Earthquake rescue workers in Lebanon and Türkiye have told SAT-7 ARABIC’s You Are Not Alone about the memory of a two-year-old daughter who inspires one to save other children in disaster zones and how experiences of civil war and the Beirut explosion prepared them for this intensive rescue operation.
Ali Safieldeen, a Lebanese civil defense worker who was part of a rescue mission in Aleppo, Syria returned to the programme one week after the show followed him live on Zoom during a rescue operation on a collapsed eight-storey building. In his first interview, he shared how difficult the rescue effort was. His team had not retrieved any survivors from the building that imploded on itself.
“A quarter of an hour after our interview with You Are Not Alone, we were able to rescue Ibrahim and his mother as a result of 122 hours of search and rescue work. If you ask me how, I would say it was a miracle.”
The team had removed thirty-two corpses and hadn’t heard any voices beneath the rubble. Safieldeen said “It was an act of God” that allowed them to drill into a wall and discover a child behind it, reaching him and his mother without causing injury.
Asked what motivates Safieldeen to do this work, he revealed that he had lost a two-year-old daughter during the 2006 war in Lebanon. He found her body himself. He said her memory is the force behind his determination to save the lives of other children during times of tragedy. He feels his daughter’s presence with him while on missions like this, guiding him to children in need of help.
Only one thought
The programme also interviewed Fatima Zakaria, a displaced earthquake survivor in Türkiye whose home was completely destroyed by the earthquake.
“During the earthquake, you could only think of God,” Zakaria said. “You think, how will I meet God? Nothing more than that. I was afraid. I was telling God that I don’t want to die now.” The only wisdom to be learned, she said, was the importance of being closer to God, to love people more and to love good moving forward.
Syrian survivor Dalal Ibrahim prayed that God will console mothers who have lost children, and anyone who has lost family members. Programme host, Sirene Semerdjian, asked the survivors if they’ve heard from official parties about plans to get them back to their homes, and to get their lives back to normal. In both countries, the answer was no.
Responding across borders
A studio guest on the programme was Fayez Samir Al-Shaqiyeh, the Regional Director of Civil Defence in the Bekaa governorate and a member of “Team 71” which was sent out from Lebanon to Türkiye. His crew included members of the Lebanese Civil Defence, the Lebanese Army, The Red Cross, and the Beirut Fire Brigade.
“We didn’t want to leave, we didn’t want to go back home,” he said, expressing the team’s emotional commitment to the effort. He was joined by his only son on this mission, who served as a volunteer. Treating the situation as though it happened in one’s own country was a necessary and natural response to Al-Shaqiyeh.
The living conditions in the disaster region were difficult. “The temperature during the day, while the sun was out, was minus 10 degrees and dropped to minus 20 one night. We slept on tiles, on unused body bags. Two to three rescue workers had to share a blanket, and we each slept for a total of five or six hours total during the entire mission.”
Al-Shaqiyeh served during the 2020 Beirut explosion, and his experience in Türkiye stands alongside the blast as one of the most difficult missions he’s been on.
Thankfully, there were some successes. His team rescued a pregnant woman and her seven-year-old daughter and a man who later visited the team with his children to thank them for saving his life.
You Are Not Alone ran a hotline for viewers to send donations to fund church efforts in Aleppo.
Please continue to pray for survivors in Syria and Türkiye, where the needs are overwhelming, and for the rescue workers who have witnessed so much tragedy.