Our impact, news and views

“Anyone who wants to do good can find a way”: At ground zero in Türkiye

  • Home
  • Blog
  • “Anyone who wants to do good can find a way”: At ground zero in Türkiye

This article contains elements that may be distressing. 

In mid-March, we sent our Emergency Response Coordinator Mohammed Bashein to Türkiye.

He accompanied the Earthquake Engineering Field Investigation Team (EEFIT), from the Institution of Structural Engineers, on a research trip to earthquake sites. Mohammed spent ten days with the team as they carried out their research into structural, infrastructural, geotechnic, and humanitarian work that is required. 

For RedR UK, this was an opportunity to understand the situation on the ground first hand, to inform our ongoing response. “Humanitarians always talk about serving populations,” says Mohammed. “But if we only operate from siloes, ivory towers, and computer screens many miles away we won’t really know or understand.” Insights from the trip have been invaluable in informing our Learning Needs Assessment, freely available to all working in this context.  

Coordination saves lives, and this trip has helped us make more connections. We’re looking forward to bridging the humanitarian and engineering sectors in the region to build a coordination group. We have good connections, for instance, with engineer syndicates in Syria, and we’re also part of the Shelter cluster. We can use our positionality to connect them. 

We caught up with Mohammed on the experience. How can this trip inform ongoing conversations about capacity, power, and privilege? Here, Mohammed shares his reflections and insights.

What was it like to be on the ground? 

“I’ve been to Türkiye many times before, and some of the culture and politics overlaps with Libya, where I’m from. My personal experience in Libya gave me some insight. In the 2019 conflict in Tripoli, my house burnt down, so I had a lot of empathy for how damage affects people’s lives first hand. In each storey of those damaged buildings, you can see a life.

Living rooms, bathrooms, children’s bedrooms destroyed in Antakya
Living rooms, bathrooms, children’s bedrooms destroyed in Antakya

“In Iskenderun, we saw how the earthquakes had raised up the coastline higher than the ground. Some areas of the city were a ghost town. While people were living in tents, others continued their lives, going to cafes and restaurants.  

The overrun coastline in Iskenderun.
The overrun coastline in Iskenderun.

Do any interactions with people you met there stick in your mind? 

“One of our first conversations was with an elder, fixing and building some tents. I greeted him.  

“‘Hi uncle, I hope you and your family are well. I thank God for your safety.’ Lots of people needed to hear that kind of thing. On the night of the earthquake, he had taken his daughter to another city for routine medical treatment. When he returned to a ruined house, he couldn't get a tent from the government. Someone else had given these to him. He told us that being from Syria undermines you. ‘We're not a high priority’, he said. ‘But I’m thankful my family are safe, and people help us’. He insisted we stay and have coffee with him.” 

“On another occasion, an elder lady asked us to see her home, even though we explained that we could not carry out any government assessments. She and her four sons were from Syria, but they had been renting this now partially collapsed house for ten years. I tried to give her some psychosocial support. Standing in her courtyard, next to her collapsed house, I told her I recognised her pain. People in this part of the world always pray for you as you speak. ‘I know you can’t do anything’, she said, ‘but you entered my heart. I hope to meet again in better circumstances.’ She said her daughters-in-law could make us some lunch. The moment made me realise the number of shocks these people have been through. I wasn’t sure if I was seeing resilience, or numbness.”  

“Another woman asked us to see her house, although authorities had already told her it must be demolished. I tried to manage her expectations. I didn’t have the authority nor the capacity to assess its structural integrity, and her house had a lot of cracks. She told us she came every day just to be near it. I know from my experience in Tripoli that feeling, of trying to figure out where to start.”

The hillside in Altinozu has been split apart. 
The hillside in Altinozu has been split apart. 

The earthquake has now completely fallen out of the news cycle here in the UK. What are your thoughts about the ongoing need? How can we make a difference? 

“There's always a feeling of helplessness, because you can’t fix people's lives on your own. But through your contacts and position in the sector, you can voice out these stories. For me, going back to that rationale of making a difference by influencing decisionmakers is very helpful. I want to enable the disempowered to be part of the discussion, and RedR UK really gives me that opportunity. We try to voice out community concerns at cluster level.  

Even if you are on the wrong side of those linguistic and cultural barriers, anyone who wants to do good can find a way. It’s a matter of recognising your positionality, including from a socio-historical perspective. Be aware of how you see people, and how they see you.  

“The needs are still there, and there is lots to be done. Many of us are privileged to be in parts of the world, where these are not our problems. That gives us a responsibility to try and mobilise resources.  

In my conversations with friends in the UK, I see that people are very interested to know what’s happening and donate. They want to make an impact. They just want to know how.” 


The EEFIT team’s findings are here

Read about our response here.

Give to our response here.