Diary of a volunteer

Diary of a volunteer

As soon as the quake hit, people from all over the country rushed to help. One of the most urgent aids is food aid. While chefs try to get the kitchen ready in the earthquake zone, many people are also rushing to help in their own way. Some were there almost from day one, some took time to get the needed food and equipment. On the evening of February 15th, the same message was sent to the two WhatsApp groups I’m in. Producers of DBB (Natural Food, Conscious Nutrition) to the network of consumers and the Slow Food Türkiye group. The message was from Mustafa Alper Ülgen, a producer from Bayramiç, Çanakkale and also the leader of Slow Food Ida, and was meant to inform both groups that they were going to the disaster zone to help trucks full of food. The humanitarian aid that reaches from Çanakkale to Hatay, practically from one end of the country to the other, is an example of the power of volunteers. He wrote:

“Yesterday, we bought cheese, jam, olive oil and fuel from donations from Slow Food member Ida. We load semolina, tarhana and bulgur from our factory. I’ll be going soon. I will join the aid convoy in Bayramiç. We have about 1400 km to travel. Our goal is the tent cities of the municipalities of Bayramiç and Ayvacık in Defne, Hatay. I will work in the kitchen there. My motivation and energy are in place.”

For the uninitiated, Bayramiç and Ayvacık are two small districts in Çanakkale, at the westernmost tip of Türkiye, on the Troas peninsula where the mythological sites of Troy and Mount Ida are located. Despite the limited means of these two humble cities, the volunteer convoy was well-stocked, and everyone in the convoy headed for a faraway corner of the country they had never been to before. The next message came from the end of a long and arduous 1,400 km journey. It was said that they had arrived safely at Defne. and join the camp kitchen. Ülgen tells everyone day by day, step by step, with his warm and sincere messages. The message we received on the fourth day made us all smile:

“There are more children on the streets. It’s as if the birds have returned, or I’m starting to pay attention to the birds singing. I turned 53 yesterday, I ate rice pudding at night as a birthday cake. Cooking, spending time with children, chatting with beautiful and colorful people here, working with my friends from Bayramiç, starting early and working late, serving people in need and making them smile is a birthday gift best for me.”

Admittedly, we’re addicted to messaging with a vengeance.

“Today is our fifth day and I’m trying to write this note to you between meals. Our team has grown to 32 people. We cooked for about 700 people. 200 people from our tent city, about 200 soldiers and police, and the rest are people from the neighborhood. The number of people eating is growing every day as our kitchen serves a wide variety of delicious food that is truly delicious. Soldiers, police and other officials from 81 provinces work in the city. We also provide hot food for them. In our neighborhood, returning to town has sped up. A local resident said today: ‘Your presence reassured us, I have sent my children to Mersin, I brought them back, and many of my neighbors have called their families back.’ Our team is doing a great job. There are woodcutters, carpenters, welders, electricians, plumbers, cleaners, shop keepers, tea makers, drivers, tent supervisors, kitchen crew and many more. So much so that the technical team even went to external work. We respond to requests from neighborhoods and other settlements. Darıca Municipality’s vehicles and staff collect garbage, Gebze Municipality has placed garbage containers, Muğla Forest Organization fills our tanks twice a day, we have received bottled water from Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality and Kocaeli Municipality. Today a vehicle from Bayramiç left, carrying everyone’s personal needs and the urgent needs of this place. There are many things to tell. It will take time for life to return to normal here, although what we are doing is like a drop in the ocean, it is very important for us to at least give people some faith. I always believe, no problem, there is a solution.”

Readers may not be able to easily find all the cities mentioned on the map, but they all come from a faraway area, the Aegean coast of the Marmara region. Just now things got better, then came two more earthquakes, right in the district they are helping people. Ülgen’s description of the last quake is calm, reassuring us that they will never give up, and going back is not even an option.

“Today is our eighth day. The last earthquake shocks have begun to subside. We have activities for children after lunch. Yesterday we completed the sewage connection of the last mobile WC that arrived. Work in the kitchen never stops and the number of people coming to eat is growing. Meanwhile, people living in Defne started bringing us pepper paste, pickles, and horseradish juice that they made themselves. Milk has arrived. People are very grateful. Just now a woman from a nearby village came to buy some medicine and said something really shocking: ‘We want to stay here and be independent, the district governor is not helping, I can’t find flour, they only give me pasta. There is nowhere to buy food with money nearby. They make it difficult for us to live here. If we wanted to leave they would send us right away for free. When you offer us this opportunity here, you give us the will and confidence to stay here.’ By the way, our Robin Hood team made two trips today and brought lots of food and other necessities to camp. Meanwhile, we are also directing the Ayvacık team who will chase us. So that the service here can continue without a hitch. We are tired, but we are very happy.”

Meanwhile, producers of DBB and Slow Food Conviviums from around the country are keeping in touch on WhatsApp groups, finding out what is needed where, and continuing to send as much aid as possible, both to the camp in Defne, and to other groups of volunteers in the disaster zone. There are also discussion groups to turn emergency relief into long-term support projects. DBB producers are starting to think about sharing their long term experiences, production models and solidarity with rural producers in the earthquake zone and supporting them in rebuilding their livelihoods. The Slow Food Movement continues its relief work in a spirit of solidarity, and with the support of international organizations, they are trying to develop more long-term rural relief projects.

Ülgen’s heartfelt message shows us the truth. On the way home, he brought Daphne seeds, a native of the Defne district, hence the name. Daphne symbolizes eternity, and in Turkish culture giving a laurel branch is a sign of peace and solidarity. If voluntary assistance from one end of the country to the other 1,400 kilometers away in a spirit of solidarity can heal these bleeding wounds, there is hope for a better future.

Aylin Oney Tan,

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