Courage, brotherhood and generosity: Syrians stand in solidarity as earthquake leaves north in ruins
A portrait of destruction still fills the flattened streets of Aleppo and Lattakia as over 25 million people suffer from the brutal earthquake that hit Turkey’s south and Syria’s northwest earlier in February, killing more than 47,000 people while damaging and destroying hundreds of thousands of homes.
Another earthquake then struck on Monday with a magnitude of 6.4 near the southern Turkish city of Antakya but was felt in Syria, Egypt and Lebanon.
Rescue operations have wound down with fading hope for those still missing.
In Syria – principally neglected as countries have focused on Turkey – the people have mobilised.
As cash-strapped authorities are limited in what help and aid they can offer survivors, the power of private initiatives and community-led projects has helped save lives and care for victims – a scene being repeated up and down the country.
"The people declared a community emergency themselves, with everyone doing what they can. Everyone has a unique ability financially and morally, psychologically, health-wise and in terms of relief and media documentation, it’s a national effort"
In Damascus, volunteers at Ahmad’s Humanitarian Project horde supplies and donations at the al-Wahdeh basketball stadium. They are collecting food, clothing and medicines for the relief of those affected, mainly in Aleppo and Jableh.
What initially started as a humanitarian cause months ago to provide medical support for a girl suffering a large tumour has turned into a nucleus of humanitarian activity in the country’s capital, Damascus, where people have congregated to help send aid north.
The work doesn’t stop, “people offered their donations as clothes and medicine, defying the harsh weathers condition in Damascus, proving that the Syrian hearts are with each other,” Fatima Najjar  told The New Arab.
“We have been shocked to the core by what the earthquake has done, it has led to the displacement of thousands of families from their homes, making the streets, schools, and mosques their homes for now, all of Damascus has come out to help,” she added.
The group is receiving donations ranging from food and clothes to the costs of surgeries to those affected, even pediatric surgery, installing a prosthetic limb for a child and securing cancer doses for treatment. Everything is being donated.
Aleppo-based Syrian activist Sohayb al Masri retorted, “May God bless you, sons of Aleppo. Despite the deteriorating economic situation, you are doing something, even if it is small, but with God, it is great.”
A volunteer at the hub in Damascus who spoke on condition of anonymity told The New Arab: “The people declared a community emergency themselves, with everyone doing what they can. Everyone has a unique ability financially and morally, psychologically, health-wise and in terms of relief and media documentation, it’s a national effort.”
The head of the Aleppo chamber of industry Fares Shehabi was thankful for donations received from Damascus. “A short while ago, a generous donor from Damascus donated one billion Syrian pounds [$125,000] to relief efforts at the Aleppo Chamber of Industry. All thanks and love to everyone who wipes a tear from a child’s face.”
A monumental National effort
The entire country is still managing a near-economic collapse, reoccurring cholera epidemics and a freezing winter with severe shortages in fuel and gas.
For many, there was only an option to step up. Syrian Journalist and television producer Maxim Mansour was gushing in his praise of fellow Syrians.
“It was not surprising what the Syrians did as a people. Chivalry, courage, brotherhood, generosity, altruism, sacrifice, relief for the distressed, and support for the weak are qualities created for them.”
Referring to how Syrians from different denominations have pooled together and assisted one another in this difficult time. Nour Salman is an Art Curator and consultant, she told The New Arab: “After the earthquake happened, there are several galleries who conducted exhibitions that displayed many Syrian artists where all the proceeds will go to survivors from the earthquake.”
In a sign of unity in different fields, many have stepped up efforts to help. Nour continued, “Collectors are coming together. The industry is united in trying to assist those who now need it the most. All help will go to Aleppo and Jableh. Many have sent money and have gone on the ground to send food, money, clothes and whoever is needed.”
"It is very difficult, what we saw. I am the daughter of Aleppo. I see destroyed streets and lanes in front of me. I know these lanes, and I and I walked through them as a child"
Ella Mardini lives in Sweden, but she is from Aleppo originally, she told The New Arab.
“It was shocking. When the earthquake happened, I was up. I quickly called my family to check on them. They were fine. I lived in terror with them because they had to evacuate their homes, like the rest of the people, for fear of something suddenly happening. They stayed outside in the cars for a day until it calmed down,' she says.
“When I saw the videos that went viral on the internet, it was terrible. I felt like I was in it. I have never seen an earthquake before, or the cracking of lands and the demolition of buildings, except in movies. When it became real and realistic, my feelings were a little different. Seeing the people under the rubble, the children who died. The loss.”
After being inspired into action she took in donations to send home.
"Most people are in the streets, children are dying from the cold, and the reason is that the blankets are not enough to keep them warm in this weather"
“Everyone is helping with food, baby formula and other necessities but there is something we forgot people need shelter," she explains. "Most people are in the streets, children are dying from the cold, and the reason is that the blankets are not enough to keep them warm in this weather.”
Syrian actor Mustapha al Khani, well known for his role as a villain in the hit Syrian TV show Bab al-Harra, gave yet another example of Syrians coming to aid each other.
He exclaimed, “I ask all the families in Hama whose homes were destroyed because of the earthquake and they do not have a place to live, to send a private message with their full name and phone number. After we make sure with the mukhtar [local authority] of their area that their house has been demolished, I will then sponsor the rent of houses to accommodate them until this difficult period passes.”
Another actor, Nisreen Tafesh broke down in tears when raising awareness about the disaster, “It is very difficult, what we saw. I am the daughter of Aleppo. I see destroyed streets and lanes in front of me. I know these lanes, and I and I walked through them as a child.”
Millions of Syrians have now been plunged into desperation and further difficulty, forgotten by the outside and in a torrid winter.
The deadly earthquake has prompted millions to stand with each other, in times of disaster. For what it’s worth, Syrians are now stepping in for one another when needed the most.
Danny Makki is an analyst covering the internal dynamics of the conflict in Syria, he specialises in Syria’s relations with Russia and Iran.
Follow him on Twitter: @danny_makki