This time, the disaster relief effort is personal for global aid executive in Chicago



This time, the disaster relief effort is personal for global aid executive in Chicago. Amina Demir is no stranger to helping people displaced. By natural or political disaster.

As chief operating officer of the Zakat Foundation of America. A Chicago-based nonprofit group that provides around the world. Demir, who is Turkish Kurdish American, has more than 10 years of experience helping refugees. Including refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Sudan.

But when he learned of a 7.8-magnitude earthquake in southeastern. Turkey that trapped his own family, his work took on new meaning.

“I hate to say it, but you read about stuff like this and it seems so far away,” Demir said Tuesday. “These pictures and cities are always mentioned in the news, but this time, they are my city and my people.”

Demir’s family lives in Sanliurfa, a province with a large Kurdish population. About 160 miles east of Kahramanmaras, the epicenter of Monday’s two earthquakes.

“I didn’t realize the weight of it until I got a call from my aunt after the second earthquake,” Demir said. “She called my dad crying and said, ‘The buildings threw me out of my bed’.”

Demir’s aunt lives in Biresik, a town about 80 miles from the center. Now her aunt and cousin are sleeping in their car.

While most of Demir’s relatives were accounted for. He said a cousin’s sister-in-law was trapped in the rubble.

Another cousin rented a truck to help with the recovery effort. And her father immediately booked a ticket to Turkey, where he is helping the family, Demir said.

Southeast Turkey is also known as Turkish Kurdistan. And Kurds living in the region are all too familiar with hardship, Demir said.

Kurds, an ethnic group in West Asia, have been deprived of political. And cultural rights in the Middle East. According to Human Rights Watch, in the 1980s, Kurdish villages in southeastern. Turkey were subjected to Turkish government security raids that killed many.

Many members of Demir’s family, including his father Halil, left Turkey to escape persecution.

“They are very strong people. They have to be,” Demir said of his family. “But it can only take so much before breaking.”

More than 7,000 people have died in the earthquake and the number is expected to rise.

Demir said that work has begun in Turkey and Syria.

“A lot will be needed on an international scale,” he said. “It’s frustrating, but blessed and empowered to be in a position to help in this situation.”

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