The pictures and videos emerging from Syria and Turkey since Monday’s twin earthquakes trigger my worst memories of human tragedy — and my best experiences of human tenacity.

In a previous life as a foreign correspondent, I covered the aftermath of two of the 21st century’s most catastrophic quakes: In the Indian state of Gujarat in 2001 and in Haiti almost exactly nine years later. The hideous sights, sounds and smells of suffering are painfully familiar.

Familiar, too, is the sense of awe at the heroic response to calamity by local nongovernmental organizations and other civil society groups. Their role is central to the rescue, relief and rebuilding efforts that follow any natural disasters. As important as providing immediate succor to the victims — building makeshift shelters, distributing food, water and medical help — NGOs have the responsibility of monitoring governmental efforts, ensuring the fair distribution of aid, guarding against corruption in the allocation of resources for reconstruction and proper accountability for failures.