Singaporean in Turkey raises nearly $70,000 in a week to buy tents for earthquake victims

1 month ago The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - With news of the devastation caused by the Feb 6 earthquake in Turkey filling her social media feed, Istanbul-based Singaporean Jacintha Phua was left wondering what she could do to help.

Compelled to go beyond making just a donation, the 36-year-old began raising funds on Feb 13 with two friends for tents to shelter those left homeless.

Her fundraiser, the Turkiye Relief Initiative, ended at 12pm on Monday, and raised $69,184.91, with contributions coming in Singapore dollars and renminbi. The funds will go towards buying550 four-person tents, said Ms Phua.

Ms Phua, who runs an education tech start-up, told The Straits Times that any other funds her team receives will be donated to Turkish non-governmental organisation Ahbap for its relief efforts.

Explaining why she decided to start her fundraiser, Ms Phua, who has been living in Istanbul since 2021, said: “The biggest motivators for starting the fundraiser came from seeing how people in my community here in Istanbul were pitching in, the many Singaporean friends and family who reached out asking how they could contribute, and like-minded friends who shared the same desire to help those affected by the quake using the resources and network we had.

“Our hearts were burdened to do something more than making a donation.”

While she initially considered travelling to the quake-affected zones, she realised that her presence might prove more of a burden as the supply of electricity and water was already scarce and many volunteers were sleeping in their vehicles.

She said: “We learnt there was a pressing need for temporary housing as many remain homeless in Turkey and tents especially are in short supply.

“Given that my two team-mates are based in China, the so-called factory of the world, we knew we could get hold of the much-needed supplies more easily than others and at a discounted price if we were to buy in bulk.”

The most costly and challenging aspect of the project would be getting the tents from China to Turkey.

Once Ms Phua’s team got word from Singapore Airlines that it would sponsor the air freight shipment of the relief supplies, she said: ”We knew this had to be our mission.”

Packed onto two cargo pallets, the first batch of 48 four-person tents were loaded on an SIA flight from Beijing on Monday. The goods transited in Singapore before reaching Istanbul on Wednesday. From there, Ms Phua said, the tents will be handed over to the Turkish Red Crescent, or Kizilay, which will distribute them to victims of the earthquake across the various affected areas.

The earthquake has so far claimed 47,000 lives, with the death toll expected to continue climbing. Thousands are still missing while at least six million have been left homeless in Turkey and Syria. A smaller 6.3 magnitude earthquake on Monday is estimated to have killed at least three people.

While life in Istanbul remains relatively normal according to Ms Phua, she said: “In the first few days (after the earthquake), supermarkets were full of people buying supplies to donate. When we went around buying supplies, everyone was giving us the best prices they could because they were for the victims.”

“It was also heartwarming to see so many people coming together.”

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