfold was heart-wrenching.

“Amidst all this devastation, what gave me hope was the sheer number of volunteers from all over the world who came together to offer earthquake relief efforts,” Mukatay said.

Erdogan said the RTSA will be starting a virtual fundraiser to collect donations for well established non-profit organizations in the area.

“Right now, most of the rescue and the search and rescue operations are almost finished,” Erdogan said. “Now it’s time to really stay strong, rebuild the city and help the ones in need.

On Feb. 20, another 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit Turkey and Syria. According to Dundar, this adds to the urgent need for rescue efforts. 

“In the midst of harsh winter storms, families have urgently been seeking access to shelter, food and clean water for the last two weeks,” Dundar said. “The newest earthquake today has wreaked even more havoc on these traumatized regions. Incredible efforts have been underway to rescue people from the rubble and provide housing to displaced survivors. As the humanitarian response scales up, it is imperative we sustain this outpouring of global support to rebuild these regions together as a global team.”



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