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By Tina Swarens

What started as $31 donated by refugees attending a Migros Aid community gathering in February 2023 grew to a total of $12,000 to help fellow refugees impacted by the devastating earthquake in Turkey.  (View News Story here)   Migros Aid has partnered with workers in Turkey to help Syrian and Kurdish refugee populations impacted by the earthquake in 2023.  Donations provided immediate aid, such as blankets and food, and helped build over 12 home shelters for refugee families to have a place to live and move out of tents months after the earthquake.   The small but generous gift from Migros Aid allowed made a real impact in the lives of those impacted.

“I have been inspired by the generosity of people around me in the refugee community and their hearts of compassion and generosity,” said Joel Vestal, founder of Migros Aid. “Our desire to give of ourselves, whether it be time or money, is not a matter of how much money we have but a matter of the heart. We can all do something.”

The earthquake directly affected local Syrian refugee Mohamad Molhem and his family, who have been involved with Migros Aid since they arrived in Indianapolis in 2016.  (view news story here) Mohamad was in Turkey for dental work when the earthquake erupted on Feb. 6, 2023, in the Turkey-Syria region with a magnitude of 7.8 on the Richter scale.

The natural disaster  affected 18 million people within 140,000 square miles (an area the size of Germany). The United Nations estimated over 1.5 million people were left homeless and more than 55,000+ deaths were confirmed.

Migros Aid’s refugee community gathered around Mohamad’s wife, Nisreen, and son, Ali, in support at the group’s weekly CARE Club meeting in Indianapolis on Feb. 6, 2023.   The family had fled the war in Aleppo, Syria, in 2011. Mohamad lost some of his family members in the earthquake and helped with the relief efforts until he returned to the United States.

Because Mohamad was in Turkey when the earthquake erupted, it opened doors for Migros Aid to help his extended family members there, said Vestal.

During that evening, which was reported on by WISH-TV News:       

  • They lit a candle and prayed to mourn the children who died in the earthquake. 
  • They wrote letters and drew photos that were sent to the region and given to children who survived the earthquake.
  • $31 was raised for the launch of the Turkey-Syria Earthquake Fund.

In June, 2023, Vestal and his son, Zayd, traveled to Turkey to visit the area impacted by the earthquake with Migros Aid’s partners there. Vestal said he witnessed bodies still buried under the rubble 4 months after the earthquake had erupted.

They offered encouragement and friendship to many who had experienced trauma and loss as a result of this devastating natural disaster. 

Vestal said God sometimes speaks and brings opportunities to us and our response should be a willingness to be used.  

It can be hard to discern the door to walk through, but sometimes the door is wide open, and that still, small voice says,  “Move.”  

“I believe we have experienced this kind of “wide open door” and the opportunity to help share and show love to the people of southern Turkey,” said Vestal. 

One Kurdish survivor shared that during the earthquake, “The sky turned blue , the floor of my 2nd floor home started to shift back and forth, I  was thrown onto the ground and the weight of gravity pinned me to the ground. “

He lived in his car following the earthquake during the winter months while experiencing frostbite and the tips of fingers were still numb in May 2023.

Thank you to those who gave to help bring hope to refugees in Turkey.

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