The devastating earthquakes that struck Syria and Turkey last week moved Wisconsinites to pool resources and support recovery efforts.
The magnitude 7.8 and 7.5 earthquakes killed more than 30,000 people. Millions have been left homeless. International search and rescue efforts have begun to recede as many fear few will survive or be found under the rubble of collapsed buildings.
"Each one of those lost is a person — it's a son, it's a daughter, it's a father, it's a brother, a sister ... each number is an actual, loved, important person," said Bushra Zaibak, co-owner of Hayat Pharmacy in Milwaukee. Her organization will match donations to the Syrian American Medical Society up to $50,000.
Other groups in Wisconsin are working to send aid to the countries.
Janan Najeeb, president of the Milwaukee Muslim Women's Coalition, said nearly half of her board members are of Syrian origin.
"I think as human beings, you can't see something like this and not just feel really utter heartache and helplessness," she said. "But I think that whatever we can do to try and help at least the injured, we will do what we can."
The coalition is collecting new winter clothes and medical supplies at the Islamic Resource Center in Greenfield.
Najeeb called the earthquakes "an overwhelming disaster" and said many people in Syria and neighboring Turkey have been displaced multiple times.
The U.S. Department of Treasury on Thursday announced a six-month sanctions exemption for relief to Syria. Yet it's been difficult getting that aid across the border to the war-torn country, NPR reported.
Janan Najeeb's husband, Waleed Najeeb, is a Syrian physician who returned to the U.S. just days before the earthquakes struck. He was on a medical mission in Jordan working with Syrian refugees.
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Waleed Najeeb said government agencies haven’t sent supplies and help to the region fast enough.
"This is God's wisdom. We don't know why it happened. We want to respond appropriately to that atrocity," Waleed Najeeb said. "For them, it's a really difficult time, but also for us, we need to know how to respond to this kind of disaster."
In just 26 hours, the Madison Association of Turkish Students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison collected more than 1,000 items including sleeping bags, tents, diapers, hygienic products, medicine and other supplies. Items will be sent to the Turkish consulate in Chicago and shipped to Turkey.
"It wouldn't have been possible without the international community," said Ph.D. student Emre Bozer, a board member for the organization. The group has raised more than $8,000 to the nonprofit Turkish Philanthropy Funds.
Bozer said this isn't the first time an earthquake has uprooted the lives of his family and friends. In 1999, he lost two of his aunts to the earthquake in Izmit, Turkey. The death toll then surpassed 17,000.
Bozer said his family is safe in Turkey, but it's hard to grapple with the losses there and afar. One of his friends lives in Antakya, where the quake struck. He said she stayed in her car for two nights with her neighbors before taking a bus to her hometown, where she is now safe.
"It is really hard to process the whole event because it's going to be one of the collective traumas of the country," Bozer said.