From CU to Turkey: Gelisli still leading humanitarian efforts for earthquake victims

9/29/2023 Taylor Tucker

As president of the campus' Turkish Student Association, ME doctoral candidate Asena Gelisli has actively worked to assist her home country's earthquake victims since the catastrophic events earlier this year.

Written by Taylor Tucker

large group of students behind a table with the Turkish flas
TSA members hosted a fundraiser on the main Quad.

Third-year mechanical engineering doctoral student Asena Gelisli has been leading efforts to support Turkish citizens following the earthquakes that devastated southeastern Turkey this past February.

“[The earthquake] was one of the biggest disasters in modern Turkish history,” said Gelisli, who is originally from Ankara and still has family in the area.

Upon hearing about the magnitude 7.8 and 7.5 earthquakes that struck near the Syrian border, Gelisli called an emergency Turkish Student Association meeting to rally support for relief efforts. She serves as president of the group.

“We came up with an action plan for how to help from afar,” Gelisli recalled. “Our hearts were with them and we wanted to do something.”

The group first focused on raising awareness by reaching out to local media and hanging informative posters around campus. TSA members also hosted a fundraiser on the main Quad, selling Turkish food, coffee, and tea, and collected donations to send to local nongovernmental organizations who were active in the effort.

Gelisli later collaborated with UNICEF at UIUC to give a presentation about humanitarian relief at a local UNICEF event, which also provided opportunity to host a second fundraiser. TSA received further donations for the relief effort from local philanthropists and organizations including the HMD (Hyong Moo Do) Academy for Tae Kwon Do.

Asena with large check with martial arts instructor
Gelisli with HMD Academy Founder and Grand Master Namsoo Hyong.

“I think we demonstrated strong solidarity during a difficult time,” Gelisli said of the community’s efforts to support Turkish families. “Many Turkish people in our local community reached out to me to help.”

This school year, the TSA board’s focus will shift from humanitarian relief to providing support for homeless Turkish families and orphaned children as they transition into new situations post-earthquake.

“Earthquake survivors’ lives are affected not just in one moment, but over the long term,” Gelisli said. “We plan to host events aimed at supporting impacted children and their education.”

Gelisli currently researches catalytic surface recombination at the Center for Hypersonics and Entry Systems Studies (CHESS), where she is advised by Associate Professor and Kritzer Faculty Fellow Kelly Stephani. Check out her list of creditable charities or reach out to her on social media to learn more about how to get involved in the ongoing humanitarian relief efforts for Turkey.

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This story was published September 29, 2023.