The Middle East is in turmoil: earthquake in Morrocco , floods in Libya. It has changed our plans a bit as medical first response teams in Turkey needed to leave for those new disaster zones. Our team split up. Hands On Global has sent three people to deliver supplies in Ukraine and then fly to Turkey. I came directly to Turkey to set up the mobile clinic with my team. We will be hearing from the Ukraine team soon and I will share the updates from the team on the ground. They are heading to Lviv to meet up with some surgeons and deliver the critical trauma and ortho supplies.

My team and I arrived in Adana after long flight delays. From there, we drove three hours to Hatay where we are working. The devastation from the February 2023 earthquake is really unbelievable. Miles of total destruction. People living in tents, under makeshift tarps and iso boxes. Rubble all over. It seems the entire town will need to be rebuilt. Saw only a few buildings that appeared slightly damaged. Salvage teams are clearing away rubble and bodies are still being found.

Yesterday, we worked in the Syrian camp. Such sadness, such need, and it will be years and years before anything will change. There is one toilet and one shower for a camp of 2000+ people. Potable water scarce and no electricity. It is hot and the tents are sweltering in the heat. Apparently, the tents and shelter offer no barrier when it rains. Such misery. Then the Turkish police showed up and we were told we cannot work at the Syrian camp, so we finished with the patients we had, packed up and left. Wondering – well now what? We are given permission now to work in the Turkish camps but not the Syrian camps – who have the most dire conditions. Again, the challenges of being a refugee. It is so wrong, so heartbreaking and their needs so great. We are staying in a “marriage” hall that has been deemed safe by engineers. We are here with volunteers from Egypt, Brazil, Guatemala, Panama, Korea, and Spain. Global cooperation of humanitarians in action.

About 50 of us sleep on cots, forget about privacy. We share five toilets and two showers but do have internet and electricity, so we are good. A Korean team cooks food for all the volunteers. They also cook every evening for 1500+ refugees who come here for food. We eat after them and much later. There is an ngo running a program for the displaced children. There is such trauma in these kids. Some have lost family members, mothers, fathers, siblings. They seem so fragile. We met a grandmother with her grandson – maybe five years old, only he survived. She was crying and begging for help. What can be done? One of our translators who speaks both Arabic and Turkish showed us her home, almost a pancake. She was awakened by the first sliding motions, then the major quake began. They were trapped in their house but managed to be dug out within hours. Her school friend was not so lucky. She was texting on her phone that she was alive but trapped and was never rescued. There were just so many needing rescuing. The immensity of it all is overwhelming. The healing physically, spiritually, emotionally and geographically will be long.

Valerie Hellermann

Reflections from the Hands on Global team in Turkey.