About two years ago, as I stopped behind a traffic light, I was suddenly confronted with several small children, from both sides of the car, trying to persuade me to buy something from them to give them something. I wanted to rise up and scream and ask what can I do to stop this; as I was filled with great rage and anger at the fact that these children, like all other children, should be at school and that they are my children too. I asked myself, what on earth I can do to help in order to give these children a better future as a long term goal, and to bring these scruffy darlings a little physical security, and some emotional security-blanket in the short term. Only yesterday I found my answer.
When my photographer friend asked me if I wanted to go with her to a special school for working children, little did I know that this will affect me so much. I can only hope that you are touched with this report of that school too.
We set off on a snowy day. I called the taxi early to be sure to get there in good time to go downtown with my friend Rana. We were going to Darvazeh-Gharr in Molavie in the heart of south of Tehran. The last time I was anywhere near this area was a few years ago with my Swiss friends who had came to Iran as part of their riding the world on their bikes project. Not much had changed; life was rough and serious and yet the traffic was not that terrible. It took us a long time to find the address, near a Sagha-Khaneh (which is a small shrine, usually inside a wall, where people go to light a candle and make a prayer and a wish they are desperate to come true). The alley where the school was located was opposite Babanorouz Sagha-Khaneh. We eventually found the place and passed two very narrow and very short alleys before getting into the school. This is a special school for the children who work, and those who for different reasons cannot use the normal educational system; for example Afghani children whose parents are in Iran illegally. Besides their curriculum, many things at this school is different than normal schools. Most, if not all, of the children who come to this school have to go to work at some point during the day.
We were met by Mr. Farahani, the school manager, a young gentleman who is dedicated to his work, to the duties and the principles that he stands for and believes in. He is a man who seemed at peace with himself and can pass this inner peace to the 400 children who come to this school for learning; whether it is formal education or learning a trade or even a hobby. Next we met a most dedicated young lady, Ms. Banasaz, who is a psychologist by profession and is the managing director of the Association that runs the school and the head of the school as well. We also met Mrs. Mohammadi, the head of educational program, and several of the volunteers.
There are two small houses, next to each other, which constitute the school and which have both been purchased in the name of Association with funds that they have been able to raise. School classrooms are named after different flowers, and other rooms are named after their function. The school opens from 7am to 7-8 pm. The school's educational program is based on Iran's national literacy campaign program which has a shorter duration than normal school programs. The school has seven permanent staff as well as many part-timers who are mainly volunteers. The school management has come to the conclusion that it is best to use skilled volunteer-specialists in the relevant fields. Most of the volunteers are university students or graduates who come to work there for an average period of between 4 to 6 months.
The school has workshops for photography, painting, journalism, hairdressing, electronics, dressmaking and so on. One problem that they have is the fact that the school may not be able to offer the same courses all the time as this depends on the skills of the volunteers available and their field of expertise. I asked if the children are separated. The response was in educational classes they are; but in workshops and extra curricular classes, boys and girls learn together.
Each child who comes to the school is assessed in terms of his/her educational requirements as well as emotional needs and problems. There was a nursing unit which is run on a voluntary basis but it is temporarily closed as there are no volunteers at present to run it. The children who come to the school are between 4 to 18 years old; but there are also about ten young mothers who attend classes. The aim is to educate and train the children, in the hope that it will give them a better chance in life, so that they avoid turning to undesirable means. The school does not distinguish or discriminate on any basis and regards all children who come there as living gifts whose character and human identity must be respected. Always remember that these children face and suffer many physical and emotional shortcomings and must not be looked upon as vagrant and idle wanderers but rather as needy humans who can be helped, with a little effort by others, to be empowered, be given a better chance and a healthier life in every respect.
From what we could see, the children really seemed to enjoy being there and they consider this a home where they can come to, where they are cared for and respected. And one hopes that they will learn to love and respect themselves, others and society in return, even though they have to deal with their life outside the school.
The association has a website and one of our groups has promised to help them develop that as well as making a CD for promotional purposes. They have published some of the pictures that children at their branch in Bam have drawn, which has raised a little money. In our short discussions, I soon discovered that the Society for Protection of Child Laborers was started less than two years ago with little more than $100 by five dedicated men and women who believed in the rights of all children. All founding members of the association were working for Association for Protection of the Rights of Children in Iran before, but had decided to start their own association with the main aim of making a positive difference and make a long lasting, positive and visible effect. They are a registered NGO (non governmental organization) and are registered officially with NAJA under ref. no. 14607 in August 2003
When I asked Ms. Banasaz, the school head what they wanted from people, to my surprise she said "believe in these children as normal humans who have suffered and been damaged by their lives" and she went on to say "ask people not to look upon them as a menace to society and try to look at them with love and care and above all a respectable eye and help us to give these children a safe place to come to and find a positive identity". I could only agree with her as when I looked at all the children that I met at the school yard, in the library and in the classes, they all seemed to have a ray of hope in their eye and through their smiles. Let us work together and give these children a possible brighter future.
On more practical basis the school needs:
Association for Protection of Child Laborers
Molavie, Bagh-e Ferdouss, Shahid Raeess Abdoulai Street, Shahid Ardesstani Street, Shahid Ahamd Eftekharian, Opposite Babanorouz Sagha-Khaneh, Bombass-te Binamm No. 43
Bank Sepah Markazie (Central) Branch, Code No. 1
Account No. 7095
... Payvand News - 2/10/05 ... --