Last February, I heard about Maya’s Community Support Group in Herne Bay, Kent and I was keen to find out more. Maya Amangeldiyeve has already been actively supporting Ukrainian refugees and was now raising aid and funds to help those stricken in Turkey.
I visited Maya in her small coffee shop in Herne Bay and was absolutely blown away by what she had achieved in very little time. Maya is not a Rotarian, she just wants to do good in her local community.
Listen to this article
She set up an appeal to raise aid to send to Turkey without any idea of how to get it there and that’s where Rotary came in. After a brief consultation with our international lead, Francis Hodge, it was agreed that District 1120 (Rotary in the South East) would fund the lorry to go to Hatay and the city of Antakya.
Maya made contact with a haulage company who have a depot in Purfleet near Dartford and a huge depot in Turkey. They delivered the aid at cost price which cost the district £4,200.
When I visited Maya, she had enough aid to fill three 40-foot lorries, but had no way of getting it to Turkey. This included winter clothes, sleeping bags, beds, medical aid, children’s clothes and toiletries which had been collected from Herne Bay and across Kent.
Even local MP, Sir Roger Gale, became aware of Maya’s efforts and was there helping load the lorry. We have since sent a second lorry with portable toilets which are in great need in the affected areas.
A lot of the people we spoke to felt they had been forgotten. The scale of the disaster meant there were always going to be those who could not be helped or reached in the short-term.”
In March, Maya received a phone call from those receiving the aid in Turkey, asking if we would care to travel there to greet our lorry when it arrived and help to unload it. This was an opportunity I could not refuse.
Driving to where we would be spending two nights sleeping in a tent was heart -breaking, breath-taking and devastating, as we drove mile after mile after mile past devastated buildings on the side of the road with people just wandering around.
On the first morning of our three-day stay in Antakya, we were taken to see a family who had very little and lived in a ramshackle tent. It was quite a warm day and unbeknown to us they had arranged breakfast, which we couldn’t believe.
This family had nothing, yet they provided hard-boiled eggs, cucumber, tomatoes, honey and bread.
As we walked into their ‘home’ there was a young mum with her five-month-old baby daughter. I asked Maya, who speaks fluent Turkish, what the baby’s name was, at this point she highlighted how the mother and four of her children had been trapped in the rubble of their home for up to 30 hours.
Her young baby was out of her reach. She was asking her five-year-old son to keep pinching the baby to make her cry so that the rescuers could hear where they were and, after 10 hours, the baby was rescued.
The mother, her five-year-old son, and 11-year-old daughter were still trapped after another 20 hours. The mother was rescued after 30 hours.
However, in that period she heard her 11-year-old daughter take her last breath as she choked on the dust.
They have never found her five-year-old son. How this woman copes every day, I have no idea.
A lot of the people we spoke to felt they had been forgotten. The scale of the disaster meant there were always going to be those who could not be helped or reached in the short-term.
Mothers were desperate for soft toys for their children. They had zero time to take anything from their homes as the earthquake struck.
It is a sobering thought that most of those killed, their bodies in the rubble were found close to the exit doors.
When I visited Maya, she had enough aid to fill three 40-foot lorries, but had no way of getting it to Turkey.”
We went to a tented village which was occupied by Syrian immigrants.
They had very little and made it clear that this was the second time they had lost everything. The first time these refugees had fled Syria, and now they had endured this earthquake.
We met one family living under a tent. Five beds were crammed into a tiny area not much bigger than 12-foot square. The grandmother was 82-years-old, very fragile and immobile.
She spoke to us with tears in her eyes explaining how she had lived in this area all her life. The home where she lived was just yards away and uninhabitable.
She did not want to leave because this was where she was born and this was where she wanted to die.