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Following the Feb. 6 earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, members of the Harvard College Turkish Student Association and Harvard Society of Arab Students organized fundraisers to raise money for victims, collectively amassing more than $30,000 in donations.
As of Thursday, more than 20,000 people in Turkey and Syria have died, tens of thousands are injured, and hundreds of thousands are homeless due to the magnitude 7.8 earthquake — one of the deadliest in the past two decades. Freezing temperatures, power outages, and blocked roads have stalled aid and rescue efforts, spurring fundraisers from campus organizations.
Former TSA Co-President Ratip “Emin” Berker ’22-’23 described fundraising efforts — which were intended to “remove the ambiguity” around where or how to donate — as “overwhelmingly good.”
Berker said members of the TSA publicized the fundraiser on social media and tabled outside the Science Center, expecting to raise at most $2,000. Instead, the group raised more than $29,000 in less than 24 hours from more than 1,100 donors.
“We wanted to make it easier for people to contribute and not have to think about what organization to go to because chances are, your average Harvard student is not very well-informed about which NGOs operate in Turkey, which one of them are more reliable, which one of them are helpful,” Berker said.
“Raising money is something, but it’s not like these people will need it just for this weekend,” Berker added. “It’s also important to raise awareness on a longer-term scale, so that help continues going there.”
SAS President Sam M. Saba ’23 said the organization decided to organize a fundraiser due to the “devastation” the earthquake caused.
Assma Alrefai ’25, SAS social co-chair for the 2022-2023 academic year, said she believes SAS is the only campus organization fundraising to help Syria and other affected neighboring countries. Alrefair said she appreciated other student groups helping their cause by “posting on their Instagram page and pubbing through their mailing lists.”
“That’s what we’re trying to count on — just the support from students,” she said.
SAS has raised $5,000 of the group’s $15,000 goal. Organizers said a Harvard alum plans to match donations one-to-one.
Some members of TSA and SAS said they initially did not realize the extent of the destruction caused by the earthquake.
Berker, who was in Turkey until the night of Feb. 5, said that the earthquakes occurred an hour after his flight landed in Boston. He said that he heard the news from a blockmate and “didn’t know how to react.”
“It took me a while to grasp the magnitude of it because earthquakes do happen, all in smaller magnitudes,” Berker said. “Initially, I thought, ‘Oh, I hope everyone’s safe.’ But I think as more and more info came in, I realized, ‘Okay, it’s not just something small. It’s quite big.’”
TSA co-president Naz Yanik ’25 said she found out about the earthquake on Twitter and initially “underestimated its effect.”
“I went to sleep around 11 p.m. — I didn’t really know,” Yanik said. “Then I woke up today, I realized its magnitude and its effects very much since many of my friends lost their families and parents.”
However, Yanik also said that many people on campus — including some of her friends — did not know about the earthquake.
“Maybe an earthquake sounds like ‘Oh, it happened and people were shocked or people were sad,’” Yanik said. “But the thing is, a lot of people are still under the rubble and they are waiting to be found.”
While Saba recognized that students might feel “skeptical” about sending money to organizations outside of the United States, Saba said SAS is working with an organization established by a Harvard graduate student, allowing SAS to keep in direct contact with the organization.
“The United States dollar goes much further in the region than it does here,” Saba said. “So even a couple of U.S. dollars can feed families for days.”
“We really want everyone — even as small of a donation as you can make — to donate because it really can make a difference,” Saba added.
—Staff writer Madeleine A. Hung can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Joyce E. Kim can be reached at email@example.com.
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