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Progress report
Relief International's earthquake recovery program in Bam

By Zohre Elahian
March 15, 2003

This report is based on my second trip to Iran from Feb 16th to March 2nd and is a follow-up to my first report dated February 6th, which covered the visit of January 22nd to February 3rd. These visits follow a request from Relief International's CEO, Dr. Farshad Rastegar, that and RI Board member serve as the eyes and ears for the thousands of private, corporate and foundation donors who have provided over $2 million for RI's recovery program. I took on this role with pleasure given my native Farsi language and went to Iran for the first time in 26 years... My second trip to Bam was positive and productive. Below is summary of what has been achieved to-date.

1) We have started our permanent housing program in the two villages of Esphikan and Poushtrood. We shifted our project strategy from coverage of most vulnerable families in 19 villages to coverage of all families (600 family in Esphikan and 460 in Poushtrood) in these two villages. These two villages are the largest of the 19 and those with the highest ratio of damage >>> See construction photos

After our assessment it was deemed that 95% of the inhabitants of these two villages were in the most vulnerable category. By brining life back to all the families we will be bringing life back to the community as whole. The process is cumbersome as different steps needed to be taken prior to construction in earthquake-affected areas including the removal of rubble. To generate local cash flow, RI is hiring the villagers themselves as labor.

Today RI is the lead NGO in the shelter sector. It is to the credit of RI to have focused on this sector as the main area of need even when the focus of the media and the public was on short-term delivery of relief items. RI correctly identified shelter as the area where international organizations could have the most value-added role.

Today, it is clear that no sector is more of a priority than shelter. RI's lead in the sector has been acknowledged not just in terms of scale but also in its methodology. Instead of a turnkey operation, RI has advocated a community-based approach with the beneficiaries involved in the planning, design and implementation process. This not only reduces costs but also by involving the beneficiaries improves their mental health. The beneficiaries are no longer powerless and sitting in tents waiting for handouts. They are instead active and take charge of their own livelihoods with external assistance.

RI's approach has now been adopted by all NGOs working in the shelter sector as the standard model.

While our main concentration is permanent housing we have been responsive to other needs as we find gaps on the ground. Fortunately, as an NGO we do not face much bureaucracy and can be flexible to respond immediately to real needs that are hard to ignore. Our extra activities are divided into two sectors, Public Facilities and Social Services:

2) Provision of Public Service Facilities for the homeless who have taken refuge in the tented camps. Compared to the villagers where RI is building shelters, these are populations from the city itself whose houses are likely to take 2-3 years to be rebuilt due to the need to reconstruct the city infrastructure. Therefore it is deemed appropriate to make some investment in remedying their immediate needs. In focusing on Public Service Facilities RI's inputs reach everyone on the camps while utilizing RI's existing construction capacity on the ground to meet needs in the non-shelter sector. These inputs are ongoing and to-date have included:

a) Construction of 2 clinics in Sina (population of 2500) and Wahdat (population of 2000) camps.

b) Construction of 1 school (%90 of all schools are destroyed) in Sina camp.

c) Construction of 8 latrines with water basins in Sina camp.

3) Social Services: Here the focus has been on meeting immediate needs of more particular groups and individuals that may otherwise have fallen through the cracks. RI's inputs are to ensure that immediate needs are met until more permanent solutions are set in place. These interventions have included:

a) Clothing and Food: Purchase and distribution of clothing, shoes, milk and biscuits for 200 children including a large number of orphaned children in the Wahdat camp.

b) Women's Programs: Initiated and facilitate a weekly meeting for women in Sina camp. An average of 75 women gather in a tent provided by RI and a discussion is facilitated by RI's volunteers to focus on their needs. Real focus is placed on solutions. RI arranges for representatives of other organizations to attend these meetings to respond to the needs of the women.

For example, UNICEF's representative attended the meeting and heard directly from the women about their needs for themselves and their children. In cases where RI can respond directly we have done that. For example when one woman asked for a sewing machine in order to provide clothing for all her family members and for others in the camp RI purchased the sewing machine the next day and delivered it to her tent.

c) Small libraries: RI purchase of 1,000 books for ages of 7 to 14 and is starting four tented libraries in the four main camps. This is an extremely popular program and we hope to expand it to the smaller camps and even to the villages.

Accommodations of RI Staff: RI staff decided from day one to stay in tents. RI has one tent office and 2 tents to sleep in. This has helped us to have first hand experience of life in Bam. It has encouraged us to act fast and respond to real needs as they are identified while we live with the beneficiaries.

I would like to commend RI's staff for this approach where they do not make a distinction between themselves and those in need. This is also reflected in how the staff treats the beneficiaries with dignity and respect and not as those in power with resources that give them extraordinary powers over peoples lives.

Next Steps: At the time of such a disaster where everything has been vanished there is also good opportunity to introduce new programs with high impact.

Below are some programs that RI has identified as meeting gaps that we would hope to start in the next few weeks.

a) Establishing a Computer Center with access to Internet in school that we have constructed and making it accessible to the community. We'll plan to expand this to other communities.

b) Starting related programs at the Computer Centers with focus on health education, income generation, English language training, etc.

c) Initiating a Micro Credit program for women.

d) Expand the library project to other camps and all the 19 villages.

e) Building of Public Service Facilities (schools and clinics) in the villages being reconstructed as needed (average cost of $25,000 per 4 room school or clinic).

I am leaving on March 12th to Bam. We have internet through a landline on RI's office tent in Bam I am gladly available on in Bam or on the following cell phone (98 -912 2055 952) to answer any questions or provide more detail.

I would like to thank everyone of the thousands who has helped with donations to make this program a success in meeting real needs on the ground >>> See construction photos

Zohre Elahian is a board member of Relief International.

.................... Spam?! Khalaas!

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