It was 3am in 1999 when young Safiye Tasgin woke in mid-flight, her body flung from her bed as though on a jumping castle.
“All I remember is waking up to the bed hitting my body as I fell,” she said. “And then before I had an opportunity to land back down, I was in the air again.”
The Kocaeli Province of Türkiye (then known in English as Turkey) had been struck by a catastrophic magnitude 7.6 earthquake.
“The house was swaying, and we were scrambling to get to the front door,” she said. “The relief of getting to the door was met with hopelessness as the door was stuck and just wouldn’t open.
“For 45 seconds we couldn’t get out, and those 45 seconds felt like a lifetime.”
The 1999 earthquake in Türkiye claimed around 18,000 lives and left more than half a million people homeless.
Safiye lost family and friends, and for six months lived in a tent – often with no water or electricity.
“We’d occasionally run into the house to go to the bathroom or get something, but there was the constant fear of aftershocks,” she said.
“The only thing that I recall from Ramadan that year is mum getting up early in the morning to cook us something to bring back to the tent.”
Safiye was born and raised in Australia, and eventually returned here with her family. But the memories of 1999 followed her.
“I was so traumatised by the experience that if a truck drove past our house, the grumbling noise from the engine was enough to make me run.”
Türkiye and Syria: 2023
Twenty-four years later, in February this year, Türkiye and Syria were again rocked by a devastating earthquake, this time of magnitude 7.8. An estimated 14 million people were affected, with at least 60,000 lives lost.
“I can’t imagine what people are going through at the moment because the impact is far larger than in 1999,” said Safiye. “They’re also in the middle of winter which is notoriously known to be super cold.”
Safiye and her family and community in Australia have all pitched in to help by contributing funds and goods (like nappies and baby bottles) through the various charities supporting the cause.
With Ramadan kicking off last week, Safiye is one of many Aussie Muslims looking to do even more to help the people of Türkiye and Syria.
“In the spirit of Ramadan, is there an opportunity for us to be more generous in giving and caring? I absolutely think there is!” she said.
“It’s great time for us to reflect on the fact that there’s more going on in the world beyond our little bubble.”
A time to reflect
During Ramadan, Muslims across the world fast from dawn to dusk, but it’s about more than that.
“We often focus on fasting as one of the main practices during Ramadan,” she said, “but it’s also an opportunity to reflect on being the best version of ourselves and connecting better with people around us.
“We do this with family and friends through Iftars (breaking fast), but more broadly this can mean helping someone across the street or just being nicer to our colleagues!”
Safiye is well placed to understand diversity. Her dad has Russian ancestry, her mum is of Moldovian and Bulgarian descent, and her husband is Fijian Indian!
“I am a melting pot, and our kids kind of represent the world!”
And with Ramadan, Easter and Passover all landing at a similar time this year, Safiye encourages everyone at NAB to be inclusive and help each other to celebrate what is special to them.
“It’s about supporting colleagues to celebrate who they are in an authentic way,” she said.
Visit NAB’s Inclusion and Diversity page for more on inclusion and diversity at NAB.