Raising funds for needy children
November 27, 2001
I am usually weary of charity functions. Being an Iranian, I have a genetic
predisposition to doubting the integrity and legitimacy of charitable organizations,
particularly (and ironically) if they are run by my compatriots. This is
a sad aspect of our culture that makes us automatically distrust the good
intentions of our fellow countryfolk.
I always imagine my Doubting Iranian persona
as a pudgy little goblin with green skin, yellow eyes and matching teeth,
wearing a top hat and tails. He holds a shiny golden baton that he likes
to poke me with whenever I let my guard down and begin to believe in my
fellow man again. Always, the Doubting Iranian pops up when I am on the
verge of making a charitable donation and no matter how worthy the cause,
this little creature will exclaim: "Halla che joori motmaen beshim
in pool miresseh be oonjaaye ke baayad beresseh?"
If the charity is aimed at helping people inside Iran, the Doubting Iranian
gets very excited and starts doing a soft shoe routine on the edge of a
Baby Grand he has magically conjured up for better effect. He has now the
perfect setting to make up yet another conspiracy theory: For example, he
will claim that the charity whose goal it is to help people inside Iran
is nothing more than a front for supporting this or that political faction.
On the other hand, if the Doubting Iranian finds out the charity is getting
funding from a foreign government or a political entity, he will still become
overjoyed and begin chanting "Moment! Moment! In kaar, kaareh ingillissaass!
Thus, the Doubting Iranian, living and breathing
inside all of us, is the single biggest obstacle standing against Iranians
getting involved in public interest work. This is all the more astounding
given that in other aspects of our life, I truly believe we are very compassionate
and generous people, willing to help our neighbor, friend, or relative on
a person-to-person basis. It is the specter of an "organized"
structure that seems to wake the Doubting Iranian from his slumber inside
So you can imagine the mixed feelings I had when a friend invited me
to attend a charity fundraiser on this November 9th. The organization, Child Foundation (Bonyade Koodak),
had at first glance, all the characteristics apt to trigger the worst of
the Doubting Iranian: It is a young organization, started by Iranian-Americans.
The donations are spent outside of the U.S. It's office is in Orange County,
California, with all the negative connotations usually associated with this
location. Of course by people who have never lived nor know anyone from
But my trust and admiration for my friend, who has volunteered for the
foundation for over two years now, stifled the initial whining protests
of the Doubting Iranian inside me. I grabbed him by his ankles and told
him to shut up. I quickly bound his hands and feet, even as he was kicking
and writhing, and I smacked some adhesive tape on his mouth full of bile.
For now, I would try to stay rational and logical. Give the Child Foundation
a chance. And what better way to allay my fears than to become a volunteer
Even though I came in the picture very late,
when most of the work and efforts had been accomplished for the fundraiser,
I was still able to experience first-hand the amazing dedication and commitment
of the members of the foundation. These are people with busy professional
and personal lives, who every day take out a substantial slice out of their
time to work towards one goal: To give some freedom of choice to children
living in Iran, Afghanistan, and other parts of the world.
Poverty is more than just the lack of food, more than child labor, more
than being forced out of school to marry. It is all that and more, but most
fundamentally, it is a violation of crucial human rights and valuable freedoms
that are at the core of our humanity: The freedom to have control over your
own life, rather than let circumstances control it for you. Poverty leaves
you not only with physical needs, but deep emotional and mental scars: a
feeling of helplessness, depression, a loss of hope in yourself and in others
Furthermore, without food, education, and other
means, how can the children of today possibly be expected to become full
participants in their society? Instead, they will continue to inflate the
ranks of the marginalized and the hopeless. Poverty is a cycle that repeats
itself viciously, and members of Child Foundation have recognized how the
tide can be changed: The children and their education.
I found the fundraiser gala to be very informative. Usually, I am weary
of glamorous and glitzy affairs where fabulous entertainment is provided
to an elite audience of socialites and movers and shakers. When I see some
of these $5000 a plate events on TV or in the gossip columns, these do-gooders
look so smug and self-congratulatory, standing there in their designer gowns
and tacky jewels. It is a field day for my Doubting Iranian, who jumps up
and wags his finger at me with an "I told you so" attitude.
