By Fahimeh Sadat Tabatabei, Mehr News Agency; translated by
The men in the village of Ghandab are sitting in the shadow of
the tall walls of their houses and grappling with unemployment. And the women
feed bites of poverty to their children. So is life at the point of zero!
Meanwhile, young volunteers
have traveled to the village trying to make a difference in the lives of these
The village of Ghandab is located 32 kilometers away from the
town of Fariman in
Khorasan Razavi province of Iran. We drive the last 12
kilometers on dirt road through the desert to get to the village.
The village cemetery is the first thing that welcomes the visitors. The mismatched and untidy tombstones tell the story of the people
whose only share from the world was the small tombstones that their descendants
have placed on their graves...
80 families live in Ghandab, in primitive
conditions. And like the residents of the
other villages in the area, they are deprived of basic amenities including drinking water.
When we enter the
village, a health crew are busy vaccinating the sheep.
The Young Volunteer Basijis
Tens of Basij volunteers have been at the village
for over two weeks now, doing all they can to help these poor people. These young
men have left the comfort of their houses to spend their summer time at the
village and serve those who have never been served. They have noble intentions,
without expecting anything in return. When we ask to interview them, they
decline. Some of them even shy away from the cameras since they don't want to
show off. Only few, after the insistence of the authorities, agree to talk and
answer our questions.
According to Esmaeil Ahmadi, the public relations
manager for of Mostazafan Basij, many of these volunteers are young physicians
and engineers who don't even want to be identified. Many of them even get sick
due to drinking contaminated water or the harsh environment. But they still
return, year after year.
The people of the village are very appreciative of
the help they receive from these volunteers and pray for them.
Ghandab Men: Our job is being unemployed
When we ask the men of the village about what their
occupations, their answer is always the same: "unemployment"
There are no traces of agricultural fields or
orchards in the village, and no production facilities. One only sees the dry
desert that's housing the clay houses in itself along with tens of skinny sheep
grazing in in the grassless fields.
An old man says sometimes there is no drinking
water for 72 hours. He says a well can help people with planting crops.
However, the residents cannot afford one and they need help from the province or the district.
In this place no one smiles. As if
Ghandab people don't know how to do so. The sorrow of poverty is visible in
their faces, and they don't try to hide it from the camera.
Impact of Subsidy Reforms
We ask people about the subsidy cuts and
government assistance money. Some say this at least allows them to afford
bread for their families so they don't go hungry. Others complain about the
higher prices for fuel and say their expenses have gone up. Now if someone gets
sick, it costs $20 to travel to Fariman: "A few days ago, I paid $25 to a driver
to take me to a clinic in Fariman. I spent another $20 for doctor's visit
and medicine. Travel expenses is very high here." These are the words of a
35-year-old woman who looks 50. She is standing for few other women next to a
house, a couple of them holding their babies. I ask them about sanitation. One
of them says: "Here we have dirt alleys. The sewer also gathers in front of the
houses. And we don't have water for taking showers. In these conditions, our
children play in the alleys and they acquire all sort of skin diseases."
In the whole village, only two people have
cars, or rather small trucks. If someone gets sick, people have to beg these
drivers to take them to town: "The other day, this was the situation with a
young man in the village. It was only God's willing he didn't die on the way to
We ask the women to show us where the
healthcare house is. One of them says: "Don't waster your time going there. It's
door it closed. It's been a while since no doctor has come there. If we get
sick, we have to go to Fariman." We go there anyway. Perhaps due to our
presence there, a doctor has also shown up! He is busy taking blood
pressure of the villagers, checking their sugar levels and prescribing
medications for them.
Ghandab's school, the only brick building, is the
best place in the village. Some of the Basij are busy painting the classes. But
this school is only for up to 9th grade. If students want to continue
their studies, they need to travel to Fariman 32 kilometers away.
Our house has snakes
The village official asks us to visit a
house. The outside looks ok. But when we enter the house, we see very
depressing and sorrowful scenes. The house, made of dirt and. The roof is
falling, and the walls are blackened from the smog generated by their heater.
The woman of the house, who has crossed eyes, pulls a curtain aside to show us
her life: "Last night at dinner time, a snake came inside the room and scared us
a lot. We spent the whole night outside. My children and I are often stung by
The husband is partially crippled and
unable to fix the house. And he cannot get a loan either.
In another house at the upper part of the
village, a martyr's son lives. His father Akbar Ghorban was killed in Kurdestan
in 1987. He is unemployed and has poor living conditions that he's unable to
improve. he cannot get a loan either: "They say you'll have to pay half and the
foundation will pay the other. But I don't have the half."
A stream of questions go through my mind.
Why, in the vastness of Iran, some people be living in these conditions, with
their lives is stuck at the first curve? Why no organization sees these people?
The sun has set when we leave the village.
The bus, struggling, leaves the dirt road and we head towards Mashhad. But we
are still thinking about Ghandab, where hope has died in the wrinkles of the
blackened hands of the people. And we think about the young volunteers coming
there, with the little they have, and trying to offer an opening in the lives of
the village children.