Model and actress Poppy Delevingne, 37, is an ambassador for charity Save the Children. Here she tells us the heartbreaking but inspiring story of her visit to Turkey last year, during which she saw the aftermath of the devastating earthquakes that struck the south of the country and neighbouring Syria.
When earthquakes ripped through Turkey and Syria last February, more than 55,000 people were killed and 2.7 million were forced from their homes.
Visiting eight months after the disaster, I was shocked by the level of devastation that was still visible. I saw endless mountains of rubble and damaged buildings, with families and children living on the side of the road among the ruins in tents and containers. It was the end of October and you could already feel the cold coming in.
It was heartbreaking but also astonishing to meet these extraordinary people, who showed so much resilience in the aftermath of the disaster, which at the time received a lot of global attention. But because there’s so much going on in the world, including conflict in Israel and war in Ukraine, it feels as if these people have been forgotten.
That’s why I wanted to shine a light on the disaster, particularly in Hatay and Adiyaman, two of the worst-hit provinces, and the work that Save the Children is doing to help these families rebuild their lives by providing much-needed facilities, such as showers and toilets, as well as mental health support, hygiene kits and winter supplies.
TRIUMPH OF HOPE
I felt overwhelmed by how welcoming people were, and how open and honest they were in sharing their experiences with me. I was inspired by their resilience and their strength to look to the future.
They had lost everything – their loved ones, their homes and all their belongings – yet amid their shattered lives, I saw hope.
One woman I will never forget. We were distributing tarpaulins to help insulate the containers people were living in when we met Sefika, a grandmother in her 80s, who was living in one of them with her grandson Yucel.
He was around eight or nine, and had lost both his parents in the earthquake. She had lost her daughter and son-in-law but was wonderfully resilient, with a twinkle in her eye.
I met another woman, Munira, with her nine-month-old daughter Hiba, at a nutrition session run by TEMAS, an organisation that works alongside Save the Children to create safe places for women to learn about looking after newborns and how to breastfeed. They can also visit to socialise and talk to other mothers who’ve gone through similar experiences.
LIVING NORMAL LIVES
The charity provides mental health support for youngsters suffering from trauma in safe, child-friendly spaces where they can play and be silly, as well as process what they’ve been through. I took part in one of the sessions – I was meant to stay for 20 minutes but ended up remaining there for hours. They were learning about recycling and dressed me up in various recyclable products: at one point I was a plastic bottle, and then a bin – my best performance to date. The space was colourful and beautiful, and it was wonderful to see them trying to live as children and recover from what they had been through.
Before the visit, I remember asking: “Do they want to talk about the earthquake?” I think they do – they speak about it because they need to, as that’s their best way of processing the trauma.
Another of the jobs I took part in was distributing hygiene kits, including items such as shampoo and soap, as well as menstrual products. We can pop down to our local shop to pick up these things, but these women can’t because their local shops and livelihoods have been destroyed. It makes me feel grateful for every day that I have, which is filled with extraordinary privilege, and that I’m able to tell people about this situation and encourage them to open their eyes.
I’m on the board for an annual Save the Children fundraiser – we’ve raised around £7m in seven years – so that when these emergencies occur, we can respond quickly. It’s about spreading the word, which is why I’m passionate about my ambassadorial role.
Trips like these can be a shock to the system, so when I return home, I like to spend time on my own to process what I’ve experienced. And when I shut my eyes and think about Turkey, I remember the extraordinary resilience, hope and strength of the people who need our help.
*All names have been changed. To donate to Save the Children’s Emergency Fund, visit savethechildren.org.uk/donate.