“The needs here are so vast and the challenges immense.”
For the past week, Susan Malandrino, Communications Lead for the American Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces and International Services Division has been on the ground in Türkiye with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC), supporting people who were affected by two powerful earthquakes earlier this month and several additional quakes following them.
Through her daily encounters with international Red Cross teams and the people they are helping, she finds glimmers of hope and resiliency during a difficult time. Here’s a glimpse of Susan’s current life on the ground:
Providing people like Elif relief in remote villages
“I went out with our field medical field teams who provide care in remote villages. While we were near the town of Nurgadi, I met with a grandma by the name of Elif who lost her husband in the first earthquake. Sitting on the ground in front of a pile of rubble, she told me about the chaos and her fears, calling for her husband, falling, and injuring her feet. She called his name in vain as he was mortally wounded.”
“I don’t know what to do and my heart is so sad,” she said. “I’m wearing the only outfit I have, and my legs and feet are injured.” Our Red Crescent teams offered her medical care as well as emotional and psycho-social support. At the end of our talk, she hugged our team and told us how good it felt to talk, share and unburden herself.
After an additional 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck on Tuesday, Susan said it opened wounds and compounded the stress Elif and people all over Türkiye are currently feeling. She was working at the IFRC office in Gaziantep, a southern city in Türkiye, when it struck. She had to quickly seek shelter for safety with other international Red Cross colleagues. During those moments, her thoughts returned to Elif.
“The whole time, Elif was on my mind. My heart is heavy thinking about how this will affect her and cause even more heartache.”
Connecting with International Red Cross Teams
Susan encounters and works alongside many international Red Cross societies like the Turkish Red Crescent while serving on the ground with the IFRC. Amid the destruction and devastation, she met with Turkish Red Crescent team members Birgul and Onur, who shared their stories and how they are specifically helping during this international response.
“Some of these people have already been through so much, it’s hard to imagine what this must feel like,” said Birgul.
Birgul specializes in public health and has been supporting refugees for years through a program that provides an emergency social safety net for those most vulnerable. Türkiye is home to more refugees than any other country in the world, including more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees who have fled the war in the past 12 years. The earthquakes are yet another blow for the populations that have already been struggling.
Turkish Red Crescent team member Onur, who is based in Ankara, is currently assisting medical teams as a driver in the hardest-hit areas near the city of Nurdagi. Susan shared that once Onur discovered she was from America, he was so happy to talk about the summer he worked at Dave & Busters in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and how much he truly enjoyed eating burgers in America.
Like many international Red Cross teams, Birgul and Onur have been working nonstop since the first deadly earthquake struck. In the first couple of days, Onur was working so hard that he didn’t even stop to eat, stating “I was just going from one place to the next trying to help.” Birgul shared Onur’s sentiments emphasizing why she herself didn’t want to take a break or a day off during those first few days. “There’s just so much to do and people need help,” she said.
Finding Glimmers of Hope
In the short time that Susan has been on the ground, she has discovered hopeful glimmers of strength and resilience amongst communities that have lost so much. One of her favorite encounters was meeting a 15-year-old boy named Umut, whose name means hope in Turkish. They met at a center where Red Cross teams are providing resources for people impacted by the earthquakes. Families like Umut’s can come to this center to receive emotional support, food, medical care and pick up essential relief items.
Susan recalls her encounter with Umut when he asked her an interesting question. “He was quick to ask me out on a date, noting that – “it’s okay you’re an older lady.” His bravado and spirit were simply amazing,” said Susan.
To learn more about the response in Türkiye and Syria and how international Red Cross teams are helping people in need, click here.