Across the region, college students continue the fight for aid to Turkey

Students across the Capitol Region are still working on efforts to benefit those affected by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that killed over 50,000 people in Turkey and Syria last month. 

At the University at Albany, Tuğba Özbilir and Ferhat Ulukaya are collecting monetary donations to benefit rebuilding efforts. The two students from Turkey hope to raise enough to contribute toward rebuilding a school. Özbilir said she lost several family members in the earthquakes and feels a personal connection to the tragedy. 

“As students, they thought that would be a good place to start,” said Susan Gorga, a professor who has been working alongside the students.

A memorial and fundraiser will take place at UAlbany Thursday at 7 p.m. The Guilderland Orchestra will perform Turkish music and several speakers–including, Claire Nolan, a professional storyteller, will be there. Donations can still be made online at  through the Turkish Philanthropy Fund. 

Next Tuesday, April 4, UAlbany also will hold a Turkish movie night. The event is free but participants are urged to donate to the cause. The movie shown will be “The Water Diviner,” directed by and starring Russell Crowe. The film is American made but takes place primarily in Turkey.

Özbilir hopes the exploration of Turkish themes and culture will keep the tragedy in people’s minds. “We thought it will impress the students and they will help us,” she said. 

Prior to coming to the U.S. to studyÖzbilir worked for a rescue team in Turkey, allowing her the chance to be on the ground helping in situations like this. She said she felt powerless to help here in the U.S. Gorga saw how this was affecting Özbilir and said to her, “Let’s do something,”

“I wanted to give her back some of that power,” Gorga said. 

At Siena College, Sevval Istanbulluoglu collected essentials like clothing and hygiene products for those affected by the earthquakes. To organize this, she said, she reached out to the Turkish embassy to see if they had any initiatives she could support. They told her of a partnership with Turkish Airlines, where donations collected would be shipped for free. With the help of some professors who belong to the Turkish community, Sevval was able to organize the transportation of the donations. 

Enough donations have been collected from across the state that the embassy is no longer accepting any. 

Now, Istanbulluoglu is also focusing on rebuilding efforts. The college senior spent her childhood in Istanbul and has a childhood friend attending a university in Texas. The friend’s family in Turkey lost their home to the earthquakes and is mounting their own fundraising efforts. Istanbulluoglu hopes to hold a musical event where all proceeds can be donated to the family.

While UAlbany and Siena are continuing their efforts, they were not the only Capital Region colleges to call attention to the issue. On March 3 at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the Muslim Student Association held a gaming tournament to raise funds for communities that were affected.

Fifteen million people across 10 cities were affected by the earthquake, according to a flier distributed by those leading the efforts at UAlbany.

Although over a month has passed since the initial earthquake, members of the local Turkish community urge Americans to not move on yet.

“Everyone forgot about it now. I aim to remind everyone they still need help,” said Özbilir.


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