Providing for the children of Bam
By Zahra Dowlatabadi
April 11, 2004
Many of us felt an overwhelming sense
of helplessness on December 26th, 2003 when the city of Bam was
hit with a 6.6 magnitude earthquake. What could we possibly do
a difference to the lives of the survivors? Jila Kashef however,
was in Tehran at the time of the catastrophe, and went to Bam along
side the other hardworking and committed volunteers from Society
For Protecting the Rights of the Child (SPRC).
Soon she was
known as "Khal-e Jila" (Auntie Jila) and became a trusted
friend to many of the children who found immense solace in the
SPRC tents. There they discovered a new home filled with caring
people, warm food, books, toys, art supplies and most important
of all undivided attention. The SPRC volunteers were there to
address the children's needs. They arrived in Bam shortly after
earthquake hit, and are still continuing with their efforts today.
I met Kashef recently and was immediately struck
by her energy, sincerity, passion and love for children. She is
a child advocate
in every sense of the word, and I was truly honored to get to know
her. Here is how we started:
Please introduce yourself, and
describe why you joined Iranian Children's Rights Society
My name is Jila Kashef, I have been part of a
computer technical staff for many years in Los Angeles. I first
about ICRS at one of their fundraisers in 1998. At this event,
I learned about the Society For Protecting the Rights of the Child
(SPRC) which was established in 1994 by a group of teachers, writers,
artists, attorneys, and educators such as Ms. Fakhri Golestan,
Ms. Shirin Ebadi, Ms. Shiva Dolatabadi, Mr. Ghalchechian and Ms.
Mahdokht Sanati for the purpose of improving the lives of children
The event I was attending was set up by the international
chapter of SPRC which is called the Iranian Children's Rights
Society. The purpose of the evening was two fold: 1) To inform
Iranians and non-Iranians about the existence of SPRC, and its
goals. 2) To raise funds for SPRC's children's projects.
Coming from a difficult childhood, I understand
the pain of children very well, and that is why I believe that
giving love and education
to kids will change their lives. It is my strong belief that if
children are educated at the right time, there will be less crime
and poverty in the world. When I discovered this organization and
its visionary plans for the children of Iran along with the fact
that it is a non-profit, non-governmental, non politically affiliated
organization, I decided to join them as a volunteer.
Where were you when the earthquake hit Bam and what were
the specific reasons that led you there?
On December 20th I went to Tehran to meet with
SPRC. As soon as the earthquake hit on Dec. 26th, a group of five
SPRC went to Bam to offer disaster relief and emergency help. I
went to Bam thirteen days after this catastrophic event to meet
with Behzisti -- welfare organization -- officials in
order to determine a means for adopting orphaned children of Bam.
were the conditions in Bam?
arrived in Bam, and I could not believe what I was seeing. Children
were everywhere wandering the city in fear and shock.
No one was focused on them.
What were your immediate objectives, and
how did you go about executing them?
The first thing
that came to my mind, was to do something for the kids, to make
sure they were taken out of those depressing
tents during the day. All the NGOs were helping the families by
providing emergency supplies, food and medicine. None of them however,
had any programs for the children.
How did the children respond to you and
the other SPRC volunteers? What were your main accomplishments?
In observing the situation, we realized that
the children needed focused attention. We immediately implemented
means for them to
continue learning and playing, and in the process we did our best
to help normalize their lives, and reduce the trauma under these
During the three weeks that I was there, I managed
to get two small tents to start as a gathering place for children.
Within a few
hours we had about 20 children, shortly thereafter they increased
to 50, and the next day there were 120. Just a few days later we
had approximagely 250 children who had registered with SPRC, and
at this point, I would venture a guess that the number is over
We were lucky to secure a large 96 square meter
long tent from one of the NGOs called Islamic Relief. They also
provided us with
sleeping mats, plastic furniture, white board and playground equipment.
(Many thanks to Islamic Relief)
By day six other volunteers arrived from our Tehran
office and started working closely with the children. We encouraged
and people from Bam to assist us in keeping their children busy
in order to help them focus on more positive things while the rest
of the city was crawling out of the rubble. See photos
The following are some of the things we accomplished:
1) We gathered all the children in tents so that
they could have breakfast and lunch together. Thanks to Alabama
for providing warm food. We offered nutritious meals for the children
by for example, converting their breakfast from a piece of dried
bread and cheese or marmalade to milk, cakes and sometimes fresh
2) We provided the children with painting materials,
toys and books to read. Many thanks to Bonyade Koodak in Tehran,
Koohestani in Kerman.
