Countless solidarity campaigns came globally from sports organisations to support the survivors of the Kahramanmaraş earthquake.
The one launched by GFB Europe, the official European supporters’ group of Turkish football team Fenerbahçe SK, stands out for its cross-border nature as the group is made up of more than 500 Turkish supporters living in ten European countries.
“When we learned about the earthquake one week ago, we thought we definitely needed to do something,” said Birkan Kayadibi, a 29-year-old member living in Italy who joined GFB Europe in 2012. “When these things happen, you feel like you understand what really matters in life.”
A multifaceted campaign
Firstly, necessity items collection points were set up in all of the group countries, and hundreds of people reached out to donate. Trucks full to the brim started leaving in the middle of the night, on the way to Turkey.
“Then we crashed with customs and red tape,” said Birkan. “I can’t believe how these barriers still matter so much in such a tragic situation. It’s midwinter there, there are so many things the survivors need to get as fast as possible”.
Although Turkish embassies and consulates around Europe helped them a lot, the supporters’ group then thought that fundraising would be the most useful and quickest way to help.
“We are so many in so many different countries, we realised we could really have a big impact,” explained Birkan. “The money would arrive directly to the people on the field, and they would know better how to spend it.”
“We are sharing public authorities’ and local volunteering networks’ IBANs as well. But we want to stand up and do our part,” he added. The group also kept the trucks and donations network active, as a parallel action.
GFB also participated in a joint aid campaign in Denmark with Ultraslan Avrupa, the European supporters’ group of the opponent Turkish team to Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray SK. The two groups worked together to place all the collected items in packages to ship, putting any rivalry aside for the sake of humanitarian aid.
“It’s all about reaching out to the highest number of people possible, any help matters,” said Birkan.
Witnesses from Europe
For GFB Europe, being active in social work is no news: they set up support campaigns when an earthquake hit Izmir last year and when the floods occurred. “Even if we get very passionate about supporting the football team, we act like a non-profit organisation most of the time,” Birkan said. “When GFB’s founder died in 2016, we went around nursing homes and gathered donations for them in his name.”
Birkan hasn’t lost any loved ones in the earthquake, although he knows several friends who went through major losses. He applied for general volunteering on the field, as he isn’t qualified for medical or Civil Protection aid.
“In the first days, we just kept seeing on the news and on social media that people were dying from thirst or under ruins.
I felt guilty for being warm and safe in my bed and many of us just thought we could be helpful as long as we had hands and legs.”
He explains how most of the delay in delivering aid was caused by a recent Turkish law that requires special authorisation from the government for the Army to intervene. “At the beginning, diggers and aid workers just weren’t enough for all the buildings and houses that got destroyed.”
Birkan said that during the earliest days of the disaster, people under ruins used social networks to share their locations and be rescued by aid workers.
“At that point, that was one of the only things we could do from our home: hit the ‘retweet’ button and hope for the best.”
To contribute to GFB Europe’s campaign, you can donate through a wire transfer at DE68520521541250 093125 (Ulas Kayacan, Kreissparkasse schwalm-eder Bank) or through PayPal at email@example.com.