How to help the people of Turkey and Syria in the aftermath of life-shattering earthquakes

volunteers sorting relief supplies to help the people of turkey
Donations from around the world have been streaming in to help those in Turkey and Syria who were devastated by two powerful earthquakes. But knowing who to donate to–and how to give–is important to keep in mind before donating money or material goods. Photo by: Stefan Puchner/AP Images

The aftermath of two devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria have left many people wondering how they can help as both countries look to recover.

As of Wednesday, the death toll had surpassed 12,000, with more than 53,000 people injured in Turkey alone, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced. 

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit southeast Turkey and northern Syria on Monday morning, leveling about 3,000 buildings, and was followed by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake only nine hours later.

The challenges facing Turkey and Syria are significant, as are the needs of people on the ground, as they face devastated infrastructure and freezing winter temperatures. But where and how should people give to make sure their donations, whether money or goods, are going to the right place?

turkish student association members collecting donations
Member of the Turkish Student Association Defne Arliel, who studies marketing and brand management, Kayra Çetin, who studies marketing and brand management, and Ece Ulgenturk, who studies behavioral neuroscience, prepare for a Turkey earthquake donation event at Curry Crossroads. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Best place to start is a metacharity

Patricia Illingworth, a professor of philosophy and business and a lecturer on law and public policy at Northeastern University, says the best place to start is a metacharity. These organizations evaluate how effective charities are and give them a rating that neatly summarizes how trustworthy they are. 

One such metacharity, Charity Navigator, has already set up a hub with information about charities that are involved in Turkish and Syrian recovery efforts. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy and Charity Watch also provide aggregate resources that can help donors find the best way to give.

Understanding an organization’s mission––and whether it’s actually meeting that goal––outcomes and payouts to leadership are also vital indicators of whether a charity is worth donating to, Illingworth says. But it’s most important to donate to organizations that have experience helping in similar crises.

“If we’re concerned about the challenges of actually helping people in these crises, then we want to make sure the nonprofit has experience in the past, that they know how to do that,” Illingworth says.

Should you donate money or goods?

As for whether to donate money or material goods like food or clothes, Illingworth advises to contribute what makes sense for you, but that “directly giving money is probably the best thing to do.” In crisis situations, like in Turkey and Syria, where it’s not always easy to get physical goods to people, direct donations help ensure organizations will be able to respond efficiently and effectively.

Organizations like Doctors Without Borders, GlobalGiving and Save the Children provide international human aid, but Illingworth says donating to and supporting Turkish and Syrian organizations is just as necessary. She calls this trust-based philanthropy.

“People need help, but you also want to do it in a way that respects them,” Illingworth says. “Having it go from the inside, where you’re really dealing with businesses that are there, helps do that. It’s to recognize that they are the authorities, that they know what they need.”

The Turkish Red Crescent and Syrian Red Crescent, members of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, have been active in relief efforts in both countries since Monday. The Syrian American Medical Society has also been providing medical assistance in the region for years to help victims of war in Syria. Members of Northeastern’s Turkish Student Association also cited the Bridge to Türkiye Fund, Ahbap and direct bank transfers to the Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C., as trustworthy, locally-based options.

Northeastern Turkish Student Association

On Northeastern’s Boston campus, the Turkish Student Association is collecting cash and winter survival supplies like clothes, flashlights, blankets, gloves and hats that will be delivered to the Turkish consulate in Boston. 

The organization held a donation drive in Curry Crossroads on Wednesday, with another scheduled on Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Centennial Common.

“People tell me that people would hear their family trying to call for help, but there’s no one to help because there’s not enough resources,” says Ece Ulgenturk, a TSA member and third-year Northeastern behavioral neuroscience student. “It’s such a big scale that even from Boston, if we do something, that’s going to help. … Every little bit helps.”

Cody Mello-Klein is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at Follow him on Twitter @Proelectioneer.