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Donors' Relations with NGOS in IRAN: How to overcome some of our cultural and social handicaps

By Syma Sayyah, Tehran

Andak andak vanngahi darya shavad. (Little by Little it becomes a Sea)

Iranians are well known for their hospitality, general kindness and helpfulness. Being hospitable is a true national characteristic as much as being always in a rush or taroffing is. People have many sides or characteristic which one may find quite contradictory. One of the issues that is striking and which I find quite amazing about Iranians, including myself, is their attitude towards charity and common good-work especially in its modern forms and its needs.

If one has a cause that relates to pain and suffering, Iranians are most willing to help and assist.

Here, I would like to address good-doers, all those good people, especially those who are not only caring but worldly citizens as well, whom I hope can help, each in their own way, even to a small yet significant extent- as a friend mentioned -some of the cultural handicaps or shortcomings of our society, via a simple deed. I want to confer with those inside and outside our country, about their attitude towards NGOs in Iran. Emphasizing strongly here that I am only referring to true NOGs, those which are and want to retain their independence from government, any government involvement completely, in order to do their chosen task, and perform as real NGOs should.

This is not an easy task in a country where control is a big issue and what those in charge do not understand or comprehend, at many levels, has to be dismissive, bad and at worst dangerous.

In the past few years, I have been involved in quite a few such organizations in different forms, and in different capacity. Through my involvement with these I have become familiar with some others NGOs. I do not see it essential that one has to approve or agree with all its elements or operation constantly as long as, in general one is partial to and approves of outcomes. For me this is the same with everything else in life, so I chose not to be so picky. May be it is because I am a very pragmatic person, due to my background, education and training, or may be I do not wish to grant myself the excuse of not doing anything under such shadows. I think that one should do what one can if one genuinely believes in it in some way or form. If we can not put personal time and energy then may be at least we can assist those who can.

I find it quite amusing that charities or NGOs that deal with poor, sick and old, thanks to wonderful efforts of those who run such organizations but more so with the generous help and assistance of donors- like you- from inside and outside the country, are doing a great job here. We pay and don't ask many questions, but hopefully in time we see the results or hear about them. However, when one is dealings with NGOs which are not dealing with issues related to pain and sufferings of our less deprived fellow citizens, somehow the generosities dries up! Don't ask me why. I am sure many of us are privileged and astute enough not to need to look for bonus ticket to heaven through a small contribution.

I have thought about it and after a great deal of thoughts I said to myself that may be many simply do not know about these other types of NGOs that try to do good work in other aspects of life here.

So many people send their friends and associates e-mails from here or there about this and that cause or person, once something simple, yet serious is being done in order to promote an idea, memory and work of the same things or ones. But suddenly they are not interested in that cause any more. Their interests, it seems, have moved into another arena or sensation which may have been brought about by events rather than heartfelt and long term conviction.

There are many new organizations (NGOs) which have been set up with great deal of hard efforts in order to do valuable and worthy work that relate to women, environment, youth, culture and literature. I have come to know first hand how difficult it has been to just have these NGOs officially registered. This is required by law now, as there has been an upsurge of NGOs in recent years in Iran. The unbelievable hassles of bureaucracy that these organizations have to go through under the present system are heart aching, I assure you, this is beyond even your worst belief. For one organization it took nearly 30 months! to get it registered. The law is unclear on NGOs here and even though a little progress has been made recently in this respect, different governmental organizations involved, mainly Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Interior, do not always agree on its related terms and conditions and the registration of the NGOs is caught in this confusion. One NGO got so fed up with this that they decided to proceed to be registered through both ministries and resolved upon the idea that they will operate under the banner/protection of whichever ministry that finalizes their registration first!

If you thought this was too bad, wait till I inform you about funding and donors. As stated previously people generally, but evidently, are less sympathetic towards cultural, educational and environmental NGOs with their pockets. Generally speaking, the tradition of assisting such organizations, for many different reasons, is not very strong in the country. Financial hardships in the past years has not been helpful to move people in this direction much either. Mainly because those who would be more inclined to help towards such activities have become more vulnerable in this respect. However what I find unbearably sad is that good and kind-hearted Iranians outside Iran, those who care so much for their homeland and it's place in the world, in general, have the a very similar attitude. When I ask them why they don't contribute, they say "we can not get a tax break, as the NGO is not registered here!" We are talking about donation amounts of around maximum $50-100 per year. Or they say "we don't know who these people are and do not know what they do with the money we give them, though we like the idea of what they do." Or "we need more information," forgetting that in order to get/send them the required information, the organization must stay afloat, and that preparing pamphlets, web sites etc. all costs money!

There are good many citizens, like anywhere else, who put time and energy in organizing and running these NGOs here in Iran, and particularly in Tehran. Young and old get together to help along, and even if they do a little good it is worth it. Many such NGOs are established by well-known people, by those whom we care for and trust. They lend their names and their time as trustees or board members or observers or consultants, like their counterparts anywhere else in the world. But in order for them, and staff volunteer members, to get together and do their work, they need a place to meet to organize, money to pay the bills and purchase essential materials, books etc., and prepare information to send to potential and existing donors. Organizations that deal with poor and needy are there because there is a need for them to be there unfortunately. These are also other needs and handicaps within a nation that needs to be addressed.

Adding insult to injury, government is quite touchy about donations from outside.

Through your friends or relatives please find a way to show your generosity to such NGOs in Iran and help them to survive, do their good work and stay independent. Without your help, these organizations will disappear and it would be a great waste and terrible loss to the nation's well-being in the long run. Help them to help others to overcome our social and cultural handicaps. The issues that such organizations address will bear fruit and result in the long term. They must be sustained in order to achieve their aims. I implore you to think this out and please find a way to help these hard working NGOs to stay ALIVE! These are also true and really worthy causes that need your supports.

If it is not possible to directly contact and send your donations to such places in Iran, I am kindly asking the staff at Payvand to help in this respect by setting up list of NGO, their names and addresses, web address (if they have them) and what they do. May be they can be able to set up a special account where the readers can send their donations and state what particular or what type of NGOs, be it education, environment, women, youth, literature etc. wish their donation be forwarded to. One has to learn to trust as we can not be in control all the time. One individual's help may not be sufficient but if we get together and help along then the change will come.

Andak andak vanngahi darya shavad. (Little by Little it becomes a Sea)

Thank you

Related Article:

A short note on NGOs in Iran

... Payvand News - 7/28/03 ... --

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