When a powerful earthquake hit the Aegean Sea on the western coast of Turkey last fall, Lions and Leos were the first non-governmental organization at any of the rescue sites.
Lions clubs were really good at the initial response and it made us all realize the real power that we have as Lions, the power that we sometimes forget.
“Where can I go?” “How can I find the authorities?” “Where will I live?” “Who will feed my children?”
Although the Lions didn’t have immediate answers to these questions—and the many more that would follow from the thousands in despair, people knew the Lions in the yellow vests would find the answers and help them without fail.
The 7.0 earthquake hit hardest at 3 p.m. on Oct. 30 in Izmir, Turkey’s third largest city of about 4 million people.
Within an hour, Lions were organizing their efforts to help. Within three hours, the Lions of District 118R had booths and tables set up behind a collapsed apartment building, and by 6 p.m. they were distributing water, disinfectant, and the first of 150,000 masks that would go to survivors and search and rescue teams. On top of the disaster, the pandemic raged on and taking safety precautions was crucial.
By 7 p.m., four hours after the earthquake hit, Lions were serving their first warm meal of hot rice and chicken soup for thousands.
Their service continued nonstop for 10 days. Lions and Leos at emergency relief tents worked together in shifts serving 2,000 to 4,000 people a day, says Lion Esengül Erkan, the district governor for 118R. Turkish bagels and donuts, pastries with cheese and meat, Turkish deserts and drinks including the traditional ayran (a healthy Turkish yogurt drink), were there for the hungry.
But the list of needs went far beyond food. Lions distributed 5,000 blankets and 5,000 packages of baby diapers, 500 beds, 1,000 sets of bed linens, underwear and socks, toys and games, and shoes and boots, soap and much more.
On the third night, the weather got cold and electricity was not possible due to the earthquake and needs of the rescue crews. Lions brought in stoves, metal barrels, and 40 tons of wood to provide warmth in the emergency tent area.
A retired couple came to the Lions’ for help. They had thought they would have a peaceful retired life, but now they lost their home. “What touched us deeply was how they expressed their gratitude,” says Lion Şebnem Güler, global service team district coordinator of D118R. “They said that in their lives they had never asked anyone for anything before. And that they were so moved when Lions were offering the help in such a gentle and gracious way, like they were Lions’ guests.”
After 10 days, constantly sanitizing and following COVID safety guidelines, Lions and other NGOs were asked to leave their site because of rising COVID numbers. Lions set up two warehouses, one in the area most affected by the earthquake, and the second in the storage area of a factory. They left a small stand behind to continue to distribute masks, disinfectant, and water.
Help through all of this came from clubs in Multiple District 118 around Turkey, including 22 Lions clubs with younger members in the field. Those with older members provided the needs and materials for donations and support.
According to Leo District Chairperson Simru Göven, there are 19 Leo clubs in Leo District 118R, and 16 of them are in the city of Izmir. In the rescue efforts, 14 Omega Leo clubs and 94 Leos worked actively on a 24-hour continuous basis with shifts at the emergency relief sites.
As the Lions look forward and support continues, the Leos, like the Lions, realize that there is a second wave of people who are becoming homeless. As authorities check the apartment buildings for safety, hundreds of buildings are being sealed, to be demolished due to safety reasons.
“In addition to supporting the initial victims, now we have started to support these people who are becoming homeless,” says Güler.
Support has also come from a US$10,000 LCIF emergency grant, from MD111 in Germany, and from Lions clubs throughout Turkey and Greece, according to Lion Aysan Şakar, the council chairperson of MD 118.
PDG Zeynep Kocasinan, the New Voices MD coordinator for MD118, was in Istanbul and shared her support from a distance.
“Seeing my Lion and Leo friends united and serving selflessly, even though they also experienced the disaster, the fear and the effects, how they got organized and went to serve, to support, I was deeply touched and proud,” she says. “I honestly can say that my trust in our organization, my belief in our principles of service, my belief in the power of organizational structure and principles got even stronger since October 30.”
Since the 1999 Marmara earthquake in Turkey, when 17,000 died and 250,000 were left homeless, Lions clubs in Turkey have been working for disaster preparedness by educating adults and children about earthquakes.
“Earthquakes are a big reality in our lives in Turkey,” she said. “A scary reality.”
“Lions clubs were really good at the initial response and it made us all realize the real power that we have as Lions, the power that we sometimes forget. It was reassuring to see how Lions in Turkey were able to come together.”
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has impacted communities around the world in different ways. To ensure we’re serving safely wherever we live, Lions should follow the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization or local health authorities. Visit our Serving Safely page for resources that can help you safely serve your community.