Turkey 2011 © Knut Maehlumshagen
Three months after two earthquakes hit Van province, eastern Turkey, survivors are trying to get back to normality. Children are back at school and shops and markets are open again. But most people are still living in tents or metal containers, and it is difficult for them to recover from their traumatic experiences.
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), in collaboration with the Turkish organization Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly (hCa), is helping people cope through a mental health program.
“People have the normal stress reaction: nightmares, loss of appetite, sleep problems, or even insomnia. They feel helpless, they are afraid to die, some cannot even recognize their village,” says Maria Palha, an MSF psychologist working in Van. “First they were reluctant to come to our mental health group sessions, but little by little we won their confidence and now they speak openly about their frustrations, and come back each week,” she adds.
In December of last year MSF and hCa started a two-month psychological support program in 31 villages outside Van city center in collaboration with the Turkish Ministry of Family and Social Policy and the Center for Crisis Coordination in Van. So far, 3,000 women and 1,800 men have benefited from group sessions, and 40 people with more severe symptoms have received individual mental health support.
“In one of the villages we had a five-year-old boy who came with his mother and told us ‘I am scared and my mum is always angry. You need to help us.’ This shows how people understand now that psychological support can help them, and this is already an achievement,” says Palha.
MSF is also approaching the villages’ schoolteachers to offer support, and is offering psychological support to 91 families of refugees and asylum seekers who have been affected by the quake and live in makeshift settlements in the city of Van.
In addition to providing mental health support, MSF, in collaboration with Turkish organizations Hayata Destek and hCa and local authorities, has distributed 2,000 winterized tents and 2,000 cooking kits for 12,000 people in 37 villages in Van province.