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From a warm Sunrise office to a cold earthquake zone

Can Özdemir’s family comes from the region of Turkey that was hit particularly hard by the earthquake. Can couldn’t just sit by and watch so he made the spur-of-the-moment decision to travel to his home country to help out. His team at Sunrise gave him the support he needed.

Evelyne Owa

March 13, 2023 . 3 minutes read

«Don’t pick me up. I’ve not showered for a week, I stink,» writes Can Özdemir in a WhatsApp message to his work colleagues Sabrina and Tijana. But they’re not put off and head to Zurich Airport anyway. They wait for Can impatiently in Arrivals Hall 2. Sabrina’s wearing a ski-racing suit in Sunrise colors and Tijana’s holding a sign that she made herself with the message «Welcome back Can» written in large letters. When they finally see him arrive, they let out a cheer and give him a warm hug.

When he got back from the earthquake zone, Can was given a warm welcome by his Sunrise colleagues.

Requests for help in a WhatsApp chat

It’s February 20, 2023, exactly two weeks after the devastating earthquake that struck southeastern Turkey, and Can has just returned safe and sound from the region affected by the earthquake. He spent six days helping in disaster-relief work in Pazarcik, his parents’ home town.

Can spent the first three days distributing products like flour, salt, blankets, coal and toilet paper. He used his uncle’s car to pick up the relief supplies from the support bases and take them to those who needed them. In addition, he joined a WhatsApp group with more than 1,000 members that was used to post requests for help.

After three days, the Turkish disaster-management agency AFAD took over the distribution of supplies. Can continued to offer help where it was needed. He listened to people who told him about their nightmares and the horrors they’d experienced. One woman he met was worried about another strong earthquake, which was why she couldn’t close her eyes at night. Can promised to keep watch outside her house and get her out in an emergency. He met many people whose savings, which people there often keep at home, were buried under the ruins. He gave these people cash that his work colleagues had collected for him to take with him.

Initially, Can distributed relief supplies like flour, rice, salt and toilet paper.

Shivering instead of sleeping

Can describes his time in Turkey as an emotional rollercoaster. «The time I was most afraid was when I went to my grandparents’ destroyed apartment to fetch some things for them.» But he also experienced some good moments. He was moved to see the happy faces of the children that he gave sweets to and the immense gratitude of a teenager to whom he gave a powerbank.

Can barely slept in Turkey. He managed to find a place in a tent, but the freezing temperatures made him shiver – the stoves in the tents weren’t used at night because of the fire risk.

Even when he was at home in Switzerland, Can hadn’t been able to sleep from the moment he first heard about the earthquake. He was constantly wondering how he could help, collecting relief supplies and writing to companies. For example, he managed to organize a large crate of powerbanks. His team also noticed that Can no longer had his mind on his work and could hardly bear to stay in Switzerland any longer. «Even though we’re short-staffed and snowed under with work, it was clear to all of us that we wanted to support Can and make it possible for him to help out,» says Sabrina.

Smart earthquake alarm

Many countries have set up alert systems with sirens to give their inhabitants early warning of disasters. Sunrise is currently involved in a project in Italy using smart sirens that will be able to communicate with seismographic measuring systems and automatically trigger an earthquake alarm. You can find out exactly how this works and why smart sirens provide better protection here.

Support from all sides

Furkan Fidan, who works as a graphic and web designer for Sunrise, also got instant approval from his manager when he spontaneously asked for a week’s vacation to help out in Turkey. Furkan and Can very much appreciate how supportive Sunrise has been and the flexibility of their team colleagues, as they’re well aware that this level of understanding can’t just be taken for granted. «My brother would have loved to go with me too, but his employer refused to let him do so», says Can.

Cédric Marty, who is responsible for sustainability at Sunrise, welcomes the personal initiatives of Sunrise employees and teams. He adds: «As a company, we’re providing financial support to the victims of the earthquake.» For example, Sunrise is doubling the amount that employees donate to the Swiss Red Cross.

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