In the aftermath of devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria this month that killed nearly 50,000 people and displaced millions, student organizations and local businesses in College Park have been collecting donations and supplies to provide relief to the victims and survivors in those regions.
Following the earthquakes, the University of Maryland’s Turkish Student Organization began a donation campaign and shared it with various departments to reach more students, said Onur Cankur, the organization’s incoming president and a computer science doctoral student from Turkey. The organization has since collected more than $10,000 for an earthquake relief fund organized by Turkish Philanthropy Funds — a nonprofit dedicated to serving Turkish and Turkish American communities.
“This is going to be inside the collective mind of Turkish people for decades,” Alperen Keles, a computer science doctoral student from Turkey, said. “It’s not something that we’re going to forget.”
The computer, mathematical and natural sciences college, as well as a few other departments, passed along the donation campaign through the student organization’s outreach, according to Keles, an incoming board member of the organization.
Keles lost two of his great-grandparents in this disaster. Although he felt support from his advisor, his peers and his department throughout this difficult time, he feels unsupported by the university’s administration.
“When you want to support the victims of any event, a tragedy, a disaster or a crisis, the first step is listening,” Keles said. “They didn’t ask us, ‘What do you need?’ They didn’t say, ‘What do you want us to do?’ They didn’t say, ‘How can we help?’”
While this university’s International Student and Scholar Services sent an email to Turkish and Syrian students following the disaster, Keles said the communication lacked specific steps on how the impacted students can get help or support. The university’s administration has not sent an official message to the campus community about the tragedy, and Keles reached out to the president’s office to inquire the reasoning but was not given a direct answer.
According to university President Darryll Pines, university leadership, such as International Student and Scholar Services and the Dean of Students Office, have been in touch with the Turkish and Syrian students multiple times since the tragedy.
“All of these administrators speak on behalf of the entire university in offering condolences to those who have been affected by the earthquakes and tragic aftermath, both near and far,” Pines said.
According to Cankur, a universitywide email is more important than a message to only Turkish and Syrian students because it informs unaware students of the tragedy and allows them to empathize with their affected peers.
“You walk into a meeting in the lab or you walk into a class and nobody knows about it,” Keles added. “Nobody knows what you’re going through. Nobody knows that you’re not OK.”
This university’s chapter of Helping Hand for Relief and Development has collected four boxes of winter clothing and blankets for the victims of the earthquakes so far. The boxes are still available for donations in the Musallah, the Muslim prayer space located in Cole Field House.
“We definitely see a number of people who were originally displaced suffer even more,” said Mustafa Khalid, sophomore biology major and co-secretary of the student organization, referring to the large number of Syrian refugees and war survivors that were affected by the tragedy. “From just looking at a humanitarian perspective, it was very necessary for us to step in and just try to do our best to contribute to the cause.”
The donations have been sent to the organization’s local chapter warehouse where they will be packed and loaded onto a shipping container traveling to the affected regions.
Just off campus, Phil Petrilli, the founder and CEO of the parent company that owns Taïm Mediterranean Kitchen on Route 1, felt devastated by the disaster and reached out to the Turkish embassy that gave him a list of the materials still needed for the survivors.
Taïm held a drive the weekend of Feb. 17 to collect essential materials, such as clothing, blankets and medicine. Petrilli said the donations were enough to fill up a U-haul, “floor-to-ceiling, side-to-side.” The donations were sent to the embassy to be packed up by volunteers who the restaurant provided food for, he added.
“We made it clear that there was a place and a way that people could support, but the community is the one that showed up,” Petrilli said. “They showed up in a big way.”