An imam and two muezzins of a mosque located within a university campus in the northwestern province of Sakarya have provided a lifeline to international students unable to return home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Erol Demir, who serves as an imam at the campus mosque of Sakarya University, organized charity donations and social events for students to help overcome the mental challenges of being stranded.
Some 2,000 international students at the university benefited from the TL 400,000 ($51,000) collected with the aid of Demir and muezzins, Murat Ak and Fatih Akın.
Demir said students were unable to return home due to canceled flights or not being able to afford a plane ticket and that they had no relatives to stay with in the country. He decided to start a project reaching out to the stranded group, initially hoping it would help "maybe 200 people."
Once the project launched, Demir realized the demand was far greater than he had anticipated and contacted the local Directorate of Youth and Sports as well as the Turkish Red Crescent to expand the aid scheme to reach out to 2,000 students.
"One day, I was visiting a student at home. I was wondering how he was faring during the pandemic. I decided to check the refrigerator whether he had anything to eat when he left the room. I saw only a slice of cheese and a few olives, nothing else. This shocked me. My refrigerator was full and this student had nothing to eat but cheese and olives. This is what really motivated me to help them," he told Anadolu Agency (AA) Wednesday.
Demir is grateful to the people of Sakarya who supported his team with donations. "I believe our brothers will not forget us when they returned to their countries and will serve as volunteer envoys for Turkey," he added.
The imam and muezzins also organized classes for students at the mosque and host meetings bringing together students from different departments of the university on top of providing necessities.
Muhammad Mukhtar Aboubakir, a young Nigerien who studies political science and public administration at the university, says Demir and others gave them "all support they can."
"I don’t feel like I am in a foreign land here. This is like home. People of Turkey is very warm and very helpful towards international students," he says.
Razafindramon Oliver Nicolas Jean Jacques, a Malagasy student who studies in the same department, said they found "a new family" and was happy to be in Turkey, saying "the support they gave us made this pandemic period very easy for us."