Scholars from Türkiye's international education programmes rally in support of quake-hit victims in the country's southern region.

The death toll from the massive tremors has climbed to 44,374, according to the latest official figures. Thousands of others have been injured.
The death toll from the massive tremors has climbed to 44,374, according to the latest official figures. Thousands of others have been injured. (AA)

Syafiq Mardi, 29, has just finished his meeting with friends in Singapore on a sunny Sunday.

The group decided to finalise a target of food packets to be shipped to Türkiye, as Ramadan, a holy month for Muslims, is just weeks away.

“But this is short term and in the coming days, we are working on sustainable donations to be part of rebuilding Türkiye,” Mardi told Anadolu Agency (AA) from Singapore.

A graduate of Cukurova University in the southern Adana province, Mardi first landed in Türkiye back in 2013 for studies.

After studying Islamic theology, arts and history, he graduated last year under Türkiye Scholarships, a government-funded higher education scholarship programme run by Türkiye's Presidency of Turks Abroad and Related Communities (YTB).

Back home, Mardi is involved in volunteer work to ship relief, in cash and kind, for earthquake-hit people in Türkiye.

As part of Be Kind Project, a local Singaporean organisation, “we collected more than $20,000 in just one week besides other necessary items including food, clothes,” Mardi said.

“Now we are working on a long-time project like in education and social building activities,” he said, adding: “Now is my time to repay kindness of Türkiye. It is in a sense of gratitude to pay back to Turkish society.”

Türkiye provides necessary funding, facility for stay and other activities to international students for studies ranging from high school to post-doctoral degrees.

Many of these international students are funded by the YTB programme. Currently, there are more than 170,000 international students pursuing various degrees in the country.

Soon after the two powerful earthquakes struck southern Türkiye on February 6, many international students jumped into search, rescue and relief operations.

The death toll from the massive tremors has climbed to 44,374, according to the latest official figures. Thousands of others have been injured.

Türkiye's Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) said the quakes, centred in Kahramanmaras province, have been followed by over 10,200 aftershocks so far.

The magnitude 7.7 and 7.6 quakes struck 10 other southern and southeastern provinces including Hatay, Gaziantep, Adiyaman, Malatya, Adana, Diyarbakir, Kilis, Osmaniye, Sanliurfa, and Elazig. Some 13.5 million people have been affected by the devastating quakes.

READ MORE: From survival mode to self-care: Quake survivors have come a long way

'We have to help each other'

From the Turkish capital Ankara, Sherhan Upahm Abas, 27, joined a group to help people in the quake-hit region.

A native of Bangsamoro, the southern Muslim-majority autonomous region of the Philippines, Abas, along with a group which consisted of students from Malaysia, Bangsamoro, Indonesia and a Rohingya, travelled to Hatay, Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep.

"Whenever we are in need, Türkiye is always there for us," said Abas, who is studying for a master’s in information system at Ankara’s Gazi University.

“It is not just about religion. We are brothers. We have to help each other,” he stressed, recalling the “sad situation” of the Türkiye quakes.

Abas said: “I don’t think anyone can resist helping these quake-affected people.”

Led by Yilmaz Balcin of the Türkiye-based International Youth Forum, the group distributed blankets, food parcels, shoes, solar panels, and jackets among quake-affected people.

READ MORE: A father rummages through quake rubble to find his daughters' memories

Psychosocial support

Aung Naing Shwe, 31 and a victim of Myanmar’s persecution of Rohingya, has not visited his family since he landed in Türkiye in 2018.

A PhD candidate at Ankara Yildirim Beyazit University, Shwe told AA that he helped the quakes-affected people with a focus on psychosociological needs.

“I visited camps and talked to quake-affected people, who needed psychosocial support,” said Shwe, who has worked for four years as a psychological counsellor.

