Turkish volunteers staying months to help survivors
By Joey A. Gabieta
Inquirer Visayas8:58 am | Monday, December 16th, 2013
TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines—Fourteen thousand miles and 16 hours.
The distance was endured by a group of Turkish people who wanted to help ease the sufferings of the people of this city ravaged by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan).
The members of Kimse Yok Mu Foundation were the first group among dozens of international humanitarian groups that have descended to Tacloban City, which bore the brunt of the world’s strongest typhoon recorded this year.
The 15-member group, three of them female, arrived in Tacloban on Nov. 10, two days after the typhoon destroyed practically everything on its path across central Philippines, and immediately set up their tents—10 in all—at the City Hall grounds at Kanhuraw Hill, one of the few areas in the city not reached by the rampaging water spawned by Yolanda.
Seeing the harrowing devastation the supertyphoon brought to Tacloban on television, the group led by Ismael Buyukay packed their bags along with 19 tons of relief items and made their way to the Philippines, some 14,000 miles from Turkey.
From Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, the group met with their local counterpart, Icad Foundation based in Metro Manila, and immediately proceeded to Cebu province on their way to Tacloban.
But their travel to Tacloban turned out to be difficult as they had to endure what they thought was dangerous and never ending as the seacraft that they hired in Cebu to bring them to Ormoc City was battered by strong winds and heavy rain.
“We had to take shelter somewhere to escape the heavy rain and wind that kept on pounding our small seacraft. We were in the sea for 16 hours just to reach Tacloban,” said Buyukay, speaking through Mikail Kurkcu, the corporate affairs supervisor of Icad Foundation.
Under normal conditions, it would take only some three hours by sea to reach Ormoc from the Cebu port and another hour by land from Ormoc to Tacloban.
But the long travel and harrowing experience while at sea did not deter the group of Buyukay from carrying out their mission in Tacloban: to help its suffering people.
“We immediately set up our tents at the grounds of the City Hall and started distributing our relief items for the people who were there in the area at that time,” Buyukay said.
Since they started their relief giving until Dec. 12, the group was able to give food items and medicines to 3,000 families in the different parts of Tacloban.
Buyukay said the food items and medicines that they brought were donations from “Turkish people coming from all walks of life.”
“Schoolchildren as young as 7 and 8 gave their money to donate to our foundation. Our women also gave half of their bazaar money for the week so we could buy the items we needed to be distributed to the victims of the typhoon,” Buyukay said.
Bazaar money refers to weekly budget for marketing in a Turkish house, explained Buyukay.
He said government and private workers, and even those in jail who had money to spare, gave money to their foundation.
The massive devastation brought by Yolanda to Tacloban was shown in the 11 television channels across Turkey, the reason the outpouring of donation was fast and aplenty, Buyukay said.
Kimse Yok Mu Foundation was able to collect $2 million and was still receiving donations for Yolanda victims, said Kurkcu. The foundation was organized in 1999, just months after Turkey was hit by a devastating earthquake that killed more than 17,000 people.
“That is why we can easily relate to the suffering of other people. We are very giving persons. And we experienced such a very horrifying experience ourselves. We received donations from other countries and organizations all over the world at that time. We are just paying it forward,” Kurkcu said.
Kurkcu said they intended to stay in Tacloban for about six months as they still have several plans for the victims of the supertyphoon.
They have proposed before the city government to construct, initially, 30 units of houses that Kurkcu described to be “strong and resilient” against typhoons.
The proposed units would be made of cemented bricks and timber, similar materials used in constructing houses for the victims of tsunami in Aceh, Indonesia, in December 2004, Kurkcu said.
“We can start as soon as possible,” he said.
The city government has proposed an area in Barangay 106 where the foundation could build the houses.
Kurkcu said they would also send 20 schoolchildren orphaned by Yolanda to a private school in San Juan, Manila.
They have also distributed 16,000 emergency kits to typhoon victims and planned to donate flours to bakers for them to start their business while at the same time providing food to the people.
Kurkcu said they were willing to stay in Tacloban for as long as they are needed “or until the victims of the typhoon are assured that they are feeling better.”