Zekiye, Büşra and Fatma*, who benefit from the mental health support we offer in our mobile container in Kahramanmaraş, tell the story.
It has been 7 months since the devastating February 6 earthquakes that affected 9,1 million people in 11 cities. The need for shelter, water and food, hygiene, toilets and showers, and educational materials are still essential. Psychological and psychosocial support also remains important. Disaster-affected people who have been displaced, who have had to live in difficult conditions for months, some of whom have lost relatives or been injured themselves, are living with long-term trauma effects. In addition to factors such as economic uncertainty and anxiety about the future, the ongoing aftershocks in the region affected by the earthquake add to the existing causes of stress.
Support to Life supports people affected by disasters, particularly in Hatay, Adıyaman and Kahramanmaraş. Mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) is an important part of our work. We organize sessions with both children and adults in informal shelters or in official tent and container camps. Through our psychosocial support activities, we support children's well-being, sometimes using the healing power of play and sometimes giving them space to express their feelings. Our work for adults has two pillars: individual psychological support and psychoeducation sessions.
One of the places where we are carrying out this work is the Necip Fazıl Kısakürek Container City in Kahramanmaraş, the epicenter of the earthquake. More than 6 thousand people live in this container city, where settlements started in the first weeks of May. In addition to Support to Life, various civil society organizations are also working in this temporary shelter. This area, which has a market, playgrounds for children and a women's center, is one of the relatively good options for sheltering people affected by the disaster.
Support to Life has been conducting mental health and psychosocial support activities in its mobile caravan and container in here for about 1 month.
"I Needed to Talk"
One of our beneficiaries receiving individual psychological support is 20-year-old Zekiye. This 4th year law student at Adana Çukurova University, was going to return to the city where she studied from her hometown, where she came to visit her family, two days after the earthquake on February 6, but it was not possible. Their house was severely damaged. After living in tents set up by the Red Crescent for a few months, they settled in this container city. The family of 5, consisting of 3 siblings, mother and father, lives in a one-room container:
"One of my siblings sleeps on the sofa, my parents sleep in the room and we two siblings sleep on the floor. Of course it is cramped, but at least it is not like in a tent; we have hot water, we have our own bathroom, we don't have to wait in line, we have air conditioning."
When Zekiye learned that Support to Life provided individual psychological counseling services, she immediately contacted us:
"I could never get used to the container city, I had problems with belonging. Sometimes I am very strong, but sometimes I feel very weak. I love to be alone, but there is no such space here. I wanted to get support anyway."
Zekiye started to receive the support she needed from the Support to Life psychologist, and she believes that the sessions were very effective:
"I needed to talk. I am not a person who can tell everything to her family, and my circle of friends is not very wide. It was very good to see a psychologist."
"I am now more patient with my child"
Mobile MHPSS teams visit the containers before the sessions and provide information. In psychoeducation sessions, suggestions are shared to protect the mental health of individuals after a disaster. In addition, positive parenting sessions, organized especially for adults with children, provide tips on how traumatized adults and children can communicate. One of the participants of these sessions, Büşra, a 26-year-old mother of a 2-year-old girl, thinks it is good to hear different experiences:
"When I went home from the sessions, I realized that I started to be a little more patient towards my child. Because I also have a traumas; now I try to look for positive ways even if my child makes me angry. You know when you tell someone your problem and you feel relieved, that's how I feel when I come here. I felt like only my child was like that; I saw that it was not like that."
"There Are Other Solutions"
Fatma, 27, is one of the participants of the psychoeducation session. Fatma, her 5-year-old daughter and her husband stayed in a tent for 2 months when their house was destroyed. They have been living in a container since mid-May. Fatma describes container life as "a small, minimal life". Her consolation is that as a family of 3, they have no problem fitting into the container. She thinks that living in a container with people she does not know is the most difficult part. One positive aspect of the sessions for her is the contact with others:
"It is a change for us. We get out of the house, we chat, we listen to different lives. We learn that there may be different ways of solving problems. We actually improve ourselves."
As an implementing partner of the international humanitarian organization Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe, funded by the European Union, we are working to help people affected by disasters get their lives back to normal. One of the most important ways to do this is to protect mental health and reduce the effects of trauma despite a future full of uncertainties. We are working with a team of psychologists, psychosocial field workers and social workers. With our expert team of psychologists, psychosocial field workers and social workers, we will continue to be wherever there is a need.
*The names of our beneficiaries have been changed to protect their personal rights.
Communications Expert / Kahramanmaraş
Photos: Kerem Uzel