“Türkiye is supporting people everywhere around the world, especially our Rohingya community in every aspect… be it medical or education,” Shwe said, as he recalled support extended by the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA), a state-run development aid agency, and AFAD to Rohingya communities living in Bangladesh.

“It has been very effective for our people,” he said, adding: “Providing education to us is everything for a community like ours.”

Shwe, a YTB scholar, said quake-affected people need psychosocial support because some lost their parents, some their homes and properties.

"This is a traumatic event and we need to reduce such kind of trauma from their minds," he said.

READ MORE: Survivors of Türkiye's quakes continue to grapple with trauma from disaster

Solidarity from Kashmir

A popular social media influencer, Musaib Afzal, is a fresh YTB graduate who has returned home to India-administered Kashmir.

He is busy helping individuals and organisations in the Himalayan region that are shipping relief to Türkiye.

Recalling an emotional incident from Srinagar, the capital of India-administered Kashmir, Afzal told Anadolu Agency: "A vendor said he did not have enough cash to give. “This is all I have, the baby caps, please send them soon to Türkiye,” Afzal quoted the vendor as saying.

“We people want to be there with Turkish people (in times of need) even with our small contributions,” said Afzal, who has gained thousands of social media followers for his digital content spreading awareness about educational, cultural and other opportunities provided in Türkiye.

A graduate of Islamic sciences from Recep Tayyip Erdogan University, Afzal recalled a time he spent volunteering with different student and civil society organisations in Türkiye’s Black Sea province of Rize.

Working with local civil society organisations and student groups helped him understand Turkish culture well, he acknowledged.

“It helped me develop deep communication with local Turkish people and see their love toward Muslims from other parts of the world.

“They are always there for us, anywhere in the world,” said Afzal, referring to Türkiye’s humanitarian organisations including the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH).

In India-administered Kashmir, he guided people and organisations to contact the Turkish Embassy in New Delhi, India. 

“Lots of people sent support in kind and cash,” he said.

On his digital work, Afzal said: “I can clearly see people recognising my little efforts on social media where I have become a bridge to connect people who face problems of language barriers besides other issues.

READ MORE: London mosque holds charity event for quake victims in Türkiye

Iraqi students contribute in cash and kind

Amjad Yasir led a group of international students from Iraq to help victims of the quakes in Kahramanmaras and Hatay.

“We have founded an all-Iraqi student organisation in Türkiye to assist earthquake-affected people,” Jawdat told AA.

He said the group of around 50 students works in coordination with organisations “back home (which) send us material and help us raise funds.”

“We drove to Kahramanmaras and Hatay to hand out humanitarian aid. Iraqi students made a large amount of cash donation to the Turkish Red Crescent as well as to AFAD, and provided aid to more than 1,000 families,” said Yasir, adding the group’s humanitarian work was coordinated by Istanbul-based youth board of Union of NGOs of the Islamic World.

The Iraqi group is also procuring around 1,000 tents which will be distributed to quake-affected people in Kahramanmaras.

Ayodele Akin-Adamu, a native of Nigeria who studies structural engineering at Dokuz Eylul University in the Aegean coastal city of Izmir, joined a group of students to help with the packaging and distribution of food in Kilis.

Besides witnessing the situation on the ground himself, Ayodele told Anadolu Agency that his trip to Kilis helped him “understand the impact of the earthquake firsthand.”

Ayodele's studies are supported by the YTB.

“I left Izmir for Kilis because I wanted to help the people which were affected by the earthquake in whatsoever capacity I have,” he told AA while his friend Rizwan uz Zaman from Kashmir was distributing food packages among the quake-hit people.

The duo has joined the Istanbul-based IHH which runs one of the biggest relief centres in the province, close to the border with Syria.

Ayodele said working with the IHH enabled the international students to “see how they operate, … prepare food, provide temporary shelter, clothing and other essential items”. 

READ MORE: Football fans shower field with toys for children in quake-hit Türkiye

Source: TRTWorld and agencies