Compassion drives Turkey's aid workers around the world
by Anadolu Agency
Aug 21, 2015 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Anadolu Agency
Aug 21, 2015 12:00 am
"Every time I have doubts about going abroad for humanitarian work, I remember how lonely they will feel if they cannot see us," said a 29-year-old Turkish volunteer who helps orphans in Sudan.
Meryem Keskin, who lives in Turkey's northwestern city of İzmit, has been spending her holidays helping children in need both at home and abroad. During the holy month of Ramadan, she stayed in Turkey to conduct humanitarian work with Turkish children. She generally travels to Sudan during the Islamic religious festival of Eid al-Adha for similar work. "Children are my motivation," Meryem stressed.
Meryem is one of many Turkish volunteers providing humanitarian assistance through charitable organizations, in addition to state institutions, that conduct global aid work to meet the needs of millions of people affected by conflicts and disasters. She works in a home for orphans in Sudan's capital city of Khartoum, which was opened by the Turkish charitable foundation Yardımeli.
The house, established on nearly 15,000 square meters of land, operates like a college with a library, dining hall, dormitory, guesthouse, pool and parks. Forty workers, including 10 Sudanese teachers, are employed to run the orphanage. It is home to more than 170 children between the ages of seven and 15. "It is like a five-star hotel among the local houses, which are fighting against poverty," Meryem said.
For three years now, she has been spending her holidays and religious festivals away from her family. "It is difficult, yes, but priceless," she said. The happiness in the eyes of orphans when they see us is priceless."
Meryem is now planning to become a helping hand for those in need in Bangladesh or Ethiopia.
"Africa is a continent of poverty," she said. "Nevertheless, I could see that children in the orphanage were not greedy at all. Once, I took some nuts from Turkey to share with them. To my surprise, each of the children took only one piece, which is strange because us Turks generally take a handful of nuts when offered. When I saw the people in need outside of Turkey, I questioned my understanding of poverty. It is totally different from our country. Even the neediest people in Turkey have something, but they [the orphans] do not have anything."
Humanitarian Aid Foundation (İHH) donor and volunteer Muhammad Kınalı, 49, agreed with her. "The gap between the needy in Turkey and those in poorer countries is just like the gap between the rich and the poor in Turkey," Muhammad, a father of four, claimed. He traveled to Pakistan in 2010, Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2014 and Bangladesh this year to help Rohingya Muslims who have been living as unregistered refugees in camps. "The police prevented us from delivering humanitarian aid to them," he said. "We could hardly manage to reach the needy to give them both cash and non-cash items. We had also taken some tents for them, which were suitable for the area's climate conditions."
He also recounted his time in a home for orphans in Pakistan. Once, he slept alongside an orphan boy "who tightly hugged me, and fell asleep in my arms." "Those times were very difficult," he added. "The biggest motivation for us, when helping the needy abroad, is to see them happy and smiling. And the hardest part is the fact that we, as aid workers, have to hide our sadness over their pain and carry a smiling face all the time. Otherwise, they may lose their hope and belief in goodness," he said. He is planning to visit an African country to conduct humanitarian work during the coming Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, which will be observed in September.
After the U.S. and the U.K., Turkey ranked third in the amount of aid provided on the list of countries with the most international humanitarian work conducted in 2012 and 2013, the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA) said in its "Turkish Development Assistance 2013" report.
According to another 2013 Global Humanitarian Assistance report, the top five donors are the U.S. with $3.8 billion, followed by EU institutions with $1.9 billion, the U.K. with $1.2 billion, Turkey with $1 billion and Sweden with $784 million. The top five recipients are Ethiopia, Afghanistan, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Somalia, and Pakistan, the report said.