Rescue teams return to You are Not Alone to share stories of faith and hope among the tragedy of the Türkiye and Syria earthquakes
Ali Safieldeen, a Lebanese civil defense worker who was part of a rescue mission to Syria returned to the program to share a follow up story, and a heartbreaking story from his own life that urges him to do the work he does.
The Lebanese civil defense worker was a part of a rescue mission to Syria. In his first interview, which took place on zoom while on location, he shared how difficult the rescue effort was. His team had not retrieved any survivors from an eight-story 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 wasn’t aware that there were any survivors. They had removed thirty-two corpses and didn’t hear any voices under the rubble. “It was an act of God”, Safieldeen stated, that allowed them to drill into a wall, not knowing there was a child behind it, and reach him without causing injury.
Ibrahim’s mother helped the rescue team pull her out, even using a leg that was fractured. Safieldeen has been living in a state of shock due to the intensity of his experience.
Asked what motivates him 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. Her memory is the force behind Safieldeen’s resilience to help save the lives of 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.
The program interviewed Faitma 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 consoles mothers who have lost children, and anyone who has lost family members. Program 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.
Humanitarian Responders Across Borders
Fayez Samir Al-Shaqiyeh, the Regional Director of Civil Defense in the Bekaa, was a member of “Team 71”, which was sent out from Lebanon to Türkiye was also a guest on the program. His crew included members of the Lebanese Civil Defense, 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 Turkish rural area were difficult. “The temperature during the day, while the sun was out, was negative ten degrees and dropped down to negative twenty degrees one night. We slept on tiles, on unused body bags, each 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.
His team was successful in rescuing a man who later visited the team along with his children to thank them for saving his life. They also rescued a pregnant woman along with her seven year old daughter.
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 as the needs are overwhelming and for the rescue workers who have witnessed so much tragedy.