Turkiye_Man in chef jacket standing in front of food truck holding baklava
Photo: Tarek Satea/CARE

Earthquake in Türkiye: “Now we are the ones who need help”

When stepping inside the cool shade of the only stone building in a large tent camp in the southern Türkiye province of Hatay a delicious smell meets you. Hüsameddin, 38, stands next to a huge boiling bowl of vegetables watching his wife, Selen, 32, stirring the pot with a spoon that is bigger than herself. He adds a few spices while she stirs with her whole body and holds the lid for her. He is wearing a white chef’s jacket. On his sleeve is the logo of his Baklava business.

“Before the earthquake we had five shops and many employees. My grandfather and father already built their life with Baklava. It’s tradition. Now everything is lost,” says Hüsameddin while proudly showing his products on his phone and describing how he makes them. Baklava is a sweet pastry which sticks to the fingers due to the syrup inside. His face changes when he talks about Baklava. His eyes start glowing and he changes into his professional self. “Financially we were doing well. It was perfect. We were together as a very happy family. Now we have nothing and have to start from zero,” Hüsameddin continues. 

Turkiye_Lady in yellow skirt stirring huge pot of vegetables with huge spoon

Hüsameddin's wife, Selen Güler, 32, stirring a boiling pot of vegetables. Photo: Tarek Satea/CARE

The earthquake hits

It is cold and snowy on the 5th of February, the day before the earthquake. Hüsameddin’s four children are having a snowball fight. The heater is broken in the big bedroom so Hüsameddin and Selen sleep in the living room that night. “We were lucky. When the earthquake hit, the bedroom was the first to drop and collapse. It would have killed us,” says Hüsameddin. When the shaking begins, he starts yelling his children’s names. “I yelled it over and over again: Yusuf, Melek, Cemre, Mehmet. But we could not find our youngest son Yusuf and looked everywhere for him.” They find the seven-year-old curled up in his sister’s bed like he used to do when he was a baby.  

Turkiye_Little boy kicking a boy in front of tents

7-year-old Yusuf plays football in front of the tent city where his family now lives in the southern Türkish province, Hatay. Photo: Sarah Easter/CARE

No food or sleep 

When the family finally manages to escape their building, they are confronted with a nightmare. “Stones were dropping down everywhere. The cars were just moving by themselves. A solar panel fell on our neighbor and killed him. Everything was falling on people. We saw a lady under a collapsed building, screaming for help, but we could not help her,” remembers Selen and holds her husband’s hand tightly. Once it is safe, they drive to their farm a few miles away.

The family stays at least one month in a container with no lights, food, or furniture. “We could not sleep, because we were so afraid of the aftershocks that hit us again and again. Our children were so hungry, and it was very cold and snowy,” says Hüsameddin. Volunteers come and distributed some cookies and crackers for them. Before the earthquake, it was Hüsameddin and his family who prepared food for people in need. “We volunteered to help others, now we are the ones who need help.” 

Turkiye_Man in chef jacket with family holding drawings

His children show off the pictures they painted while celebrating Mother's Day in the tent city. Photo: Tarek Satea/CARE

They currently live in a tent camp. Bugs and insects crawl into their bed every night. During the day it is so hot inside, it is hard to even breathe. “Life became so difficult. Especially for the kids. There are no schools. Yusuf should be able to read by now, but he still can’t. Melek loves to draw, and I want to support her in becoming better, but I do not know how to,” says Hüsameddin and shows a picture she drew for Mother’s Day.

“We don’t want to continue living in tents, but the buildings are still collapsing and unstable. Nothing is left. CARE supported us with kitchen appliances, food, hygiene items and water bottles and we are very grateful for this, otherwise we would have nothing.” Hüsameddin and his family are also helping to distribute these items to their new neighbors and are cooking for them every day. He stands up often to take a look at the vegetables boiling in the background and stirs them with the big spoon. Still helping others in need while they themselves are affected and have faced tragedy. By now Hüsameddin has opened another small Baklava stand in a trailer. Starting all over and putting the pieces of his life back together.  

Turkiye_Family standing in front of food truck hugging

Hüsameddin and his family stand in front of his makeshift baklava shop located in the tent city. Photo: Tarek Satea/CARE

CARE and partners' response

With funding from the European Union, CARE is providing much-needed assistance to those affected by the earthquake. By distributing drinking water, food, hygiene kits, kitchen utensils, and latrines, as well as providing protection services, shelter, and safe access to sanitation, thousands of people have benefited across multiple provinces in Türkiye and Syria impacted by the earthquake.