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How to Survive Earthquake and War

  • February 5, 2024
  • Earthquake, Emergency Programs, Mental Health
  • Syria, Turkey
  • Fatima Jarrar, Americares mental health and psychosocial support consultant, Amman, Jordan

Health workers in Northern Syria support the most vulnerable populations while providing for their families; they often overlook their own needs and feelings, as their families and patients expect them to be strong. In every support group, participants express relief upon realizing that feelings like sadness, fear and hopelessness are not negative or signs of weakness.

Fatima Jarrar, Americares mental health and psychosocial support consultant, Amman, Jordan

For Ehsan* and his family in Aleppo, Syria, the powerful earthquake that struck Türkiye and northern Syria in February 2023 felt like “judgment day.” At first, they thought the jolting was yet another airstrike in Syria’s ongoing civil war but ran from the house when they realized it was a quake. The family was safe, but their home was structurally damaged, so they were forced to move – which they’d already done 25 times in the last decade because of war.

No wonder Ehsan was withdrawn and joyless. The war, especially the siege of his hometown Aleppo, had changed him. “We went through hunger and subjugation,” Ehsan says. “We were humiliated. We forgot about ourselves.”

Ehsan could never escape the reality of war. He worked as a guard at a health care facility in Aleppo.  “Me and the hospital managers used to go out to collect dead bodies,” says Ehsan. “We had women coming to collect the body parts of their loved ones.” After the earthquake, Ehsan and his family endured terrifying hours of searching for friends and relatives.

A few months after the quake, Ehsan’s outlook began to change: He took part in five sessions of an Americares mental health and psychosocial support program for health workers. In one session, an Americares facilitator asked Ehsan and other health workers to draw circles of their relationships, including co-workers, friends and family. “When asked to draw, I remembered my friend Omar whom I realized I hadn’t talked to for four months,” says Ehsan, who began to reconnect with Omar and others. “I felt that in addition to my work, I should have a space to rest, a space to focus and a space to love.”

Ehsan also developed connections with people at work, even those he once thought were difficult. Staff began to share WhatsApp messages among themselves and their wider network of family and friends. Even though life in Aleppo is still a struggle, Eshan sees himself as part of a caring, supportive network.

“Something new in my life started to happen,” says Ehsan, describing the impact of the Americares support sessions. “I started to have positive energy. Life became worth living.”

*name changed for privacy

READ MORE about our response and recovery work in Türkiye and Syria.

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