“Young kids leap forward from five-flight of stairs to come hug me.
I have hundreds of children and grandchildren now.”
Parents of Refugees
Cavit Etleç, a 65-year-old retired carpenter who lives in Ulubey neighbourhood in Ankara and his wife Hafize Etleç have been married for 45 years. They are thankful for the years they were blessed to spend together. The couple who has three sons and eight grandchildren is helping out thousand families out of 2.500 refugee families living in their neighbourhood.
The charity of the couple who opens their doors to any needy person regardless of ethnicity, religion, and language is blessed to prosper many families. The couple believes that it is their moral duty and a blessing to have the opportunity to help others. They vow to spend the rest of their lives for this cause… Etleç couple who has touched the hearts of many refugees is aware that in an age where doors keep closing down on people opening the door of your heart is the greatest act of kindness indeed.
“Over the past 5 years” says uncle Cavit “I had hundreds of children and thousands of grandchildren.” He does not mix anyone’s share with another, He identifies the absolutely needy ones and does not even step inside their homes. He just walks away after leaving the charity hampers at the door of the families whom he knows are needy for. Sometimes it so happens that he does not have enough food in his own home. Yet his charity never falters. He delivers the help whoever needs fairly and justly.
The old couple’s door is open 24 hours…
Without waiting for anything in return this charitable couple works day and night to hand out the aid that is delivered to them. Apart from financial aid they would share the troubles of these people who had to flee their homeland.
How Can I Sleep in Peace While Children Go Cold?
Uncle Cavit explains how blessings come and find them as they are doing charity to help out these people:
“One day my wife bumped into a 10-year-old child who used to bow and ask for charity. When I came home from work in the evening she told me everything: ‘I saw a child who stays in the building across the street. Go and check it out. I immediately ran out and went there. There were around 25 people, 6 of them children. The windows are broken and it was in the middle of the winter…
80 people were staying in the vacant building. “Honey cook a meal quickly and in our largest hot pan” I told my wife on my return. The meal was ready in one and half hours. I went to the supermarket and bought the last 20 loaves of bread on the shelf. When I brought all to the building I was taken aback by how miserable the whole situation was. I went home to get some cutlery and plates to serve the food.
When I returned in a matter of minutes I felt terribly sad because all the food was gone. They could not wait for the plate and cutlery.
How can I sleep in peace while children are going cold? I got back home. My wife was already asleep. I entered out bedroom and collected mattresses, bed frames and whatever I could to bring to these people. I put the children who were trying to keep warm by hugging each other in bed. I found a sheet of plastic and covered the windows with it. I told them to bear a bit more.
When my wife woke up in the morning she thought a burglar broke into our house. When I explained all in a simple manner. “Should one necessarily give away his own mattress too” she protested. Her initial reaction can be regarded normal. However after she listened to what I described next day she also has visited the building across and gave away all the beds and mattresses we had in the store. So we are on the same page over the past five years,” he concludes.
Uncle Cavit tells us initially young people used to apply to them to be of some help and later on families started to come as well. In the beginning he was unable to set up a network or share this initiative with many people. Hence for a year he and his wife cooked and served as many as 80 refugees daily out of their pocket. As their only income is a pensioner’s salary it was a bit tough. However giving up never crossed his mind nor a feeling of enough is enough.
Hard to Give Them Aid Because They’re Dignified People
They were only worried about if they would be able to keep up serving food to these refugees. The couple would not get a good night’s sleep with these thoughts. So it was a big relief when Âdem Günaydın stepped in and covered all food expenses for a year. Gradually many neighbourhoods in Ankara heard about their charity.
“When we shop in pharmacy, in supermarket, in gas station, they write it on a book and charitable people go and pay our debt off” explains uncle Cavit. What is interesting is that he never seeks help from anyone. It just so happens that charitable people like himself come and find him and leave their in kind or cash aid at his disposal without further verification or investigation while totally trusting that he will deliver it to the right place, to the needy people.
Uncle Cavit can hardly help out refugees in Ulubey, Önder, Ali Ersoy, Site, Yıldız, and Hasköy neighbourhoods. Whoever hears about the couple comes finds him to ask for help, guidance and work.
“They are dignified people. They hardly accept the aid we hand out. They feel so embarrassed when they receive unconditional aid. When they see someone else is delivering the bread of their own children they break down in tears. So I try to make sure they do not see me when I deliver the aid at their door” he explains his caution not to hurt feelings of the displaced people.
Convinced that one should teach how to fish and not how to eat fish to improve someone’s life, uncle Cavit found jobs for 500 families. However there are such who do not even have the chance to work as they are widows with young children, or too old,… He is providing for 300 families in this situation and never leaves their responsibility to some other.
Uncle Cavit settled many refugee families in houses that he found with low rent. However there was one widow with children for whom he failed to find a suitable place and they ended up living with him and his wife in their small flat. The kids and their mother used to call them as “Mother Hafize” and “Papa Cavit” respectively. After they finally found a place and moved out the couple felt sad as the cheerful voices in their house were gone.
