International efforts to provide relief to the victims of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria are accompanied by many local initiatives and donation campaigns in the Detroit region to help the victims of the disaster that claimed the lives of tens of thousands and wounded and displaced hundreds of thousands of families in the eastern Mediterranean.
According to the latest statistics, the death toll from the earthquake that struck southern Turkey and northern Syria on February 6 exceeded more than 38,000 Turks and about 6,000 Syrians, after more bodies were recovered from under the rubble of destroyed buildings in both countries.
While search and rescue operations have been halted in most of the affected areas, survivors continue to be found under the rubble nearly nine days after the disaster, which was described as the “earthquake of the century.” This raises hopes that more lives will be saved.
According to the latest statistics, the death toll from the earthquake that struck southern Turkey and northern Syria on February 6 exceeded more than 38,000 Turks and about 6,000 Syrians.
Several institutional and community efforts in Metro Detroit, including humanitarian organizations and Arab American communities, mobilized to collect financial and in-kind donations to help the victims of the earthquake. This was accompanied by political repercussions against the background of the controversy over what was considered an international failure to deliver emergency aid to the affected Syrians, whether in areas under the control of the Syrian government or those under the control of the rebel forces in the northwest area of the country.
As of last Thursday, the number of Syrian dead had exceeded 5,840, while the number of injured are well over 7,000.
Orphans of War
The “Orphans of War” organization was at the forefront of charitable organizations that took the initiative to collect financial donations to provide the afflicted families with cash to help them bear the repercussions of the disaster, which damage exceeded expectations and government capabilities in both Turkey and Syria.
The head of the organization, Maria Kabbani, an international trade law specialist, is an Italian American Dearborn resident who has dedicated her life to pursuing the best approaches to housing orphaned children who lost parents in wars or military conflicts.
Kabbani indicated that the focus of her non-profit organization is sending financial aid to provide urgent assistance to families and individuals who suddenly found themselves out in the open amid harsh climatic conditions, after losing everything, including their homes, properties and even their personal belongings.
Tens of thousands of affected residents were forced to evacuate their homes and sleep in open spaces amid the severe cold and in the absence of basic public services, in order to avoid the many aftershocks over the past several days.
Kabbani said the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe could not wait until the in-kind and medical donations were collected and sent to the affected areas, as this will take a long time and requires more effort due to government regulations and transportation arrangements. In addition, the political situation in the region further complicates matters with regard to helping the Syrians, as she put it.
Kabbani explained that in order to avoid logistical and political obstacles, they decided to extend a helping hand as much as they can, and as soon as possible, to ease the burdens on the most affected families, regardless of whether they are Syrians or Turks. She noted that the affected families are the most capable of determining their immediate needs in these difficult circumstances.
Kabbani told The Arab American News that the non-profit Orphans of War was originally designed to help children who lost their parents and breadwinners as a result of wars and military conflicts, but “we could not stand idly by looking at this tragic catastrophe that befell tens of thousands overnight and do nothing.”
She said she is currently working to organize a fundraising event in coordination with Wayne State University in Detroit, where her son, who is of Turkish origin, is pursuing his academic studies. She expressed her hope that the event’s arrangements will be announced in the coming few days.
Kabbani urged the Arab American and Muslim communities in the Detroit area and throughout Michigan to extend a helping hand to their affected brothers and sisters in Turkey and Syria.
“It is possible to help with what is possible, even if it is a little,” she said. “Whoever contributes to saving one person, it is as if he or she contributed to saving the entire humanity.”
Donations can be made to the Orphans of War organization via www.orphansofwarusa.org
Galata Sweets Café in cooperation with the Turkish-American Cultural Association in Michigan (TACAM).
For his part, Imad Mohamad, the owner of Galata Sweets Café in Dearborn, allocated part of the proceeds of his cafe — which specializes in providing exceptional Turkish food and sweets — to help the victims of the Syria-Turkey earthquake, in coordination with the Turkish-American Cultural Association in Michigan (TACAM).
Mohamad — a Lebanese American of Turkish descent — allocated all the proceeds from sales last Tuesday evening to the victims of the disaster, regardless of their nationalities and religious and ethnic backgrounds, pointing out that the charitable initiative attracted a large number of customers who poured in from all over the Detroit area, which resulted in securing a few thousand dollars during the period between 4 and 10 p.m.
Mohamad attributed the reasons for his charitable initiative to primarily humanitarian reasons, regardless of whether he comes from a family of Turkish origin, or that he owns and runs a restaurant that serves Turkish food, sweets and drinks.
“What we did today is the least we can do,” he said. “We should not turn our back on the people that were affected by this terrible tragedy, so we decided, as much as we could, to participate in the relief efforts for the victims.”
TACAM President Mehmet Erdem Yaya praised the initiative by Galata Sweets Cafe, noting that his charitable foundation, which was founded in 1972, cooperated with many commercial events and humanitarian organizations in the state to secure the largest amount of humanitarian aid and send it to Turkey.
Yaya said that the aftermath of the earthquake and its catastrophic repercussions require extraordinary efforts that exceed the capabilities of the Turkish government, local and national organizations and institutions, given the magnitude of the earthquake that struck more than once, as well as due to the widening of the affected areas that are more than 150 km in diameter.
