Two devastating earthquakes struck the areas in northern Syria and southern Türkiye, causing widespread damage followed by numerous aftershocks, and immense suffering for the people of the country already dwindling in crises – the impact of the earthquakes was felt across the region.
When an earthquake strikes, it can cause a feeling of shock and confusion, as well as intense fear and anxiety. Survivors may be unsure of what to do or where to turn for help. Psychological first aid helps to address these feelings by providing a safe and supportive environment for survivors to express their feelings and receive help. I was on my way with our health team to the Al Hamdaniah Stadium, where a group of community health workers would be conducting psychological first-aid sessions for the community members affected by the earthquakes. In the past, even prior to the conflict in Syria, Al Hamdaniah Stadium in Aleppo, was a hotspot for sporting events. Now, in the aftermath of the earthquakes, it is temporarily hosting four hundred and fifty displaced families.
As we approached the entrance of the stadium, I was seeing crowds of people everywhere. The sight of so many people living in these conditions was heartbreaking. They had been here for weeks, ever since the impact. People from all over had come here to seek refuge, and many of them were in desperate need of psychological first aid.
Psychological first aid is a critical component in helping people who have experienced an earthquake to cope with their emotions and mental health after experiencing a traumatic event. It provides an important framework for the delivery of necessary mental health care and is especially important to those in vulnerable communities or those who lack access to professional mental health resources.
I met Noor, 45 years old, a Syrian community member living in Aleppo, during one of the psychological first-aid sessions, conducted by Nagham, Medair’s health officer. Noor lives with her husband and two children about a fifteen-minute drive away from the Al Hamdaniah stadium. They are now struggling, after losing a new home to the devastating earthquakes. During the psychological first aid session with Nagham, Medair’s health officer, Noor spoke to us about the new home they purchased just days before the horrific event, and the hardships and struggles that followed under these challenging circumstances.
“I bought a house just five days before the earthquakes,” she says with tears accumulating in her eyes and her fists clenched. I was able to feel her pain in the moment. “Now, my family and I are homeless,” she says bursting into tears. Noor needed a moment, while Nagham comforted her. After a brief pause and a deep breath, while wiping away her tears, she continued “It feels good to cry, I needed this. I’ve been holding all of it inside me, and it’s been eating me from the inside out. A new year, and it’s already been so unfortunate for our family. This changed our lives forever. I don’t want to know what is ahead of us” she says, contemplating the future as she stared into the distance.
She continues, “My husband and I decided in December of last year that we were going to purchase a new home in the new year. With the conflict mildly active and a very rough couple of years spent with COVID, and my personal health, we felt like it was the right time for our family to own a new home. I was excited and very happy as we planned for it and I always wanted a home for my kids. God had a different plan for us” she says with her head tilted up. She continues, “Just five days before the earthquake, we purchased a beautiful new home next to Bustan Al-Qasr Park, about fifteen minutes away from here. My husband and I were over the moon about it. There was no way we could have anticipated this traumatic experience” she says as she got emotional again thinking back to the moment. She continues, “We were in the midst of moving furniture and kitchen appliances and so forth, so we weren’t fully settled yet. We never got the chance to fully move and enjoy our home. Now, we never will.”
After a moment, she continues, “Look at me now, I am a proud homeowner left homeless. I cannot believe this is real. The earthquakes have taken everything from us. It wasn’t meant to happen this way. It’s been difficult to be here and live under these circumstances. As you can see, these are not ideal living conditions and we’re struggling to provide our necessities like food, water, and medications daily. I sleep where I am sitting right now, on the floor and I am not young. Most of the nights are sleepless nights as it is crowded twenty-four seven. Sometimes, I’ll wake up in the middle of the night to people crying. It all makes me very sad, anxious, and restless. The memory of the traumatic event alone still replays in my mind, preventing me from sleeping. The moment is revisited in nightmares. This will surely affect my health condition. I already suffer from high blood pressure, so I am aware it’s going to have a long-term effect. Our home is gone and there is nowhere to turn to now. It feels like we live to relive misery repeatedly. Everything I know is now gone” she says sadly. Nagham assured Noor that her team was there to support them and answer any questions she may have about accessing health services. At the end of the session, Noor briefly conveyed that she felt much better after having someone to hear her out and being able to converse with her about her current hardships.
During the psychological first aid session with Nagham, Noor was presented with a Medair brochure by Abdo, Medair’s community health worker, highlighting the health services provided at the Medair-supported Salah El Din primary health care centre (PHCCs) located near the stadium. At the primary health centre, Noor and other affected communities can benefit from services such as free medications, echo tests, and doctors’ consultations. The printed brochure is given to the affected communities highlighting the location of the primary health centre supported by Medair incorporating the essential health services they can benefit from at the primary health centre. As part of the session, Medair also conducts hygiene promotion to educate the community on the importance of maintaining good hygiene practices. The session will include the basics of proper hygiene and sanitation. The community health volunteers will explain the various methods of handwashing, and the importance of using soap and water to prevent the spread of germs and disease.
Medair’s earthquake response and services in Aleppo are funded by the Syrian Humanitarian Fund (SHF), Chaine du Bonheur, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) and financial support of the European Union.
This content was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and headquarters staff. The views expressed herein are those solely of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organization.