USF MENA Community Responds to Turkey-Syria Earthquakes

 Ari Acheckzai and Tiffany Boudagin table with MENA to raise funds and awareness for those affected by the earthquakes. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE USF MENA CLUB

After a series of devastating earthquakes shook Turkey and Syria last month, the USF community has been mobilizing relief efforts and extending support to the affected communities. 

A week after the initial earthquake, the University Ministry held a vigil in Privett Plaza. Reverend Dr. Ronné Wingate Sims helped organize the vigil which saw about 25 people in attendance. Sims recalled the events of the vigil in an interview, describing the mood to be “somber but hopeful,” explaining that “disasters like this are a time for us to rise to the highest level of humanity possible to serve one another.” 

After opening in prayer, the Ministry extended their condolences to the lives lost in the earthquakes, and expressed their solemn hope that more people would be found alive. 

Over 50,000 people across Turkey and Syria died after the earthquakes struck the region. As bodies are still being identified and pulled from the rubble, the number of deaths continues to increase. The original quake struck in the early morning hours of February 6, and clocked in at 7.8 on the Richter scale, a quantitative measure of an earthquake’s size. In the following hours and days, hundreds of aftershocks were recorded, some with magnitudes as large as 6.7. 

Rescue teams from across the globe flew in to save people from the rubble and international relief efforts began collecting funds, clothing, food, and other supplies to support the displaced and affected. 

Bati Ozcan, associate director of USF Athletics and a Turkish native, spoke at the vigil. Ozcan survived the 7.4 earthquake that struck Turkey in 1999, making this disaster especially near to him. Ozcan’s family in Turkey was safe after the recent earthquake.

The University Ministry distributed slips of dissolvable paper to the vigil attendees to write prayers. The prayers were collected, dissolved in water, and poured into a plant. Reverend Sims explained how this served to illustrate that as the water nourished life here, in San Francisco, the prayers would hopefully nourish life in the affected areas of Turkey and Syria. 

That following Sunday, Feb. 19, USF’s liturgy team organized prayers for a student-led mass and accepted donations for the affected regions. However, many USF community members sought out more ways to support the relief efforts.  

USF’s Middle East/North African Club (MENA) hosted a student-led table outside of Lo Schiavo. Both MENA’s leadership and members of the club tabled from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. every school day between Feb. 15 and 24 to help students learn more about the catastrophe and donate directly to relief funds. 

“It was without hesitation that we knew we wanted and needed to organize informational tables that helped to gain donations and spread awareness about the earthquakes,” said MENA president Jared Bisbikis, a fourth-year international studies major. Bisbikis described wanting to reflect the fact that “USF has a diverse community which includes Turkish and Syrian students whose families and friends and community have been affected by this catastrophe.” 

One such student is Defne Sagdic, a fourth-year psychology major. Sagdic, a Turkish student, described feeling emotional after hearing news of the earthquakes, but immediately wanted to jump into action and get involved with relief efforts. Sagdic began working with various organizations on and off campus, including MENA, UC Berkeley’s Turkish Student Association and UC Berkeley, and various Turkish communities around the Bay Area to coordinate donation sites. 

Moving forward, Sagdic encourages students to educate themselves on the situation and consider donating or getting involved in organizations, both on and off campus that are aiding the affected communities. Sarah Tinawi, a third-year psychology major, who has relatives and friends affected by the earthquakes also advises USF community members to participate in upcoming campus events to support relief efforts and raise awareness, including a collaborative educational campaign being worked on by students, faculty, and school organizations.  

This campaign is being kicked off with a vigil that will be held today, March 9, from 12 to 1 p.m., in Privett Plaza to honor the lives lost. The vigil will be followed by a henna fundraiser in the plaza from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. with all the proceedings going to Turkey and Syria. Another event students can check out is the baklava sale on March 27 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. in the University Center undercaf, a joint fundraiser between MENA, Arab Student Union, Muslim Student Association, and the Iranian Student Union. All the funds will go directly to earthquake relief. 

On behalf of MENA, Bisbikis reminded the USF community that, “The death toll continues to grow daily and resources, particularly funds, are continuing to be needed. If you are able, we encourage even the smallest donation. Additionally encouraging organizations on and off-campus as well as our institution to raise awareness and make donations to the affected communities.”


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