BY TABITHA REEVES
Associate News Editor
In the early hours of Feb. 6, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Turkey and Syria, collapsing buildings and burying citizens under the rubble. The Turkish-American Student Association (TASA) jumped to action, organizing a donation drive amongst the university community in support of survivors.
When TASA publicized the drive, there were 12,000 reported casualties, already the greatest earthquake-induced death toll that the region has seen in over a century. Since then, the accounted-for deaths have risen to 35,000 civilians, and continue upward.
“Even though we are not [physically] affected, we are feeling deeply what our friends are going through because it’s a really devastating situation,” TASA secretary Ali Cicek said.
According to Cicek, one university student who stopped by the drive shared that he had lost his girlfriend and her family who live in Turkey. Since the student’s own family managed to make it out safely, he was planning to travel home as soon as possible to reunite with loved ones and provide support.
“There are still lots of people under the collapsed buildings, so we do not know what is going to be the death toll,” TASA president Yasemin Akcin said. “We don’t know how many people are going to be able to make it.”
Betul Celik, a TASA executive board member, explained that her family in Turkey was asleep when the tremors began. In the family’s escape from their home, Celik’s sister was caught under the debris, but later rescued. While her immediate family is now safe, close friends and relatives were lost in the disaster.
Many survivors of the earthquake are left without shelter, given the newfound loss of housing. In the middle of winter, they turn to shared tents or even cars, but some have neither.
University of Delaware Student Life sent out an email on Feb. 8 to share TASA’s donation drive with the whole student body. This was followed shortly thereafter by an email from President Assanis, expressing that his thoughts were with those who were suffering.
“Soon after the earthquake hit, UD’s Center for Global Programs and Services reached out to our affected international students and scholars to provide support and resources to help them cope with this tragedy,” the email stated.
Vina Titaley, assistant director of Special Programs and Student Engagement at the university’s Center for Global Programs and Services (CGPS), said that sending check-in emails to international student populations is CGPS protocol when major crises substantially impact their home country, like in this case with Turkish students.
Stephanie Ferrell, communications specialist at CGPS, emphasized the importance of reaching out to those whose home country has been greatly impacted. She pointed out that international students have all the challenges that domestic students face, as well as being a long way from home when bad things happen.
“Just in general, this is becoming more and more of an internationalized campus, which is wonderful and what we’re working towards,” Ferrell said. “And so I think part of that is just that sense of community among all of us and support, knowing that everybody’s got their own challenges and things that are going on in their lives that we may not be aware of.”
CGPS has also been working closely with TASA and assisting their donation drive efforts, according to Titaley.
“In support of that effort, we amplify their social media posts to get the word out,” Titaley said. “In terms of social media, we’ve paused all other kinds of posts to make sure that the TASA collection message gets amplified and gets more attention rather than get drowned out by other posts.”
According to Akcin, the drive received a substantial amount of donations from university faculty, as well as friends of the Turkish community. The office in the basement of Perkins where TASA is headquartered was filled with moving boxes containing relief items such as new or gently used clothing, medicine and baby products.
On Feb. 10, the donations were sent to the Turkish Embassy in Washington D.C., and then flown across the Atlantic to reach survivors.
Though TASA’s drive is over, there are still various ways university students can show support, such as monetary donations to Turkish Philanthropy Funds. Akcin explained that there are many fundraising links circulating right now, but that this one is legitimate, since it goes through the American-Turkish Association of Washington D.C.
According to Akcin, TASA’s next steps will be a fundraising event and to potentially plan memorials for those who lost their lives in the earthquake. Akcin emphasized that the university community will be informed by TASA of any future action, so that students have the opportunity to provide assistance and express solidarity.
“I think empathy does go a long way, and just helping to make all of our international community members feel welcome on campus and understanding that there’s a lot to manage when you’re living and studying in a different place,” Ferrell said.