Nevertheless, in the Child Foundation fundraiser, the attendees were
not paparrazi-hunting vanity cases but ordinary, hardworking people who
came because of a genuine interest in the cause at hand. I personally saw
many of the guests sponsoring children, some for the first time, others
for the second or third time in their lives.
The celebrities, who attended, such as Shahrzad
Ardalan, Doctor Holakooyie, and Behrouz Voussoughi, did not grab the spotlight
for themselves but were there solely to lend themselves to the cause as
best as they could.
The minimal entertainment remained peripheral to the main task of the
evening, which was to provide information on the hundreds of children who
have thus far succeeded in their education and life because of the efforts
of the foundation, and the thousand more who await a helping hand.
A number of moving video presentations showed the children in their natural
setting, being interviewed on camera, about their life, their hopes, their
wishes. Outside of the main hall, many tables were set up providing pictures
and other information for countless children awaiting sponsorship.
Child Foundation volunteers were certain to
make themselves available for any comments or inquiries by the attendees.
I especially liked the genuine enthusiasm of the younger volunteers, hyphenated
Iranians ranging from early childhood to late teen-age years. I was so moved
by their little serious faces and slow but precise articulation of Farsi
as they handed guests various pamphlets or just chatted with them. I had
a strong feeling that this younger generation is starting fresh, having
booted once and for all any traces of the Doubting Iranian from their psyche.
One particularly poignant moment for me was seeing in one of the video
presentations, the interview of one young boy, aged about seven, who testified
about his job collecting discarded papers for a factory in Iran. He could
not go to school because he needed to provide for "kharje khooneh".
It was eerie to see this little guy, who physically looked like any other
7-year-old, but his demeanor, body language, and verbal expressions were
those of a mature, and weary adult. The look in his eyes, in particular,
was already aged much beyond his years.
This reminded me of my own grandfather who
went to work at around the same age in Tehran, lifting huge cement blocks
on his frail child's back to help his family survive. He managed by some
miracle to spend his nights schooling himself. Eventually he would go on
to write several volumes of beautiful Persian poetry. He also managed to
give my mother and her siblings a good life and they were all able to go
Now, I myself have thrived with the opportunities presented to me. None
of this would have been possible had my grandfather not been able to break
the cycle. But when I looked at that little boy on camera, I realized that
for many, the cycle has not been broken. We, who have so many material comforts
in various lands of opportunities in the West, have a responsibility to
sponsor those children in Iran and other parts of the world.
For all of your Doubting Iranians out there
who are surely rolling your eyes up and crossing your arms in defiance,
let me just provide you with the following information about Child Foundation.
This organization is not affiliated politically in any way. They rely solely
on public donations and corporate sponsorships. They all work purely on
a volunteer basis, therefore their overhead costs consist of an unbelievable
5 % compared to other organizations. Thus, the bulk of donations are able
to reach their intended recipients.
The money is distributed through local social agencies in Iran that keep
a detailed record of finances, available for the whole public to examine.
Furthermore, pictures and letters can be exchanged between the children
and their benefactors, who are welcome to visit them in person at any time
they wish to do so.
At the fundraiser, it was announced that so
far, of all the children receiving assistance from the Child Foundation,
78% have been able to successfully complete the university entrance exam.
The date of the fundraiser was even more special in that it was the day
Child Foundation received news of their very first sponsored student having
successfully graduated from university.
The foundation started small with a simple objective to help the bright
Iranian children to have an opportunity to go on with their education and
now, seven years later, contributing on an international scale is on the
top of their agenda. I myself cannot wait for the next fundraising event
which is to take place on Noruz.
If the Doubting Iranian in you is still sucking on a lemon, by all means,
volunteer instead of making a donation, and see the inner workings of this
organization for yourself.
As for me, my own little evil Doubting Iranian has managed to gnaw through
the cords that were keeping him prisoner. Disgusted at my good will and
renewed zest for charity, he has fortunately decided to pack up his suitcases
and immigrate to a more pessimistic haven. I feel much better already and,
along with a rosier outlook on life, I think I am even getting a rosier
See photos of
children supported by the Child Foundation