By Susan Malindrino, American Red Cross, currently deployed to Türkiye with the IFRC to support international Red Cross and Red Crescent teams responding to the devastating earthquakes.
Standing outside a community for displaced people in Hatay Province, Türkiye, Tildiz Ipek shares that today is her birthday. “Today I’m 18,” she says.
“Your birthday!?” Red Crescent staff shout and break into the birthday song — “Iyi ki dogdun, Tildiz; Iyi ki dogdun, Tildiz; Iyi ki dogdun, Iyi ki dogdun; Iyi ki dogdun, Tildiz.” She smiles shyly and covers her mouth. Children from around the camp gather to join in singing and clapping along.
When the noise settles down, Tildiz shows off her drawings. Her paintings adorn the Turkish Red Crescent Children’s Center. One self-portrait shows her holding a cat wrapped in a blanket of grief that displays all the impacted earthquake areas. Destroyed buildings can be seen in the distance. “Drawing is my way to feel better,” she says.
It’s been nearly a month since two massive quakes rocked southern Türkiye, killing tens of thousands and displacing millions. While some people have fled, many continue to live in the earthquake zone, seeking shelter in emergency centers and tented camps. Those impacted have the urgent needs of shelter, health, sanitation, food and water. Many remain deeply traumatized from what they have seen and all that they have lost.
“It helps when I feel . . .” she pauses and looks away trying not to cry. “I guess it just helps me understand how hard it has been.”
Her older sister Aliye, age 20, says that the family has struggled but is fortunate that all five children survived. “This is not the case for so many families here,” she said.
Red Crescent clinical psychologist Aise Sumeyye Dal says that Tildiz’s story is a routine representation of what she and her colleagues see daily. “Our goal is to meet with children and help them reduce their stress levels. We are playing games and offering psychological first aid to children who have suffered trauma," she said.
“When basic needs aren’t met, there is a concern for the psychological welfare of an affected population. This is large-scale social trauma for entire communities,” Aise said.
According to Aise, Red Crescent psychosocial teams responding to the disaster are seeing PTSD and depression in their clients. She says that her concern is for the entire community but she’s particularly worried about children as this trauma could potentially trigger bigger issues in the future.
“The trauma isn’t just one thing. Many children have lost a parent or close relative, their routines are disrupted, and they don’t have their own beds, their toys, or their former schools and friends. So, what we have is a series of compounding traumas for so many people impacted by these earthquakes,” she said.
Tildiz and her sister sit with the children at the center, drawing and coloring pictures. Some draw their pets, others draw self-portraits and the sunshine. Tildiz says that art is the one way she can process all that’s happened. When asked if she plans to be an artist, she says, she isn’t sure what the future holds. “I just know that art brings me peace right now.”
Learn more about the response to the earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria here.
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