Farzad Ghotbi and Mustafa Popalzai of the Toronto Police Service coordinated relief efforts to assist victims following the devastating earthquake that struck parts of Turkey and Syria last month.
Over 55,000 people died in the 7.8 earthquake that struck Turkey’s central and southern regions as well as Syria’s northern and western regions.
The officers connected with Constable Sheik Fyzul, a Neighborhood Community Officer from the 32 Division whose Turkish-born wife has relatives in the country across the Atlantic.
In addition, Oshawa’s Sheriff Office, Headquarters, the Ontario Provincial Police Wellington County, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and six Divisions—51, 53, 43, 32, 31, and 41—participated in the donation drive.
They organized a two-week donation drive in conjunction with the Turkish Federation, the Turkish Consulate in Toronto, and other Turkish organizations to raise nearly $112,000 for items such as tents, winter boots and jackets, baby formula, diapers, first aid supplies, flashlights, and clothing.
According to Popalzai, the devastation and footage of children buried under rubble was overwhelming.
The Homicide and Missing Persons Unit’s Detective Constable stated, “It really was a no-brainer to get involved and help.” Helping others is in our DNA as police officers. The logistics can sometimes make things difficult, but this time we were so happy to figure them out and be able to help the people of Turkey and Syria thousands of miles away after one of the worst earthquakes in a century. It will take years to rebuild, and millions of people are homeless.
After the quake on February 6, according to Fyzul, many of his wife’s relatives were forced to flee their homes and seek safety elsewhere.
“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.