By Daniel Meyers | April 10, 2023
Guilderland High School Orchestra is on the stage between performances. UAlbany student Ferhat Ulukaya gives before and after pictures of Turkey.
Photo Credit: Daniel Meyers
A series of fundraising events organized by students and staff for the victims of Turkey’s devastating earthquakes kicked off late last month with Turkish music, poems, and food to a nearly full house.
The events, which started on March 30, opened with remarks of gratitude from Student Affairs Vice President Michael Christakis, who thanked the audience for coming and those who organized the events. He also encouraged attendees and the wider university to donate what they can.
According to a fundraising leaflet, more than 55,000 people died in the 7.8 magnitude February earthquakes and 400,000 buildings were destroyed or damaged. With 15 million people and 10 cities affected, Turkey will be needing aid for the months and years to come, not just in the immediate aftermath.
At the fundraising event, the Guilderland High School orchestra, conducted by Susan Curro, played the Turkish National Anthem as well as other Turkish songs throughout the night.
University at Albany Student from Turkey Ferhat Ulukaya discussed the after-effects of the Earthquakes and presented before and pictures of Turkey.
Storyteller and Intensive English Language Program Educator Claire Nolan told the tale of “Fatima, the Spinner and the Tent,” a regional folktale about the resilience of a young woman whose life is afflicted by one disaster after another. The story was chosen because after the initial earthquake in Turkey, citizens suffered through the effects of a series of aftershocks and it seemed as if there was no end to the destruction.
Guilderland High School Orchestra student Sureyya Duman performed the songs “Leylim ley,” and “Deniz üstü kopürü” on the Turkish instrument the Baglama, which originated in Iran and is a plucked string, long-necked lute instrument is used in regional classical and folk music. About halfway through the performance, the audience was encouraged to join in the celebration. More than half of the house stood up and began singing along.
Tugba Ozbilir, a Turkish Intensive English Language Program student played a large role in organizing the event with the help of Ulukaya, IELP Professors Susan Gorga and Cathleen McCarthy, Associate Professor Yuksel Celik, and more.
Ulukaya didn’t lose loved ones to the earthquakes but was eager to help.
“When Susan sent me a message about fundraising at UAlbany, I thought that’s a great idea,” Ulukaya said.
Ozbilir said she was grateful to all those who helped and attended. “Having my voice heard gives me peace,” said Ozbilir, who lost an aunt and family in the earthquake and has family living in Turkey.
Ozbilir left Turkey in 2022 to pursue a pilot training program in Miami but came to Albany first to take English language courses.
“Earthquake victims still need help more than before. It was nice to emphasize this,” Ozbilir said.
The two restaurants that are offering a 25% off discount on Turkish Food.
Photo Credit: Tugba Ozbilir
Ozbilir and Turkish Philanthropy Funds are already working on more relief events. “We offered students an opportunity to both eat Turkish delicacies and make donations, Turkish food week, Turkish food with a 25% discount at two restaurants for four days. The income will be donated to us.”
Turkish Movie Night was held on April 4. “The Water Diviner” (2014) was screened at Page Hall in the UAlbany Downtown Campus.
About $8,000 has been raised for Turkish Philanthropy Funds, of the $100,000 goal. Visit Turkish Philanthropy Funds to donate.
Turkish Philanthropy Funds is supported by sponsorship from the IELP, the Center for International Education, the University at Albany Foundation, and the New York State Writers Institute.
Ozbilir says being able to contribute to her country and seeing the outpouring of grief has partially helped to ease her grief. “I couldn’t help people in my country after the Earthquake and I was suffering. Now, when I see people who want to help, my pain is relieved.”
In her closing remarks, Ozbilir told the crowd that during an interview with a journalist, she was asked “How do you feel?”
She replied, “Hurt, powerless, and desperate.”
Holding back emotion, Ozbilir acknowledged the crowd before her: “You all gave me back my power.”