Updated as of Feb. 22, 2023 at 5:03 p.m. to include video.
A 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck Turkey and Syria Feb. 20, exactly two weeks from when both countries faced a 7.8 magnitude earthquake at the beginning of the month. The death toll has now surpassed 40,000 people, with search and rescue efforts continuing every day.
For Elon professor of management Mustafa Akben, the earthquake has concerned him far from home. Akben is from Kahramanmaraş, Turkey, the epicenter of the first earthquake. More than 20 of his extended family members died and left Kahramanmaraş with nothing when their apartment collapsed.
Donations and aid have been pouring into both countries since the first earthquake hit, and one group at Elon University has found a way to raise donations and awareness to help families like Akben’s.
Elon’s Arabic Language Organization has been working to raise aid for Turkey and Syria earthquake relief funds. Shereen Elgamal, lecturer in Arabic at Elon University and adviser to the Arabic Language Organization, said it was the students who came up with the idea to bring awareness about this to the local community.
“Our empathy actually drew us into a conversation last week about how do we handle situations like this? How do we stay positive in face of such sadness? How do we stay proactive in case of such a depleting discouragement, calamity?” Elgamal said. "We decided that it is only hope — human beings live with hope. It is only that idea of persistence and taking action of some sort.”
The group worked with sophomore Miray Konar, an international student from Izmir, Turkey. Konar has been raising money since the earthquake hit and worked closely with the Arabic Language Organization to set up a donation table in Elon’s Moseley Center Feb. 17.
Konar’s goal for the first fundraising event was to raise $100, but the group ended up raising nearly $800. To her, any amount of donation was important.
“It is one of the biggest disasters of our country, and people should help each other, just like how we helped the Ukraine war, and now we have a deep disaster in Turkey,” Konar said.
The organization and Konar also connected with the Turkish communities in North Carolina to find ways to support earthquake victims, including Sancar Turkish Cultural and Community Center in Chapel Hill. This center provides educational, social services and events to increase an understanding of Turkey in the community.
Ismail Arslan, chairman for Sancar Turkish Cultural and Community Center, said that seeing people in North Carolina and surrounding communities donate to the natural disaster across the world reminds him of how much people are willing to give back during unfortunate times.
“This is a great thing. I mean, this is a great country that we live in,” Arslan said. “We try to share, we try to help each other whether it's 9/11, or if there is a terrorist attack, or gun violence or whatever, so we try to help each other. We like to give back whether it's the local community or international community.”
Arslan asks people who are interested in contributing donations to make sure they donate to official relief funds, which includes the American Turkish Association of North Carolina and Bridge to Turkiye.
As the groups encourage more donations for Turkey and Syria, Elgamal said this is just one way to help other countries and bring everyone together during a difficult time.
“This is our way of channeling this energy and this empathy and all of these emotions in a nice productive way, rather than sitting back and just contemplating how sad things are and how much loss is happening,” Elgamal said.