MSF staff working with Turkish organizations Children are back at school and shops and markets are open again. Three months after two earthquakes hit Van province, eastern Turkey, survivors are trying to get back to normality. But most people are still living in tents or metal containers, and it is difficult for them to recover from their traumatic experiences. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), in collaboration with the Turkish organization Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly (hCa), is helping people to 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 says.


Turkey © MSF
Three months after two earthquakes hit Van province, eastern Turkey, survivors are trying to get back to normality. But most people are still living in tents or metal containers, and it is difficult for them to recover from their traumatic experiences.

In collaboration with the Turkish Ministry of Family and Social Policy and the Centre for Crisis Coordination in Van, in December last year MSF and hCa started a two-month psychological support program in 31 villages outside Van city centre. 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.

Turkey © MSF The quake and its invisible wounds: Testimonies from the trauma sessions A member of the rescue team: “There was one building collapsing. When I arrived there was one man asking me to go in and save his wife and baby child. We did everything we could, but the building collapsed and they died. The only thing I could do was cry with this man. So we cried together. I still dream about it.” Eight-year-old girl: “I will not lose all my hair? I will not be bald? Thank you, I will tell my mother because she is also worried about it.” 21-year-old boy: “I cannot talk with you outside because people gossip, but I know you are here every week and I only had courage to come to see you today because I think I´m going crazy. I cannot sleep in the container because I remember my previous room, where I had my computer and could talk with my friends. I cannot see my girlfriend, because she went to another city after losing everything in the quake. I cannot read or meet my friends, because I cannot enjoy the things I used to enjoy before the quake. Am I going crazy? Can you help me?” Woman: “I have a problem, but I cannot talk in front of other women…I cannot have sex with my husband because I am scared to die as a sinner due to the quakes. He is getting very angry with me and I do not know what to do. Please help me.”