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The Village of Ghandab: Stopped at the Point of Zero

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 hopeless people.

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 hospital."

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.


The Schools

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 something."

The husband is partially crippled and unable to fix the house. And he cannot get a loan either.

Martyrs Child

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.

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