In response to the devastating earthquake in parts of Turkey and Syria last month, Toronto Police Service officers Farzad Ghotbi and Mustafa Popalzai co-ordinated relief efforts to help victims.
The 7.8 earthquake struck southern and central Turkey and northern and western Syria, causing over 55,000 deaths in the two countries.
The officers connected with Constable Sheik Fyzul, a 32 Division Neighbourhood Community Officer, whose Turkish-born wife has family residing in the transcontinental country.
Six Divisions – 51, 53, 43, 32, 31, and 41 — along with Headquarters, the Ontario Provincial Police Wellington County, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Oshawa’s Sheriff Office also participated in the donation drive.
Through collaboration with the Turkish Federation, the Turkish Consulate in Toronto and other Turkish organizations, they put together a two-week donation drive that raised nearly $112,000 worth of items, including tents, winter jackets and boots, baby formula, diapers, first-aid supplies, flashlights and other clothing.
Popalzai said watching video footage of children buried under rubble and the overall devastation was overwhelming.
“It really was a no-brainer to get involved and help,” said the Detective Constable assigned to the Homicide and Missing Persons Unit. “As officers, it is in our DNA to help others. At times, it gets difficult due to logistics, but we were so thrilled this time to figure out the logistics and be able to assist the people of Turkey and Syria thousands of miles away after one of the worst earthquakes in the last century. Millions of people are homeless and it will take years to rebuild.”
Fyzul said many of his wife’s family were forced to flee their homes and take refuge after the February 6 earthquake.
“As the scale of this catastrophe became clear, we learned how millions of lives were impacted, families lost loved ones, friends were recovered dead and babies and children were left orphaned,” he said. “It was a heart-wrenching experience, especially for my pregnant wife who was moved to tears.
“The response from the community was overwhelming and I want to say thanks to everyone who contributed to this relief effort. Your kindness and compassion have given hope to those who have lost everything and you have shown that even in the darkest of times, people have an intimate desire to help others.”
Through her work and relationships in 41 Division, Sergeant Sin Chiu received support from a community member who accepted donations at her home.
“I also met a contractor who emptied his truck load to assist with the delivery of donations to our Division,” she said. When I met him that night, he told me 15 of his family members were missing. That is when it hit home for me.”
In August 2021, Ghotbi and Popalzai started Project Hope to support thousands of people who came to Canada with nothing more than the clothes on their back.
With support of other police officers, agencies, community organizations and individuals, they have collected and delivered more than $500,000 in donations
Both officers came to Canada as refugees – Ghotbi from Iran and Popalzai from Afghanistan.