On the 27th of February, I arrived in Türkiye as part of the FOUR PAWS Rapid Response Mission team to deliver aid to animals injured and displaced by the earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria. “Devastation” is the word often repeated in the media to describe the affected areas. As we travelled to some of the worst hit places, few other words came to mind to describe what I saw.
The loss people are experiencing is immense and the destruction caused by the earthquakes is devastating. Over the next week and a half, photographer Hristo Vladev and I documented much of the damage in video and photography as the team drove through the country providing food and medical treatment for animals. I also witnessed first-hand the impact that our help for animals has on the individuals, families, and communities that must rebuild their lives after the earthquake.
Delivering aid to the village of Tatlar
Together with the Turkish animal welfare organisation Haydiko, the FOUR PAWS Rapid Response Team has been delivering aid to some of the most affected provinces, including Kilis, Adiyaman, and Elbistan. Our work in cities has helped thousands of companion animals and their owners. We also travelled to rural areas, where countless families have lost their homes and farmed animals, and government support is slow to arrive.
In the village of Tatlar, there are 750 families, 200 destroyed buildings, and 1700 farm animals – mainly cows, goats, and sheep – in need of urgent help. Most of the small farmers in Tatlar had not received any government support and had no viable way to care for their animals. The animal feed they received was not only crucial for the survival of their farmed animals, but also for the survival of their livelihoods.
For several days, we worked hard to be able to fulfil our promise to the residents of Tatlar: to deliver 25 tonnes of farm animal feed to hundreds of village homes that were devastated by the earthquake. The sheer number of tonnes, kilograms and bags of feed is impressive, but not likely what I will remember about this phase of the mission. What I will remember is how the residents responded to our help.
"Thank you from all of Turkey"
At the sight of our large truck bearing the FOUR PAWS logo, residents approached us with warm words of thanks or gestures of gratitude. Not speaking a common language didn’t pose a huge barrier to our communication. Gestures and smiles said it all – plus we had a little help from a translation app.
A man approached me one day at a roadside stop, and using the translation app on his phone asked me if we were here to help. Speaking into his phone, I explained FOUR PAWS’ mission on the ground. His response: “Thank you from all of Turkey.”
Later that same day, a family invited our team for a simple lunch and tea in their home: one of the tents provided by the Turkish disaster authority. Seeing how little people have after the disaster and how important their animals are to them confirmed how crucial our work will be in the coming weeks.
The number of animals in need of help throughout the earthquake zone is staggering and endless work remains to be done. One picture has emerged clearly though in my mind over the last few weeks: our efforts make a difference – to the animals, families and communities: one building block on the way to recovery for the affected areas.
The FOUR PAWS Rapid Response Mission Team is scheduled to enter Syria later in March to continue relief efforts on the ground in collaboration with Syrian partner organisations.