On the Ground: Helena woman witnesses grief, devastation in Turkey

We worked in the Syrian camp of over 1,500, same issues: respiratory, skin, diarrhea all from the toxic dust and squalid conditions.

Then it was Friday evening and we spontaneously agreed to hop in the van and drive to the Mediterranean coast for a weekend off.

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I swam in the sea, the pool, slept in a real bed in an air-conditioned room.

Fourteen more days of work and then Team 2 arrives, 2 days orientation and then I leave for Adana and make my way home.

Sidestepping piles of rubble, the backdrop of construction, the occasional smells of death on a daily basis wears you down. The devastation actually affected 11 cities. 

Even by the sea, 60 kilometers away, there are destroyed buildings, but not so much. Except some swaths of flattened houses and damaged apartments.

But nothing as devastating as Hatay Anatakya, where we work.

I met a Turkish man in the Assuz who works for the government and he said the numbers of dead are over 100,000 and there are still more than that missing. He said many people (are) just not even known to be dead because they were refugees and not even registered in Turkiye.


Aid workers help Syrian refugees. There is a lack of water and close quarters in tent communities are a Petri dish for all kinds of health issues, Valerie Hellermann of Helena says.

Been thinking so much about what I am seeing and the work we are doing.

Our showing up has been so meaningful to these people, to know the world knows and people care, to comfort a person in grief, and hold their grief for a moment and, yes, to give needed medical care.

Hands On Global is working hand to hand and heart to heart.

All the team members are experienced humanitarian workers and have been all over the world. None of us have ever seen such destruction.

The first response team was here treating the broken bones and initial trauma injuries and we are here treating the aftermath of that. The squalid conditions lack of water close quarters tent communities are a Petri dish for all kinds of bacteria, viruses, fungus, mites, bugs, rodents and snakes. It is unimaginable until you see it and then it is appalling.

Our pediatrician is from Bulgaria (and now USA), he is amazing. I asked him about his perspective on the Ukraine war as an Eastern European and it was very interesting perspective.

Of course he knew the history of the region.

But here in Tukiye there are so many people who suffered great loss in this earthquake. One of our lovely translators, GulBen, lost several relatives and friends in the quake. She says she tries to feel something but she can’t. She is still in survival mode as are many people.

And the shocking reality that is setting in that home for years and years will be an ISO (International Organization for Standardization) box or a tent.

It is an overwhelming task to bulldoze thousands of damaged buildings, remove the rubble and rebuild. I was thinking about the hospital that was just rebuilt in 6 months. Well even if the construction is done, there is the cost of expensive equipment like X-ray machines and cat scans and labs.

Even in the USA to build the inner workings of a hospital takes years and lots of money.

All disasters are like this. But this one was massive.

The Syrians for sure are in the most dire situation. Their tents are reinforced with tarps and narrow passage between them. Close quarters.

One gets sick they all get sick it is scary to think about this. Such limited water and many areas of their demolished community untouched since the earthquake, some go to the streets and silently mourn.

We treated a woman who lost her husband and daughter and she was still starey-eyed in grief. Her young son is ill and she seems barely able to care for him.

I think the grief in this community is so massive, everyone has their painful story of loss. Survival mode requires suppressing the grief in order to survive. It is hard to see this on such a massive scale.

Everyone here will have respiratory issues. Many being treated for asthma-like conditions but due to the toxic dust will likely develop into lung disease. The demolition and construction will be years and years and the pollution will continue.

I hate to complain, but I am challenged by the intense heat, dust and bug bites.

We are all literally covered with bites and sweat. That’s why we escaped to this beach town Arsuz. For the bed, the air conditioning, the pool and the sea.

Unfortunately there are bugs here too, ahhhhh.

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