Save the Children Fairfield changes business after earthquake in Turkey

FAIRFIELD – Humanitarian aid workers say the level of devastation caused by the earthquake and aftershocks that struck Turkey and northern Syria last month is “extraordinary”.

“Sometimes the images on TV don’t always do it justice,” said Janti Surepto, president and CEO of Save the Children US, based in Fairfield. “I wandered through cities where there was not a single building that was virtually undamaged—mountains and mountains of rubble.”

Early in the morning of February 6, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck southern and central Turkey as well as northern and western Syria. Officials in those countries say that the death toll from the natural disaster and its aftermath is close to 50,000.

Surepto said that she and her team visited the Turkish provinces of Hatay and Gaziantep at the end of last week to visit their employees in Turkey and talk to their partners in Syria. She said they went to a food distribution center and a child-friendly space, where children can play and enjoy themselves, but also have access to mental health professionals.
“We had the chance to visit a government-run shelter, in fact they called it Container City, where people who have lost their homes find temporary shelter,” she said.
Surepto said she visited Turkey in 2016 or 2017, adding that it was very moving to see the devastation there. She said she saw people go home to try to save their belongings, even though the buildings leaned at precarious angles.
“The level of devastation is unlike anything I’ve seen over the past years,” she said. “You see a lot of people who are very reluctant to go home, even if they are still standing, because they are worried about their safety. We spoke to a healthcare professional who was saying that women are reluctant to go to hospitals to give birth because they are worried about the safety of the structure.”
It’s a really desperate situation, Soeripto said, and a lot of aid workers who responded to the disaster have also been affected by it. She said many staff are still sleeping in tents or in the Save the Children office, while also trying to help their families.
Prior to the earthquake, Surepto said, Save the Children aid workers were primarily focused on helping refugees from the Syrian civil war in both Syria and Turkey. This often means working to provide education, health care and security for children and their families. She said the mission of the nonprofit has now changed.
“Within the first 20 hours, our Istanbul-based team drove the car for 12 hours and managed to get up and go…serving hot soup,” she said. “It was great to have strong teams based in Turkey, as well as other personnel and staff in northern Syria, because it allowed us to be on the ground very quickly.”
The situation is still somewhat in the immediate response phase, Soeripto said, with Save the Children focusing on providing people affected by the earthquake with the basics.

“We’re talking about food, blankets, clothes, hygiene items – everything people need – clean water,” she said. “We have also started providing some psychological support to the children.”
Once schools start up again, Surepto said, Save the Children will help the children prepare for the return. She said they are also working with the government to help children who lost their parents in the earthquake by connecting them with family.
“We’re doing our best with it,” she said. “As we enter the next phase of the response, we will work closely with the government to ensure we add value where it is needed.”
People looking to assist Save the Children’s efforts in Turkey and Syria can go to for more information.

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