Flying in, it looks like any other city. A sprawl of lights, emanating from houses and buildings dotted all over, illuminate the night sky with a hazy, orange glow. You’d be forgiven for thinking nothing was out of place. But, following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake which struck the Turkish Syrian border in February, the collapsed homes, rubble and dust which remain in Gaziantep tell a very different story.
This was my introduction to Gaziantep, from where I have just returned, having been running a prosthetics training with our partners Koalaa and Physicians Across Continents (PAC). Together, we are providing Koalaa prosthetics for Syrians with upper limb difference. The goal is to give greater independence, confidence and enable patients to do the activities they want to do – even if that’s as simple as writing with a pen.
Mohammed, who attended the training, lost his arm during a bomb blast in Aleppo. Devastatingly, his story is not unique. The World Health Organisation estimates that more than 86,000 Syrians have amputations as a result of injuries sustained by the conflict1. Now, there are even more due to the earthquake. While acknowledging the relevance of such statistics, there is a risk that they dehumanize the people behind them. It is the people who are important and each one of those 86,000 is a living, breathing, feeling person. A person like Mohammed, whose smile remained permanently etched across his face on the training day. Or, like Ahmad, who attended with his wife and three young daughters, who he worried about scaring when he took his prosthetic on and off. Each one is a person who we believe deserves the right to care for themselves and to live unencumbered by their loss of limb. This is why we continue the work we do.
During my time in Gaziantep, the damage of the earthquake was impossible to ignore. Even PAC’s office doesn’t let you forget what has happened. Gaping cracks ran from floor to ceiling, creating misshapen windows in what should have been solid, stable walls. Having been certified as structurally safe for entry, PAC’s office is now one of many buildings on the waiting list for repairs. Others, however, were not so lucky, having either entirely collapsed, or been rendered unsuitable for inhabitants, leaving people still now either homeless or without a place of work.
While this environment is shocking to see, relative to Hatay province, the city of Antakya and North-West Syria, Gaziantep was untouched. When I ask Omar, from PAC, to describe the greatest needs, his answer is “everything… we are just trying to stay alive.”
While the earthquake and its consequences have faded from the news, they are still starkly present in the landscapes and minds of the people on the Turkish Syrian border. The effects will continue long beyond the next few months or even years. It is Hands Up’s response to this which makes me feel so genuinely lucky, and proud, to work here. We are guided by the needs, not the news. We’re committed to working with our partners to provide the communities we serve with the services they so vitally need to get back on their feet, whether these needs are visible in the headlines or not.
If you’d like to support us in this mission (please do), you can donate here. Thank you.