“It was overwhelming – I’d say the most horrific disaster zone I’ve been to in my seven years of doing this type of work,” SmartAID Australia coordinator Alethea Gold told The AJN last Thursday, upon returning to Sydney from a two-week visit to Hatay, in Turkey’s earthquake disaster zone.
“What I saw has driven me to help even more, and I’ll probably go back there again in July.”
SmartAID – an Israeli-based humanitarian charity specialising in providing high-tech equipment – has had a team on the ground in Hatay province since the February 6 quake that killed more than 55,000 people in southeastern Turkey and Syria, and displaced millions.
Back then, the Australian branch of SmartAID donated 19 pallets of essential supplies – transported there by air for free by DHL – including solar-powered lights, head lights and water purifiers.
Plus, MedEarth donated medical gear to SmartAID for use at Hatay Mustafa Kemal University’s field hospital, established by NATO.
In the last month, SmartAID provided another 10 pallets of supplies for that hospital, and Gold was there to see it delivered to the hospital’s manager, Dr Onur Koyuncu.
In the first 72 hours after the disaster, the field hospital treated 2500 injured people, and an average of 500 people are still being treated there each day.
Gold said even though both of Dr Koyuncu’s parents were killed in the earthquake, he kept working.
“He is an amazing human being, and so thankful for the aid that we were able to send him from Sydney,” Gold said.
New high-tech aid items SmartAID is providing to homeless people in the quake zone are “solar buddies”.
Produced in a Brisbane factory, they are solar-powered lights that have an in-built phone charger, a bucket, and a small solar-powered water purifier.
SmartAID also provided computers it purchased for use in 12 emergency “smart classrooms” being set up this week in Hatay province by Turkey’s Department of Education and the provincial council of Hatay.
Gold said those classrooms – including one which is a refitted bus – will provide a safe and well-resourced place for 16 and 17-year-old students who are currently living with their families in tent cities or in shipping containers, and have nowhere to study for, and do, their upcoming final exams.
“I met a 17-year-old girl living in a tent who will be using one of the smart classrooms, and she broke down in tears, as she does not even have any books … her goal is to pass her university entry exams.”
Gold met people who had not only lost their homes, but lost members of their families, and said the devastation from the quake is so widespread, it is likely to take another three to five years before enough new homes can be built to accommodate them.
“These people are remarkable – they have so little, yet they’d invite me into their tent, and offer me Turkish coffee.
“They are so grateful for any help we can provide.
“Australians are so generous, and the more donations that are made, the more that we can do for them.”
To make a donation to SmartAID Australia’s Turkey Earthquake Appeal, visit smartaid.org, click on donate, choose ‘Donate from Australia’, and then type ‘Turkey’ in the appropriate box.
Or to find out more, email email@example.com