With the death toll from last week’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake in Turkey and Syria reaching more than 38,000, the Mennonite Central Committee is working with its volunteers on the ground to provide emergency relief.
“MCC has been working in Syria for decades. And particularly over the past 10 plus years as a conflict has been going on there with different armed groups….So when the earthquake happened, our partners were already on the ground doing work…and were able to pivot really quickly to begin to offer emergency services and support for people on the ground,” said MCC spokesperson Laura Kalmar.
Working mostly in the city of Aleppo, the volunteers are coordinating with their eight partner organizations who are opening shelter centers in churches and community buildings and providing emergency food, shelter, hygiene, sanitation supplies and trauma counselling.
One MCC volunteer described the devastation the earthquake left in its wake.
“We are only beginning to see the enormity of this disaster,” said Garry Mayhew, who, along with his wife Kate, are MCC representatives for Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.
“The sheer numbers of lives lost, injured and displaced are overwhelming, and numbers will continue to grow in the days ahead,” Mayhew said in a release.
The earthquake is the latest tragedy in a country that has been rocked by a civil war that has been ongoing since July 2011. Kalmar said this conflict had already left many Syrians displaced from other parts of the country.
“A lot of displaced people were staying in buildings or infrastructures that may have already been compromised by the shelling or the bombing due to the conflict. And then those buildings are not safe to live in or they could fall down or they could crumble. And so we’re going to be seeing the needs mounting of the people who are the survivors and have been left behind.”
Because of import challenges, the MCC is not planning on shipping supplies to Syria from Canada; instead, it is sourcing items locally. However, there are still many ads for Canadians to get involved in the relief efforts, Kalmar said.
“We encourage people to reach out to their neighbours and colleagues. We have so many newcomers to Canada that are from Syria. So [we are] just encouraging people to look around and find those Syrian refugees in their community or maybe even at their work and ask them how they’re doing. Ask them how their family is. So many of them will have family or loved ones who have been impacted by the earthquake.”
Donations can be made through the Canadian Humanitarian Coalition at www.together.ca.
“We know that this is an unfolding disaster because the numbers that we’re hearing are just growing daily of people who have lost their lives or are displaced or in need of shelter. So working together, we really just want to provide a simple and effective way for Canadians to help when a disaster strikes,” Kalmar said.