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Earthquake relief efforts

Students raise money and awareness following Turkey’s disaster

By Dafna Fine
On November 14, 2011

On Oct. 23, thousands of miles away from the Brandeis campus, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake shook the city of Van in Turkey on Oct. 23, killing 604 civilians and wounding over 1,000. With collapsed buildings and communities of people without food or shelter, Turkey is struggling as it seeks to repair what is in ruins.

Following the earthquake, Brandeis students began an initiative to organize relief efforts on campus. In the aftermath of the disaster, Turkish and non-Turkish students alike gathered for a common cause to aid the country in crisis.

"I'm from Istanbul, which is far from where the earthquake happened. But six years ago we had a big earthquake close to the Istanbul area, where a lot of our friends and their families died," said Lesli Jebahar '12, whose family lives in Turkey.

"So earthquakes are not a new thing in Turkey. It didn't affect Istanbul this time, but it's not a far possibility that another day an earthquake might happen," Jebahar explained.

Weeks later, after hundreds have died, the city of Van is still experiencing the after effects of the earthquake as it struggles to repair the destruction.

"I grew up with earthquakes. I had a week of school that I had off because of earthquakes. To see pictures and hear about the stories is crazy," said Rozi Levi '13, who is one of the Turkish students who helped start the campus initiative to aid her country. "I personally felt that I needed to do something about it," she said.

Levi therefore began by sending out emails to community advisors, friends and clubs on campus, hoping to find others who were passionate about getting involved with the Turkish relief efforts. With the Turkish Student Association currently not an active club on campus, Levi reached out to other student groups and organizations, including Project Nur, which agreed to join the initiative.

"The idea [of Project Nur] is to engage in intercultural dialogue and interfaith dialogue," said Aziz Sohail '13, a member of Project Nur. "We're interested in [the relief efforts] because we thought we could highlight Turkish culture and at the same time help with fundraising," he said.

"I personally am from Pakistan and was really involved in the Pakistan flood relief last year. I know how it feels for a country to go through all this crisis and how to raise awareness in America when it's so cut off from all these countries," Sohail said of his choice to get involved despite never having visited Turkey.

After a call for action went out to raise awareness about the crisis and find others to get involved, a group of six students—three Turks, one Turkish-American, one Pakistani and one Panamanian—met for their first meeting last week to discuss ways to participate in the relief efforts.

"We had a call for interest on Monday and we came together," Levi said. "It wasn't a big group, but it was all we needed. If you want to push something, all you need is that core group of people," she said.

In their first meeting, the group set a goal to raise $5,000 which will go to Turkish Philanthropy Funds, whose "mission is to help donors realize their philanthropic goals to meet community needs in the US and in Turkey," according to its website. Through the Funds, which established a Van Earthquake Relief Fund, the money raised will be donated to the emergency relief efforts in Turkey and provide food, blankets and shelter for those still suffering from the disaster.

With a $100 donation from the Waltham Group and $50 from Project Nur, students ordered 500 bracelets and baklava, a popular Turkish desert, which they will begin selling during the coming weeks as part of their fundraising efforts. Project Nur is also planning to bring a Turkish musical group to campus in January for a concert whose proceeds will go to the Turkish relief efforts.

"It's not like we're raising billions of dollars, but we know Brandeis has shown it cares about the outer community, so I thought it would be a good idea to bring this onto campus and have something that we did as a community for the people that live miles and miles away," Levi said.

Though Levi and Jebahar may be thousands of miles away from home, they feel that Brandeis students and faculty alike have gone out of their way to check in with Turkish students following the disaster. In addition to the International Students and Scholars Office, Levi and Jebahar say they've received numerous emails from professors and teacher's assistants who heard about the earthquake and thought to reach out to Turkish students. Jebahar says she first heard about the earthquake when her boss emailed her to make sure her family was safe before Jebahar had even heard the news.

"I trust the Brandeis community. We're really socially aware, and I think once we're out there people will support us," Jebahar said about getting people involved in the initiative.

"I think a problem with the Turkish earthquake was that it wasn't very widely reported in the American media, so people didn't know about it," Sohail added. "But when we started spreading the word, a lot of people cared," he said.

With Turkey experiencing another 5.6-magnitude earthquake last Wednesday that killed 40 people, Levi and Jebahar are confident the community will continue to respond to their efforts and fundraising in the coming weeks.

"People really are interested in Turkey and Turkish culture, but at the same time we don't have any medium that we can reach people through," Levi said. The group therefore hopes to revitalize and relaunch the Turkish Student Association to help expand the relief efforts and Turkish culture on campus.

"To keep people interested in this, I think that's our responsibility to make people aware of this. To make them know that even though this happened three or four months ago, the after effects are still going on," Jebahar said.


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