Toys Relieve Children's Distress
On February 6, 2023, two 7.8 magnitude earthquakes struck Turkey and neighboring Syria, killing more than 50,000 people. The destruction of hundreds of thousands of homes and unthinkable death tolls dominated news coverage, with little mention of the mental ramifications for child victims of the disaster. Research undertaken by UNICEF places 5.6 million children at the scene of the tremors, living in affected provinces, when the earthquakes struck. Of these child victims, approximately 700,000 endured displacement from their homes, relying on tents and other temporary sites for refuge. Post-disaster, toys have played a critical role in easing the distress of children and providing comfort to traumatized young victims. Media outlet Al Jazeera highlights how toys relieve children’s distress after natural disasters and other traumatic events.

Stories from Child Survivors

Al Jazeera investigated the role of toys in alleviating children’s distress in the aftermath of the Turkey-Syria earthquakes. Al Jazeera interviewed 8-year-old Elif who resided in Gaziantep, Turkey, the epicenter of the earthquake that occurred on February 6. Like thousands of other children, the quake left Elif traumatized and in fear of aftershocks. But, she took comfort in a doll that she grabbed from her home the night her family fled the earthquake. “This doll helped me fall asleep while I was afraid of all the aftershocks that lasted for weeks,” Elif told Al Jazeera.

Similar to Elif, the earthquake in February 2023 displaced 8-year-old Eymen and his family and pushed them to live in a car for a number of days following the earthquake. His mother told Al Jazeera that he has carried a toy car around with him ever since — a remnant of the only place where he felt safe.

The stories of Elif and Eymen are more than anecdotes. The stories confirm that, while toys cannot fix such unprecedented trauma, they offer comfort to those with minds too young to cope with the mental and emotional stress of such atrocities.

The Psychology

Clinical psychologist and disaster trauma expert, Zeynep Bahadir, told Anadolu that toys can “work as therapy” for child victims of natural disasters. Likening toys to words, Bahadir recommended that child victims play with toys related to the disaster in order to “digest the situation.” Evidently, in need of stability and comfort, children like Elif and Eymen rely on playtime to manage the distress of an unexpected crisis.

Solidarity Through Sport

On February 27, 2023, Besiktas fans made a heartwarming contribution to relief efforts in their Turkish Super Lig fixture against Antalyaspor. As the stopwatch reached four minutes and 17 seconds, officials paused the match occurring in Istanbul so that fans could shower the pitch with thousands of stuffed toys for the children impacted by the Turkey-Syria earthquake that initially occurred at 04:17 a.m. on February 6. The gesture aimed to provide emotional and mental support to children impacted by the disaster via toys and moved millions of viewers watching from around the world.

Long-Term Implications

Six months after the initial shocks, survivors are still grappling with the aftermath. The British Red Cross has explained that “while the immediate physical danger has stopped, […] the road to recovery for the 17 million people affected is extremely long.”

This explanation is solidified by statistics. The World Health Organization reported in May 2023 that Turkey and Syria have faced more than 30,000 aftershocks since the initial earthquake in February 2023 and 1.6 million people remained displaced, living in temporary settlements, as of June 2023. Evidently, survivors are feeling the impact of the Turkey-Syria earthquakes far beyond the initial quake on February 6.

Looking Forward

With victims’ homes, families and access to schooling destroyed in an instant, the IFRC has described the situation as a “mental health ticking time bomb.” While toys relieve children’s distress, for many of the 6.2 million children affected by the Turkey-Syria earthquakes, mental health support is needed now more than ever if the psychological ramifications of the worst earthquake in modern history are to be rectified. UNICEF is committed to providing mental health support to displaced children and families but a great need still exists for further support in this regard.

Imogen Townsend
Photo: Flickr

help Nicaraguan RefugeesThe massive protests in Nicaragua, which began in April of 2018, has led to a humanitarian crisis. Thousands of Nicaraguans have left the country, the majority fleeing to neighboring Costa Rica. Civil unrest, poverty and COVID-19 have contributed to several issues Nicaraguan refugees are facing. Organizations have dedicated efforts to assist with the humanitarian crisis in Central America and help Nicaraguan refugees.

The Ortega Regime

In April 2018, Nicaraguan president, Daniel Ortega, announced pension cuts for his citizens. Following the announcement, protesters filled the streets of multiple Nicaraguan cities. The protesters demanded that pension cuts be canceled and requested an end to the years of corruption committed by the Ortega regime. The protesters were met with violence, with more than 300 dead and thousands injured or missing. Journalists covering the anti-government protests were harassed and attacked by authorities, ultimately silencing the free press. The government has been accused of using ‘weapons of war’ on its citizens and committing human rights violations. Consequently, the political unrest has created a push factor for migration out of the country.

