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Devastating Earthquake in Turkey Hits Close to Home for Some UAlbany Students

By Daniel Meyers | March 6, 2023

UAlbany Students packing aid materials for Turkey in a warehouse in Albany.

Photo Credit: Ferhat Ulukaya

International University at Albany student Tugba Ozbilir was with a friend getting ready for school on the morning of Feb. 6 when she heard the news of the devastating earthquake in her home country, Turkey.

“I tried calling everyone like crazy,” Ozbilir said, referring to her attempts to reach her immediate and extended family members. “But, on the other hand, I was afraid to keep their phone busy.”

As news of the destruction in Turkey and Syria continued to worsen by the hour, Ozbilir kept trying to call. When she finally reached her mother, Ozbilir was relieved to hear her mother’s voice and that she and her siblings survived. But, she said, “I realized my mother was hiding information from me, and I insisted.”

Ozbilir’s aunt, with whom she was close, had died. Her aunt had lived in the southeastern city of Adiyaman, which was one of the cities hardest hit by the earthquakes. As the days wore on, Ozbilir would learn that her aunt had been trapped in the rubble and it had taken two days before her body was discovered by rescue workers.

Her aunt is now among the more than 51,000 victims of a natural disaster that has also damaged or destroyed tens of thousands of homes and buildings in Turkey and Syria.

“Thinking about it, we lost everyone there. There’s no country anymore,” Ozbilir said.

Susan Gorga, one of Ozbilir’s professors noticed the emotional toll the earthquake was having on her and told her that she was not powerless, that “we could do something about it.”

Now, with her friend Ferhat Ulukaya, who is also an international student from Turkey, and with the help of Professor Gorga, Ozbilir is working with local communities and a non-profit organization, Turkish Philanthropy Funds.

Ozbilir is hoping to raise money for relief, including building a school and a home for the thousands of children who have lost their parents.

“It’s not about education, it’s more about something that happened in the world and we want to help,” Ulukaya said.

Ozbilir and Ulukaya’s work is just one example of aid that disaster response experts say Turkey will need for months and years to come, not just in the immediate aftermath of the earthquakes.

“Returning to life before this will take a very long time,” disaster response expert Samantha Penta, an assistant professor at the College of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said.

Penta said that money donated now to trusted charitable organizations can be used in the short and long-term for the numerous challenges victims will face for food, shelter, water, medical care, and education.

“Your monetary donation can be transformed to help with any kind of need over time. People may need clothes and food in the beginning but health care later,” Penta said. “Thinking comprehensively and long-term about help is much more effective."

Abigail Adams, Regional Communications director for the American Red Cross, shared a similar sentiment.

“Increased global support and solidarity to deliver humanitarian assistance are essential in the weeks and months of recovery ahead,” Adams said. “The American Red Cross stands by to offer support in the weeks and months to come.”

According to the Regional American Red Cross, more than 15,000 Red Cross and Red Crescent responders are working in Syria and Turkey to help provide aid.

Emergency Rescue Teams search for victims in Adana, Turkey, Feb. 7, 2023.

Photo Credit: USA News

Back at the UAlbany campus, Ozbilir continues to field phone calls and send emails to help collect donations. “My friends constantly asked where they could help,” she said.

A memorial for the victims of the earthquake is scheduled for March 30 at 7:00 p.m., in the Campus Center. In addition to a relief drive, Ozbilir said they plan to organize a movie night and a meal night of Turkish cuisine. A date has yet to be set.

While the loss of her aunt was a catalyst for her decision to help Turkey, Ozbilir said she would have wanted to help no matter what.

The earthquakes and the destruction they caused were unfair, she said, “and that’s

that’s why we have to do something.”

If you’re interested in donating money to Turkish Philanthropy Funds Ozbilir’s effort, which is being channeled through UAlbany, visit University at Albany, SUNY, Turkey Earthquake Relief Fund.

*Correction 3/7/2023: Associated professor misnamed, incorrectly sourced as Cathleen McCarthy. The name of Ozbilir's professor is Susan Gorga.


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