By Can Remzi Ergen, Communication Officer, Content Development & External Relations, UNICEF
KAHRAMANMARAŞ, Türkiye – “She must have sensed it,” Zeynep says, remembering the night before the earthquake. She says her daughter Elanur, 5, usually loves sleeping in her own bed. “She never had problems sleeping like some other kids do.”
But on this particular night Elanur decided to make up a bed on the floor. Zeynep will forever be thankful that she did. When a massive earthquake struck Türkiye in the early hours of 6 February the heavy wardrobe in Elanur’s bedroom toppled over, smashing her bed into pieces.
“It’s as if she knew,” Zeynep says. “If she hadn’t prepared her bed like that, she wouldn’t be alive today.”
More than two months since devastating earthquakes and aftershocks hit southern Türkiye and neighbouring Syria, the catastrophic impact on the region’s children and families is still being felt. Many families, including Elanur’s, have lost their homes, and are now living in temporary shelters. By 24 March, more than 2.7 million people had been displaced in Türkiye, the majority of whom were living in temporary settlements with only limited access to basic services such as water, sanitation, and medical services.
A safe space for children
Zeynep says that she brought Elanur to the Kahramanmaraş temporary accommodation centre, in southeast Türkiye, almost as soon as the earthquake struck. The centre, supported by UNICEF, offers a safe space for children – somewhere they can learn, play, heal, and just be children. Having an opportunity to interact with their peers like this helps build a much-needed sense of normalcy and order during emergencies.
“Elanur was so scared at first. She even didn’t want to go out,” Zeynep says. But after a week at the centre, Zeynep says her daughter is much more engaged and regularly asks whether it’s activities time at the child friendly space. “This makes me happy. She spends good times there and she comes back happy.”
Through its work with the government and partners, UNICEF has used centres like Kahramanmaraş to provide essential support to thousands of children affected by the earthquakes. But they are just one part of UNICEF’s response. In the immediate aftermath of the earthquakes, UNICEF was on the ground, working with partners to distribute supplies including hygiene kits, winter clothes, electrical heaters, and blankets. UNICEF has also provided psychosocial training for hundreds of social workers and reached more than 130,000 children and caregivers with mental health and psychosocial support through UNICEF partners.
Hope for a bright future
Looking ahead, UNICEF is also working to ensure that children can return to learning as soon as possible. Working with partners, UNICEF is assessing damage to schools, preparing for immediate repairs, and continuing to establish and support temporary learning spaces. Enabling children to return to school as part of a daily routine will be a crucial step in helping families impacted by the earthquake gradually return to some kind of normalcy.
Zeynep says that Elanur will never forget what the family has gone through but adds that despite the incredible stress of everything that has happened, her daughter has been a remarkable source of strength. “Children feel everything. I’m sure she will recover from this, but she’ll always remember,” Zeynep says. “Yet, she was the one who was soothing me right after the earthquake, when I was shocked and crying. She was hugging me tight, whispering, ‘It ended Mom, it’s over.’”
Zeynep says she has a clear message for Elanur, one that she reminds her daughter of every single day. “Everything will be better. We will do better and build a new life together,” she tells Elanur. “When we have a new house, we’ll be able to go back.”
She pauses for a moment, reflecting on the disaster that has taken so many lives. “This reminds all of us that, actually, we don’t own anything in this world,” Zeynep says. “We’re all temporary visitors. Rich or poor it doesn’t matter. Look how everyone’s house is gone.”