Two-thirds of Nicaraguan refugees have fled to neighboring Costa Rica. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNCHR), 81,000 Nicaraguans have applied for asylum in Costa Rica. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the well-being of Nicaraguan refugees. The UNCHR found that since the pandemic, 14% of refugees eat once a day or less and 63% of Nicaraguan refugees eat only two meals a day. Moreover, many Nicaraguans have lost steady income, increasing the chances of falling deeper into poverty.

Humanitarian Aid: UNCHR

To handle the influx of refugees into Costa Rica, the country needed assistance from NGOs. In February 2020, the UNCHR granted Costa Rica $4.1 million to reduce poverty for Nicaraguan refugees. Furthermore, the UNCHR grant pays for legal assistance and civil organizations that help migrants. As much as 53% of Nicaraguan refugees had no health insurance, but with the help of the UNCHR, around 6,000 now have medical insurance through the Costa Rican Social Security System.

The IFRC Helps Nicaraguan Refugees

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is also actively partaking in addressing the humanitarian crisis for Nicaraguan refugees. The IFRC’s mission is to “meet the needs and improve the lives of vulnerable people.” Moreover, the IFRC is the largest humanitarian organization in the world,  assisting displaced people around the world with resources and relief. Francesco Rocca, president of the IFRC, called the migration crisis during a pandemic a “catastrophe.” Furthermore, Rocca has called the attention of government officials to take care of the most vulnerable, asylum seekers because they are most severely impacted by COVID-19.

Corner of Love Helps Migrants

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the Nicaraguan-Costa Rican border restrictive, making it harder for migrants to cross. Additionally, the pandemic has created more uncertainty for the futures of Nicaraguan refugees. Despite these struggles, NGOs are not giving up on this vulnerable population. The NGO, Corner of Love, is assisting migrants at the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border. Corner of Love ensures migrants have access to food and hygiene products, thus contributing to the well-being of Nicaraguan refugees.

The efforts of organizations stepping in to help Nicaraguan refugees with the humanitarian crisis give struggling people hope for a brighter tomorrow.

– Andy Calderon
Photo: Flickr

Top Humanitarian Aid Organizations
The Borgen Project has received lots of praise for an innovative approach that has taken the global poverty fight to the political level, but there are numerous aid organizations doing great work. The United Nations offers consultative status to 3,900 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with roughly one-third of these located within the United States.  While most NGOs offer humanitarian aid, some focus on issues regarding hunger while others on human trafficking. With so many different groups and issues to choose from, how does one decide which of the top humanitarian aid organizations to support?


Top Humanitarian Aid Organizations


1. World Food Programme (WFP) 

This organization is part of the U.N. system and is the largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide.  Each year, the WFP reaches 90 million people with food assistance in 80 countries.  In 2012, the WFP provided 53 percent of global food aid and distributed 3.5 million tons of food.

2. Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE)

CARE is an organization dedicated to fighting global poverty.  The organization leads community-based efforts to improve basic education, prevent the spread of disease, increase access to clean water and sanitation, expand economic opportunity, and protect natural resources.  CARE also provides emergency aid for war and natural disasters.  They have supported close to 1000 poverty-fighting development and humanitarian aid projects.

3. Oxfam International

Oxfam is an international confederation of 17 organizations working in approximately 90 countries worldwide to find solutions to poverty and related injustice around the world.  They focus on issues of active citizenship, agriculture, education, gender justice, health, peace and security and youth outreach.  Through advocacy, campaigning, policy research and development projects, Oxfam continues to change the lives of many.

4. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) 

IFRC is the world’s largest humanitarian network, reaching 150 million people in 189 National Societies.  Their vast volunteering network of 13 million allows them to tackle issues in four main areas: disaster response, disaster preparedness, health and community care and promote humanitarian values of social inclusion and peace.

5. Action Against Hunger (AAH) 

AAH is a global humanitarian organization committed to ending world hunger, works to save the lives of malnourished children while providing communities with access to safe water and sustainable solutions to hunger.  In 2012, AAH provided 550,000 small farmers with tools, treated 42,000 malnourished children in the Democratic Republic of Congo and helped 170,000 people gain access to clean water in Kenya.

Any of these humanitarian organizations offer chances to donate, volunteer, and advocate for their respective causes.  For more information regarding humanitarian aid and charity organizations, visit