Science and TechNatural Disasters


A Syrian American couple helps with aid after deadly earthquake

A Syrian American couple are now leading relief efforts in the aftermath of one of the deadliest earthquakes of the century.
Posted at 8:46 PM, Feb 08, 2023

Thousands of miles away from the apocalyptic scenes in Turkey and Syria. Suzanne Akhras and Dr. Zaher Sahloul feel the pain and anguish of their people. 

"LIke all immigrants, your homeland stays with you," Sahloul said. 

Based in the Chicago area, the Syrian American couple has spent years helping their fellow citizens. Now, from afar, they are leading relief efforts in the aftermath of one the deadliest earthquakes of this century.

Doctor Sahloul runs MedGlobal, an organization that offers free medical care to displaced people worldwide, including in northwestern Syria where the earthquake hit hard.  

"Our staff, like everyone else in that area, was affected. Some of them lost family members. Some of them lost their homes," he said. 

Sahloul says his 150 staff members, who were on the ground long before the earthquake, have been on the front lines working 24/7 to treat injured people. 

"Sometimes we feel that humanitarian workers are supermen and superwoman, that they are not going to be affected, but everyone is traumatized after 12 years of war. So one of our priorities is to provide mental health," he said. 

Coordinating with his team on a daily basis, Sahloul has already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars on Facebook and other platforms to sustain rescue efforts and buy medical supplies.  

"We are dedicating some of the funds to go to helping to find the survivors and also treating them: health care, because that's what we do: health care," Sahloul said. 

Hope fading as deaths in Turkey, Syria earthquake pass 11,000

Hope fading as deaths in Turkey, Syria earthquake pass 11,000

Search teams from more than two dozen countries have joined tens of thousands of local emergency personnel to search for survivors in the rubble.


Meanwhile, his wife is helping people closer to home. 

"Just calling people and checking in on them and checking in on my staff," Akhras said.

For nearly 10 years, Akhras has led the Chicago-based Syrian Community Network, an organization that supports the local refugee community. 

"I talked to a woman yesterday and she said she has not heard from her brother or his any of his family members, any of his children," Akhras said.

Akhras says many of her clients and staff members have relatives in the region impacted by the earthquake. She’s afraid the horrific aftermath footage is triggering PTSD. 

"One of my staff said, 'I can't turn off the TV. I'm crying all the time.' Another staff person, she said, 'I cannot — I can't work. I'm sorry. I just can't work.' And it's okay. Another one is very angry-feeling: 'this is so unfair. Why does this keep happening to us? How much can we handle?' So it's really, really tragic and really heartbreaking," Akhras said.

Akhras is working on providing her 1,400 members with mental health services. For them, their trapped families and millions of Syrians worldwide it’s one crisis after another. 

According to the U.N., 1.5% of the Syrian population has been killed after more than a decade of civil war. In the wake of the latest catastrophe, Ahrkas and Sahloul hope for a lasting solution in their home country. 

"Enough is enough. It's been 12 years already. People just need stability and they want to live — they want to live just like we live here," Sahloul said.