Action instead of helplessness: these students raise money for Turkey

Zeynep, Ada and Ela on campus
Zeynep, Ada and Ela

Ada Sayal, Ela Şenbak and Zeynep Gülalp are Turkish students at Erasmus University Rotterdam. Last week, they heard about the earthquakes taking place there. The students are far from home, but really want to do something. They decided to raise money through gofundme, to send to Turkey. The counter now stands at almost 8,000 euros, much more than they expected. At least as important as raising money, they feel, is creating awareness: "This affects so many people, also at our university."

Risk of earthquakes

Ada, Ela and Zeynep were born after 1999, the year when the last major earthquakes in Turkey caused their devastation. They grew up with stories of that disaster, at school and among family and friends, the '99 natural disaster was often a topic of conversation. It was a disaster of enormous proportions, but not as big as this time.

Ela says: "The frustrating thing is that we were always told: a disaster like this will probably happen again within 30 years. Where exactly you don't know, but it will happen again. You would want and expect us to be better prepared." In fact, Ela recently used it as a topic for a presentation for her Psychology degree: how earthquakes were actually always hanging over their heads. "You know it can happen again at any moment, that is stressful for people," she says.

Zeynep adds: "I think right now there is not only sadness, but also anger and frustration. Because we knew. It's not just a natural disaster. We were not prepared. You can take precautions and prepare." Ada agrees: "What we have often heard is: earthquakes don't kill people, but buildings do."

The moment of disaster

Ela: "In Turkey, it's two hours later. So we are two hours behind here. We received the message 'huge earthquake', but we are used to earthquakes. Then we heard: it's more than 7 on the Richter scale. I immediately sent my parents a message: 'Are you ok?' They were. But we still had no idea of the magnitude. I went to sleep and when I woke up again, it was clear that it was a huge disaster.

We had an exam that week. I found it difficult to cut myself off from the news and focus on my studies. I felt I should but could hardly concentrate. After my exam, I wanted to clear my head. In Turkey, it was snowing. I decided to walk the 20, 25 minutes from campus home to think: what could I do? It was during that walk that I figured out that, above all, we should raise money." At home, Ela shares her plans with Zeynep; the two are roommates.


The students have never organised anything like this before. They need to figure out the easiest way to raise money. And they also don't want to make the target amount too high. They are starting with a target of 250 euros. "One euro is more than 20 Turkish Lira, with one euro you can already make a difference," Ada explains. The contributions pour in and the goal is adjusted again and again: 500, 1,000, 1,500 euros. Within three days, the counter reaches 5,000 euros. Meanwhile, they are heading towards 8,000 euros.

Ela: "Just by starting a fundraiser and spreading a link through social media. There were enough people who wanted to donate, someone just had to start it up".

"There were enough people who wanted to donate, someone just had to start it up"

Contact with other Turkish students in the Netherlands

There is a whatsapp group with Turkish students. In the chat, hardly used before then, experiences are exchanged and initiatives shared almost continuously since the disaster.

Contact with other students from Turkey, that was what the students needed most from the beginning. Ada experiences this as something that is different in her culture than in, say, the Netherlands: "Turks are very collectivist. If someone suffers in our country, we all suffer. We sympathise with each other very much. In a disaster like this, coming together is very important".

At EUR, the students are happy to be part of a larger group of around 250 Turkish students in the international programmes alone. There are also many Dutch students with family in Turkey. It helps to know they are not alone.

Zeynep, Ada and Ela on campus
Zeynep, Ada and Ela

Feeling guilty

What all three students suffer from is guilt. Because what did they deserve for being safe, for being able to shower, have food and drink and shelter from the cold? Zeynep shares an example: "The other day I was grumbling about my pillow, which was not comfortable at all. And at that moment I thought: what are you doing? People have been lying among the rubble for days and you are grumbling about a pillow?"


Ada, Ela and Zeynep certainly do not see it as the university's job or responsibility to raise money for Turkey. What they do hope for is understanding for the plight of students affected by the disaster. Especially those students who have lost family members and friends. "We are trying to do something. All three of us were not directly affected ourselves, we did not lose family members. It's so hard to do something when you have a lot of grief yourself. We can do something, though."

An email expressing sympathy can really make a difference. On that, the three students heartily agree. Such a message makes you know that others are also concerned, that they understand that your studies are not your full attention right now. That you are worried. It is important to feel seen in such an unpleasant situation. Ada: "I understand very well that this sometimes makes it difficult to choose the right words. But it really makes a difference and is really very important."

Money, not goods

That the students collect money and not goods is a conscious choice. With the money, local organisations can do what is most needed. In doing so, the students make it as easy as possible for others: they know what the reliable agencies are and they arrange international transfers.

Professor of humanitarian studies Thea Hilhorst underlines the importance of donating money in the media in recent days. For example in Trouw on 13 February, where she was asked whether the Giro555 fundraising campaign makes sense. She responded, "Definitely. Turkey cannot solve this alone. Of course help is also coming from all kinds of governments, but this kind of massive aid campaign really helps. It's real money. Besides, we in the Netherlands are all watching the images and they make us feel powerless. We think: what a shame, I wish I could do something. Through such an action you can also do something. It meets the need we feel when we see the images. That certainly applies to people with a Turkish background, who not for nothing naturally set up many relief actions themselves. This makes them less powerless."

More information

Need help?

Students who have concerns and want to talk about the situation can contact the student counsellors and psychologists. For peer-to-peer support students can also visit the Living Room.

You can also visit team IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Access)Opens external. They can be found in the Erasmus building (AB-47).

Want to help?

Want to help Ada, Ela and Zeynep with the fundraising campaign? Go to Gofundme

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