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Turkey-Syria earthquake: two survivor stories from Syria

Two stories from people who survived the Turkey-Syria earthquakes and what Tearfund’s local partners are doing to help.

Written by Tarryn Pegna | 06 Mar 2023

A group of people standing on the rubble of a collapsed building.

Damaged buildings in Syria after two massive earthquakes struck the region causing widespread destruction of buildings and loss to life.

Saleh* sits in his wheelchair in the corner of the church courtyard, smiling. He’s been drawing and colouring to keep himself occupied. ‘I found that drawing and colouring, even as simply as this, is a way for me to find some rest within myself,’ he says. Then, he laughs and adds, ‘They call me Chicasso.’

Saleh is wrapped tightly in rough blankets to keep out the biting cold of Syrian winter, but he’s making jokes and keeping the people around him entertained.

He’s even been helping our local partner to distribute food. ‘We’ve been through a lot throughout the years,’ Saleh says, ‘and many people have been traumatised, so the least that I can do is help the people around me. Even my daughters have been doing things to entertain the kids in the surrounding shelters and schools.’

Shelter in the church

Saleh is one of the many people who have taken shelter in church buildings in Aleppo after major earthquakes levelled buildings and caused death and destruction across Turkey and Syria in February.

‘On the night of the earthquake, we were all asleep,’ Saleh tells us. ‘It was myself and my two daughters [aged 27 and 28]. Suddenly, I started hearing what seemed like somebody was digging beneath us – which was strange enough – but then our things started to move in the house. At first, I called out to my daughters to not be afraid. But, when the earthquake took a long time to end, I told them to leave me and go. I’m unable to get out easily and my daughters can’t carry me! They refused and wouldn’t leave me.’

Saleh describes a scene of total chaos. He says they heard neighbours screaming and banging on doors. ‘Thankfully,’ Saleh says, ‘there was a young man who was able to carry me and take me down to the local school. Even then, the cement on the street was moving like the sea.’

‘The cement on the street was moving like the sea.’
Saleh, earthquake survivor, Aleppo

Saleh’s home is damaged and they, along with many other people, are now waiting for an assessment on the building to see if they can move back in. ‘Thankfully, we were able to come to the church and find shelter where we’re being provided with food and other goods,’ Saleh tells us.

A safe space after the earthquake

For hundreds of people who have not been able to return home, our local church partners have become shelters, helping to provide a safe place out of the cold, food and psychosocial support.

Inside of a church building with light wooden pew

Local church partners in Aleppo have been providing shelter for people in their community who have lost homes in the earthquake.

There is a long road to rebuilding after the earthquakes – the damage costs are huge and the loss to life has reached over 50,000 across Turkey and Syria. Tearfund supporters have been incredibly generous, as always, and because of this we are able to help our local partners to bring some help, hope and comfort in their communities.

Brigette*, who is 65 years old and has two daughters with her (aged 27 and 38), says: ‘The Church gave me everything. She gave me shelter, safety, food, love and a new family.’

‘Please pray for me and for the families in this shelter.’
Brigette, earthquake survivor, Syria

No longer a home

She tells our local partner that when the first earthquake happened, she thought the world was ending so she started to say a prayer of confession. She talks about how she heard her one daughter having a panic attack in her room, and then her older daughter helping to calm her down before they both came to help Brigette leave the house.

‘We stayed under the rain and dust for two hours until we got to the church,’ she says.

The family home was over a hundred years old, and although the three women tried to return to it after a couple of days, they found it was no longer safe to live in. The building had cracked and the kitchen and balcony had fallen away. So, they returned to the church.

‘This experience made me closer to God and to the Church,’ Brigette says. ‘Please pray for me and for the families in this shelter. Pray for their safety and for strength so we can continue in this difficult life.’

*Names have been changed to protect identity.

Pray with us for survivors of the Turkey-Syria earthquakes

    • Pray for Brigette and Saleh and their families and everyone who has sought shelter with our local church partners in Syria. Pray that God will strengthen them and keep them safe.
    • Ask God to comfort all those who have lost homes and loved ones.
    • Pray for the rebuilding process. Ask God to give people resilience and courage as they begin to rebuild their lives and homes.

Written by

Written by  Tarryn Pegna

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