Vural, 33, signals the helpers standing next to the truck filled to the rim with aid supplies, how many boxes they should lift into a wheelbarrow. Then he smiles at Layla who sits in front of him and directs her to the truck where she can pick up the CARE food basket and hygiene kit. He waves at the next person to his table and starts checking his sheet of paper. A colleague comes to take over the second shift of this distribution day in Hatay, Türkiye - the area worst hit by the devastating February earthquakes. But instead of taking a break, CARE's Team leader walks along the long line of people waiting to receive their packages and talks to them.
Vural takes a pregnant woman out of the line and walks her to the front, explaining to her where she needs to go first. He holds up his walkie-talkie to contact a team member to answer a question from an elderly man. Then he talks to the helpers at the truck who are going through the lists of supplies.
Vural does not stop but seems to be at all places at once. “Many people have lost someone in the earthquakes. People who have never been in this situation have lost everything. It is important to not ignore anyone seeking help or being too shy to ask,” he says.
From impact to action
Vural remembers in detail the moment everything changed. “I was with my mother when the earthquake hit. I tried to keep her calm, but she was very scared. I took her outside and didn’t even have time to put on shoes. We were fast because luckily we live on the 1st floor.” For 90 seconds the shaking did not stop. “It was so strange, it increased so fast and it even shook vertically. I thought we were dying and that everything that exists was destroyed,” remembers Vural.
"The sad irony for us is that my mother came to live with me because she is from an earthquake-prone area, and it was scaring her. Now the earthquake came to us,” says Vural.
After the earthquake, he had to live in his car for ten days - the safest shelter he could find at the time. However, this did not stop him from immediately going back to work.
“The buildings were heavily damaged in Hatay. There was no safe space to stay, so I slept in my car and started organizing supplies. It was tough, but I felt good because I was doing important work,” he says. As a humanitarian d worker, he feels responsible for supporting the people who needed urgent aid. “My family was safe, and I just had to be here. I started to set up tents and distribute supplies,” Vural recalls.
Working amid destruction and aftershocks
Working in the area hardest hit by the earthquakes can be hazardous. Buildings are still collapsing. The streets are in bad condition. Debris and rubble make traveling a challenge. Aftershocks are also a risk factor. “Every time there are small aftershocks people here go outside because they are afraid that it won’t stop shaking again. We try to keep calm and take our precautions,” says Vural.
Driving through the city to the distribution space, the impact of the earthquakes is clearly visible. “Most families here have lost their homes. It will take a long time to rebuild the city. After six months, the city center is still empty. And even if the cities are rebuilt, we will not go back to normal because the psychological effect of the earthquakes is too high,” says Vural.
Seeing firsthand the long-term impacts of the quake increase Vural's sense of responsibility in his work coordinating the distribution of shelter, food, water, and hygiene items. “There are no supermarkets in this region, so nothing is available. Farmers also have difficulties to produce the staple lentils and chickpeas, which will have long-term effects on food security. That is why our work is so crucial here,” says Vural. Continuous financial support is essential to helping all those who have lost their homes. “We really appreciate the international support, which was very helpful. But our work here is not done and will take time,” he adds.
Vural and his team do not stop. After the distribution, they will go back to the office where they currently also live. They make logistic plans, take calls, and write e-mails. “We have a responsibility. I can only take a rest when I have done everything that is in my power to do. To make someone smile, that is what gives me the energy to continue my work,” concludes Vural as he steps away to help the next family in line.
With funding from the European Union, CARE is providing much-needed assistance to people 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 impacted by the earthquake in Türkiye and Syria.