Uncle Cavit is ever hopeful. He explains that the aid grew gradually and many conscious and charitable locals were donating regularly. He is happy to see that the most sincerely helping people are from among college students who save their own pocket money to help out refugees.
He never forgets that most sincere one he received from such student.
“A girl who was studying in Ankara was unable to go back home in the eid holidays. So his dad had packed a t-shirt and a piece of sacrificial lamb, which his neighbour gave him, after cooking it up. Once the inter-city bus driver from her hometown delivered the parcel to her she came running to us and handed the parcel sent from home to Syrian families. Therefore no one can destroy this country!”
The Blessed Table of Ours
During the Eid Al-Adha four tons of sacrificial meat was donated to the charitable couple who dutifully divided and distributed them to the refugees living in the neighbourhoods around them. They do all their charity with a pure heart that believes in Allah. Uncle Cavit notes that none of his aid was raided although he received much criticism from neighbours at the beginning. There were even times when his house was attacked and glasses were broken so much so that the couple had to taken shelter in their son’s house. He is moved to tears as he recounts those events.
He reports that some local shopowners exploit the refugees who ask for work and make them work for a fraction of the normal wage. So there are some who want to make profit out of the desparation of these poor souls… However there is nowhere else in the world that Syrian refugees feel most at home he adds. “Good and evil people exist everywhere. The good ones are those who are aware of the wrongdoings and work toward making them right” he concludes.
The couple did not lose spirits over the jealous remarks like “is caring for Syrians your duty only?” and kept trying to explain patiently what the help means to them and to those people in need. It did not take long to win over the hesistant camp. They did not face further criticism afterwards. This kind old man emphasizes that charitable people outnumber the mean ones and brushes over his negative experiences.
While everyone holidays during the eids the couple would stay up all night calculating and dividing the aid trying to figure out how and to whom it shall be distributed. It is a fine balance that they feel they will be held accountable in the hereafter as well. Hence they can hardly put their mind at rest even when they go to bed at night…
“Our table is bountiful and blessed with barakah. I have not heard anyone who left the table without feeling full. We plead to them to eat and drink to their heart’s content. These are dignified people who will not look up out of embarrassment for receiving aid. They are like our own kin. If things turn alright and they leave for good one day I do not know what shall become of us” says auntie Hafize.
They sit down for breakfast at least as a group of ten. One brings his bills the other comes to ask for home furniture, fridge, washing machine, kitchen tools. They are so shy even when asking for basic supplies to survive. Yet they knock the door of this charitable old couple with the belief that somehow uncle Cavit and auntie Hafize will find a way to resolve their problems.
The couple believes that charitable people has indeed great wisdom and the mystery behind the horrible 15 July`s aversion is the well-wishing prayers of those refugees that they helped out…
Children`s Joy at the Delivery of Aid… That Makes me Cry
Regardless of their old age and feeble bodies the couple has distributed 60 tons of coal to the needy refugees in the past year. Syrians who call them Mother Hafize and Papa Cavit have so much affection for them. When they hear that the couple is visiting a family in the neighbourhood the other Syrians flock to see them. “See it is all about the sense of belonging to the same ummah that keeps us together and united” uncle Cavit says.
Believing that every verse of the Lord is reflected on earth in some manner, they are convinced that their consistent charity is an absolute duty.
The charity initiated by this couple in their small house has tunred into a movement of kindness. From among those who get to hear about the cause of Cavit and Hafize Etleç and visit them are NGOs, charitable businessmen and high ranking officials.
“Taiwanese ambassador to Turkey visited with his wife and child. The aid they brought along with them in a small bag were gone in minues as we had 10-15 Syrians in our garden at that moment. Ambassador and his family got surprised at this serendipity. We sat down and talked for a few hours. They came back after a week with 100 kilos of apples to give away. You should have seen the joy of refugee children. It is especially the kids that make me cry in these kind of moments.”
It is hard not to know what is going to be the fate of Syrian families who under very harsh conditions took refuge in our country and to know that the best of what we can comes short of what they need… Yet, to feel that the charitable efforts give hope to many households and the sense of solidarity that removes the barriers of countries and nations are stronger than any and all anxieties.
The story of uncle Cavit and auntie Hafize, who dedicated their humble lives to charity for Syrian refugees, is full of voices of orphans that will lead their way to heaven and the glimmering hopes of widow mothers…
“When the war is over and we go back home we will take you with us, Syrians tell us. We will build you a house there so that you can be with us and sit in our table for years to come, they insist.
When they go to ask for the hand of a girl from a Syrian family, they bring us along as referee. If you vouch for the trustworthiness of this family, we give our blessings fort his marriage, the girl`s family says.
We are concerned with the wedding of orphans just like they are our own.
We no longer can be separated from them, nor can they.
A cup of broth is enough for all…”