He stressed that the TACAM is working in coordination with humanitarian and medical organizations licensed in both America and Turkey in order to send urgent medical and humanitarian aid to be coordinated with those of the Turkish government in rescuing the injured and providing shelter, medicine, clothing and food for the homeless.
Yaya called on all humanitarian organizations in the United States to participate in the global efforts to provide relief to the earthquake victims in both Turkey and Syria, realizing that the TACAM is a cultural organization in the first place, but it can only — in these circumstances — engage with the efforts aimed at helping hundreds of thousands affected directly by the earthquake, the catastrophic effects of which could continue for several years.
Yaya pointed out that the TACAM had made similar efforts when a devastating earthquake struck the Izmir region in Turkey in 1999, killing more than 17,000 people and displacing nearly half a million.
Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS)
Dr. Amjad Al Rass, the head of the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), referred to the horrific scale of the humanitarian catastrophe in northwest Syria, stressing that the tragic reality of the affected Syrians in those areas, “bleeds the heart and complicates the tongue.
“ He who has seen is not like he who has heard,” Al Rass said.
He had traveled for several days to the affected areas near the Syrian-Turkish border in the aftermath of the earthquake that struck the governorates of Idlib and Aleppo, and its deadly effects spread to internal governorates such as Hama, Tartous and Lattakia, killing, injuring and displacing thousands of Syrians.
Al Rass explained that SAMS has been involved since the first hours of the earthquake in rescuing the victims and the injured through dozens of medical centers and field hospitals in northwestern Syria, in addition to providing shelter and humanitarian aid for thousands of homeless people amid extremely harsh climatic conditions.
He said that SAMS owns and operates 36 hospitals and field centers in those areas, pointing out that the medical organization, which has an annual budget of $50 million, is currently devoting its efforts to securing medical equipment and humanitarian aid in preparation for sending it to Syria during the next few days.
Our House is For Everyone
Our House is For Everyone, a non-profit organization in the Dearborn area, is also among the local organizations that changed its charitable plans and decided to direct its efforts to helping the affected Syrians, especially in the areas under the control of the Syrian government.
According to Haji Naziha Ulaiq Shehadeh, Our House is For Everyone had previously sent humanitarian aid to help the needy in Lebanon, but quickly focused its efforts and transferred that aid to Syria after it was hit with the earthquake, in coordination with the Syrian embassy in Beirut.
Haji Naziha explained that the organization is continuing its relief efforts in cooperation with the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights, where it is currently collecting clothes, shoes, blankets and other household needs, in addition to some medicines, food and baby diapers, in order to send them to Syria as soon as possible.
Haji Naziha told The Arab American News that the charity is planning to send a 40-foot container of aid directly to the port of Lattakia in Syria, instead of sending it to Beirut and re-shipping it back to the Syrian city, in order to save transportation and customs fees, as well as to reduce the urgent time needed to deliver the aid those affected need immediately.
The American Syrian Arab Cultural Association (ASACA)
In addition, the American Syrian Arab Cultural Association (ASACA), a non-profit organization based in Troy, is collecting donations for American and international relief organizations, demanding — at the same time — the removal of sanctions and political obstacles that obstruct and delay sending humanitarian aid to the areas that fall under the control of the Syrian government.
And while the heartbreaking images of the horrific earthquake continue to find their way around the world, many Syrian Americans live with the obsession of fear for their relatives who are trapped under the rubble and displaced under miserable and harsh humanitarian conditions.
In this context, Sam Younees, a member of the ASACA, stated that she began to communicate with her relatives as soon as the news of the earthquake spread, pointing out that one of her relatives had escaped death after the building she lived in collapsed as a result of the earthquake.
“She was pulled out from under the rubble,” Younees said. “She was very lucky because she was the only resident survivor of the nine-story building.”
Younees called on the U.S. government to lift sanctions on Syria and created a petition to collect signatures in her efforts in this regard.
“Our goal is to help the people there,” she said. “They are in dire need of help. They have been under a lot of pressure for several years.”
You can contribute to the petition via the following link: bit.ly/3XE79XI
St. Mary’s Church in Livonia
Likewise, the parishioners of St. Mary’s Church in Livonia are collecting donations for the earthquake victims in Syria, including Wafi al-Brushini and his wife, as well as the deacon, Samer Hanna.
Al-Burashini described the need of the affected Syrians as “extreme” and “urgent.”
“They really need help, especially children and the elderly,” he said, adding that the situation in Syria is “incredible”, with many people displaced “who are now sleeping in the streets.”
As for Deacon Hanna, a chemistry professor at Wayne County Community College in Detroit, he said he still cannot believe the repercussions of the natural disaster that claimed tens of thousands of lives in the blink of an eye.
“As a scientist, I know that this is nature, but on the other hand I feel very sorry, very disturbed, very shocked that in the blink of an eye people lost their relatives, their families and their children,” he said.
“Everything fell like a deck of cards,” he added.
St. Mary’s, which is located at 18100 Merriman Road, announced that it would hold prayers for the souls of the victims at 7 p.m. on Friday.
Donations can be made through St. Mary’s Church via https://stmarylivonia.com/s/earthquake-relief-fund/