Once upon a time, a Little Mole had an enormous question. She asked her father:
“Daddy, how big is the world?”
“Leave the Molehill and find out for yourself,” advised her father.
Recites Ismael Azarinejad, a 39-year-old clergy from Behbahan, Southern Iran, the story of The Little Mole to a group of kids in a remote village of Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad Province, in a storytelling workshop he regularly holds for the underprivileged countryside kids. He asks each child, how big they think the world is; encouraging them to use the power of their imagination and cross the boundaries of constraint, in a society where the educational system fails the majority of the disadvantaged children.
Most of these kids have never left their villages, nor have they more than elementary education due to the scarcity of higher-level schools and educators. Poor road conditions prevent them from travelling to nearby cities with public schools and even if the roads are accessible, transportation service is scant. As a result, they end up in child labor and early marriage in case of girls.
Azarinejad travels to furthermost parts of the country to conduct his storytelling workshops; a nonprofit project he undertook a couple of years ago, believing in the impact of storytelling on children’s mental growth and perception of the world; in the absence of proper parental and educational surveillance.
“Parvin, a ten-year-old whose father was murdered in infancy by a neighbor villager, had never set foot on their terrain, since the two villages cut all ties after the incident. Yesterday, ensuing reading a book about friendship and forgiveness, she agreed to visit the nearby village. As she – accompanied by other kids and I – walked heavily towards the village with hesitation and uncertainty, I was thinking to myself ‘today is the best day of my life.’ The two villages reconciled after ten long years and kids mingled, played games and read books together. Tomorrow, they’re going to return Parvin’s visit,” mentions Azarinejad on his public Telegram page. It was unfortunately impossible to have a tête-à-tête interview due to his trips.
As a confirmed clergy from Qom (Iran’s religious capital), who’s expected to deliver sermons and instruct religious texts and Scripture, he paints a colorful universe for these deprived children whose world canvas is saturated by drab hues of maroon and black. He introduces them to simple pleasures of life; teaches them to enjoy playing with a ball or to cheer a friend by reading a funny story.
“I recently visited a village and found a family of 11 with a disabled father. I trained and engaged three of his dropout daughters for a monthly wage of 50,000 tomans to read stories for kids every night. In this way, we can protect their literacy from oblivion and use it towards a great cause,” says Azarinejad.
In another village, he invited kids to watch a short film by Abbas Kiarostami (well-known Iranian director), called ‘Two Solutions for a Problem’ which persuades children to fraternize instead of violence. He then urged the kids to open up and share their own relevant memories. The effect was almost instantaneous: Two boys who had broken up for about a year, and two siblings – amid the cheer of the crowd – hugged, forgave and forgot.
Azarinejad – with the help of individual donors – provides gifts, books, toys, school supplies (such as notebooks, pens and color pencils) and sporting equipment (such as balls, hula-hoops, skipping ropes, etc.) to each of these villages. He also trains and employs a couple of local girls and boys to lead and keep the workshops going in his absence. Moreover, he participates and lectures in a cross-country storytelling workshop for bookkeepers, who act as emissaries among the disadvantaged villages.
In a country which is drawn into a vortex of geopolitical dilemmas and internal economical issues, his mission might be a secure pathway to ensure the future of the nation: providing high-quality education sponsorship for the underprivileged and instilling a desire to learn at an early stage.
If interested in supporting the cause, he could be reached directly via his Twitter account @smaeel_azari96 and/or by sending monetary donations to: Ismael Azarinejad 6104337067568780
May each one of us carry a torch in darkness and lead on.
هربار که به این روستا میروم سریع مسیر طولانی را میاد پایین.دوپا ندارد به سختی حرکت می کند.
مدرسه نرفته اما با علاقه زیاد خودش سواد یاد گرفته. در کندوکاو پس از قصه خوانی بسیار علاقه داشت شرکت کند.تحلیل های قشنگی می کرد.
گفتم سعی کن کتاب بخون تا سوادت بالابره منم هدیه خوبی میدم pic.twitter.com/JMtIUmKdlg
— اسماعیل آذری نژاد (@smaeel_azari) July 9, 2018