Why children in Turkey and Syria still need your help

A little girl who survived the disaster in Turkey hugs a Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency worker. (UNICEF/UN0780675/Özgür Ölçer)

Global Youth Ambassadors

The earthquakes in Turkey and Syria have devastated the lives of tens of thousands of children, destroying their homes and schools. Ceren Yürümez, a 21-year-old Theirworld Global Youth Ambassador from Turkey, urges world leaders to make education, especially in the early years, a priority.

On February 6, thousands of people in Turkey and Syria didn’t wake up to a new day. An earthquake of magnitude 7.7 occurred in southeast Turkey at 4.17am, not far from Syria’s northern border.

That morning, something didn’t feel right, so I got up early. As soon as I picked up my phone, I was startled by footage of individuals pleading for help while buried beneath rubble, suffering horrific injuries.

I immediately thought of my loved ones living close to the epicentre and my hands started shaking. Everyone in Turkey awoke that day with the fear of losing their loved ones. We started to wait for the good news but it never came.

About nine hours after the first earthquake, news of a second one with a magnitude of 7.6 shattered us. More than 50,000 people are now known to have lost their lives in Turkey and Syria.

Sadly, as with all crises, children suffered the most. Without coordination and a lack of well-trained rescue teams, many passed away under rubble in the freezing-cold weather. Due to the chaos in the area and the shortage of safety teams, children who survived went missing in the early days.

7 million

Children live in areas affected by the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria

Some children were rescued from the wreckage without their parents and were hospitalised without receiving enough psychological care. Those who survived with their parents were left to live on the streets without access to adequate food, clothing or medicine.

Following the earthquake, numerous NGOs, international organisations and volunteers sent donations. I participated in the classification of medicines in my province for distribution to the affected areas where psychosocial support camps were set up for children. However, due to the size of the impacted area and the lack of accessible roads, many children were unable to access basic assistance.

Children who survived the earthquake and had a guardian were sent to schools in unaffected cities. However, the trauma of what they have experienced and the anxiety of relocating to a new city means that many are not attending their new schools.

Even when in school, many are struggling to focus on lessons because of the trauma they have suffered.

These children will require professional help for a long time. Uncertainty exists around the future of schooling for those without a guardian.

The most crucial years of a person’s life are those of early childhood. Their adulthood is significantly impacted by the events that take place during the early years of their life. Study after study shows how traumatic events and a lack of education during these crucial years have a negative impact on a person later in life.

We must help children fully recover from this traumatic experience.

Ceren  Yürümez, Theirworld Global Youth Ambassador from Turkey

New research from Theirworld shows there are 118 million pre-primary-aged children who are not in school in countries affected by crises. For these children, education cannot wait. They need immediate psychosocial support and tailored education to heal and live a healthy life.

That’s why I support Theirworld’s call for early childhood education to be prioritised in emergencies. I strongly believe that for the hundreds of millions of children living in conflict zones, quality early years support can protect young children from the worst effects of emergencies.

As the people of Syria and Turkey try to rebuild their lives, we must keep pushing to ensure that children affected by the earthquakes receive the right support to help them grow into healthy and happy adults. We must help them fully recover from this traumatic experience and live out the rest of their lives in safety and health.

If you believe that every child has the right to a healthy and fulfilling life, keep donating to credible sources and spread the word. These children need your help.

As well as being a Theirworld Global Youth Ambassador, Ceren is a medical student and researcher, currently working on a series of emergency research projects involving children.

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