Support UNICEF to Aid Turkey’s Earthquake Relief Efforts


In 2018, two Turkish friends—a boy named Baki and a girl named Havva—finished middle school in Kahramanmaras, a city of 300,000 near the Mediterranean coast. Then their paths diverged. Havva moved 180 miles northwest, to the city of Nevsehir, while Baki remained in their hometown. Time and distance frayed their relationship; for five years they didn’t speak. Then, on February 5th, Havva returned to Kahramanmaras to visit his family. The next day, a pair of magnitude 7.7 earthquakes ripped across southern Turkey and northern Syria, with Kahramanmaras, Turkey at its epicenter. One of the deadliest natural disasters in the region’s modern history, it claimed over 50,000 lives and left hundreds of thousands of people homeless, Havva and his parents among them. 

The family was relocated to a temporary shelter on a local football field where hundreds of tents were lined up alongside one another. There, walking out of a neighboring tent, Havva glimpsed an uncannily familiar face: Baki. Her family’s home had also been decimated. Amid the chaos, it felt like a godsend. 

For Baki, however, the loss of other close friends had made the earthquake’s devastation all the more unbearable. “Maybe it would be easier if we didn’t have such close friends,” he reflected one recent afternoon at the Kahramanmaras football stadium. “If I wasn’t this close to my friends who lost their lives during the earthquake, it wouldn’t be so difficult.” 

And yet, in the wake of the disaster, he had found her relationships with friends who had survived more vital than ever. “Everything you do with friends changes you and gives you meaning,” he said. “All we have is family and friends. What else is there? This earthquake proved to us that we didn’t really have anything else. Everything you own can be gone in an instant. Look at all the houses, all the material things we lost. But friendship is still here. And we are holding it tightly, carefully in our hands. In return, it helps us hold on to life.” 

Baki and Havva spoke with GQ Turkey in a designated child-friendly space that UNICEF and its partners established at the stadium to offer children and teens some semblance of their normal lives. In the three and a half months since the disaster, the nonprofit has helped over 330,000 children access education, and has provided hundreds of thousands more with learning materials, psychosocial and mental-health support, access to water and hygiene supplies, critical child vaccines and training to front liners.

Once, before the earthquake, Baki had gone camping with a group of friends, an excursion for which he felt ill-suited. “I couldn’t sleep all night under canvas,” he said. “It was cold, I felt breathless.” The earthquake had changed all that; he had now found a new sense of confidence. “Every night sleeping in the tent, I say to myself, ‘So, you can do it. You can do anything if you have to.’” 

Perhaps that sense of self-reliance had been honed in part through UNICEF’s psychological first aid. But what had also helped her navigate the crisis, he said, was the simple joy of resuming an old friendship. Tremors can cause great unrest, but his bond with Havva had endured. “With a strong friend by your side,” Baki said, “nothing is that frightening any more.” 

Join UNICEF to support hundreds of thousands of children and adolescents affected by the earthqu

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Support UNICEF to Aid Turkey’s Earthquake Relief Efforts

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