3) We purchased a TV, and a CD player and started
showing children cartoons and movies. We acquired a music cassette
player and played
music for the children. Thanks to Mr. Abbas Ajeli, my dear brother
4) We asked different organizations to provide
us with children's
supplies, such as school bags, shoes, clothes and other necessities.
5) We provided all necessary health and hygienic
supplies that included toothbrushes, combs, hair brushes, towels,
clothes and all materials needed for school such as story books,
painting and art supplies, writing books and other items. (Some
of these items were provided by us and some were donated from other
6) We started small classes by dividing the children
in to different groups and set up painting, acting and singing
classes. We gave
out awards for best painting and best singing. SPRC volunteers
really brought life to this camp. The children were unbelievably
happy with our presence there. They didn't even want to go
back to their own tents with their parents. At the end of the day
we had to force them to return to their parents.
7) Two weeks later we got the permission from
the Ministry of Education and started the primary school (Grade
1-5) in our camp. We had
about 190 students.
What would you say is SPRC's most
significant role in assisting the children of Bam?
a result of our services, life in this camp has been substantially
improved under these severe conditions.
The children have become
happier and their dispositions have markedly improved. Their
mothers tell us that the kids get up at 5:00 AM and ask, "When
we going to school?" Even though we are supposed to start
at 8:00, the kids gather around our tent at 7:00 and keep asking
us when we are going to begin the sessions.
In addition to child relief assistance, we sent
one of our psychologists, Dr. Shiva Dolatabadi to Bam to work
with children as well as
with the mothers and families in order to assist their emotional
and recuperation. We had two days of seminars held in our big
I am proud to be a part of ICRS/SPRC and feel that
we are the only effective organization at the time helping in
and calculated manner in order to benefit our future generation.
The SPRC volunteers have shown dedication and creativity
in providing much needed aid to the children and families here.
We are planning
to stay in Bam as long as we are needed.
What are your present goals?
In order to continue our services in Bam, we
are setting up a fundraiser in Los Angeles called "Norooz with
of Bam." This event will take place on Sunday, April 18th
2004 from 12:00 PM – 5:00 PM. It will be held at: Proud
11022 Aviation Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90045 (Phone: 310-670-3815).
The tickets are $75 per person and are available at click the pledge
button. Parviz Kardan and Ziba Shirazi will be the MCs.
have fantastic live music by Behzad, including Shahram Fasazadeh,
Saman Mahmoodi, Shahriar Behzadpour and also another musical
group with Mahvash Azhir and Eric Stein. We are also proud
traditional Haftsin dancing by Shida Pegahi's Junior Dance
Company. Our guest speaker is Nilufar Farnoodi-Zahiri, child
psychologist. I will also be there to give you a full report
on my three weeks
Additionally, our guests will be able to view
artwork and read letters by children of Bam. You will be amazed by the
love and hope evident in all of the children's work. We will
also be offering a silent auction filled with excellent buys.
For people who want to help, but are not able
to attend the fundraiser, please specify what they can do to
and children of Bam?
Please visit our
web site. We have
an extensive list on this page. There are many ways that people
can help. It
is almost a matter of looking within ourselves and assessing
what is our best attribute, and sharing that with the children
Some people prefer to donate money, and as you will see this
choice is available online on our site. Others however may prefer
an active role by volunteering in our many chapters either abroad
or in Tehran.
As my grandmother, Ghamar Dowlatabadi would
donya az vaght-e shoma motoshakeram."
are welcome. See you on April 18th.
You can count on me. I will
comes from a long line of stubborn women and non-stubborn
to human rights and community service. She has worked as an
animation producer for studios including Warner Bros., Universal
To learn more about her, visit producinganimation.com.
Zahra is currently directing a documentary for the non-profit organization
Torture Victims. She wishes to thank the ICRS
web site for permitting
the use of portions of Jila Kashef's report from Bam.
.................... Spam?! Khalaas!