Photo by Nader Davoodi
If there were only a few more like Mrs. Sadr
By Najmeh Fakhraie
June 6, 2000
"Buy a candy bar lady . . . buy one please."
I feel a hand tugging on my "monto" and turn to see a kid
not older then six, dirty and dressed in rages behind me. She repeats :
"Buy one; you have to buy a candy bar."
I want to turn around and leave knowing that if I feel this sorry for
every kid I see I'll probably be bankrupt by the time I reach home. But
I can't help it. So I take out some money from my wallet and hand it over
to her. Just as I am about to walk away I see another kid run towards me
and say: "Buy a chocolate bar; you have to buy one . . . "
It's the same story until I get home. I lose count of all the little
peddlers I encounter.
I don't exactly know when all of this started but since I've moved here
I've seen them grow in number day by day. Who are they? Where do they come
from? Whom do they belong to? These are all unanswered questions about
the children scattered all over the city.
There is one on Chaaraaheh Pasdaran who is famous for kicking people
who don't buy anything from him. I haven't gotten any beatings myself
but I've seen others arguing with him from across the street. And there's
another in Valiasr who never has a shirt on, no matter what the season.
The biggest problem is that no one is willing to take responsibility.
The municipality says that this matter is not their concern. "I don't
know. Go ask the health and welfare organization. It's their responsibility,"
their young employee tells me.
At the same the time the organization stated that the children out
in the streets should be taken care of and put into orphanages by the municipality.
I ask a nurse who works in one of Tehran's orphanages. "We're supposed
to be paid by the health and welfare organization , but they don't give
us a penny. The only money we get comes from ordinary people. In this situation
even if those children were brought here we wouldn't know what to do with
She goes on to say : "A rich bazaari paid for the reconstruction
of the building, and Mrs. Sadr gave us the money for the curtains and the
bed sheets. And she also donated most of the children's clothing."
This is one of the poorest orphanages in the city. They can't even afford
uniforms so all the kids could dress alike.
"She gives us anything you can imagine," the nurse continues.
"Tooth brushes, story books, laundry detergent, soaps, socks, etc."
As I'm walking in the street I recall the first time I met Mrs. Sadr.
At the blow of the whistle we all gathered around to meet the new gym teacher
-- a plump, tall middle-aged woman. I really don't know why I liked her
so much from the beginning.
She would come every month asking for donations. This made some kids
snicker and laugh about how "If she wants money for herself why doesn't
she just say so? What's this stupid donation excuse?"
"Oh, I've been through that many times," she herself says.
"When I first began collecting donations from neighbors some would
say the lousiest things and shut the door in my face. My own husband would
tease me. I don't know why the concept is so strange to some people. But
eventually I got through to most of them."
Last year alone she gave the orphanage 15 million tomans -- not including
all the clothing, cleaning supplies and food. Fifteen million might not
be much, but it's a lot for only one person to give.
"Most of it comes from people who 'nazr'. An old man who had cancer
and thought he was going to die gave me three million tomans. That's the
most anyone's ever donated. But you couldn't imagine how much the small
donations add up."
The hardest part of her job? "Seeing people suffer from so close.
There's not much besides that except when I ask people for clothing and
they give me their old dirty rags. Then I have to spend one whole day separating
the good stuff from the bad. But that's just the way it is with some people."
So why does she do it? "I've wondered about that many times. I
can say it's the fact that when I put my head on the pillow at night I
know that a child is going to bed, fed and dressed because of something
I've done. I just feel responsible. If even a quarter of the population
felt the same, we would be a thousand times better off."
And what about the kids out in the streets? "The funny thing is
that NO ONE seems to know where they come from and it's just not that hard
to find out. I really don't know why they don't do something about them.
Unfortunately I can't either."
Why should a six-year-old child, who should be playing with her dolls
or staring up at the sky at nights wondering the weirdest things which
make no sense to anyone but herself, be forced to work at such a young
Finding the answers shouldn't be that hard but it's turned into one
of the city's biggest mysteries. I've tried to find out myself and as the
saying goes, "zaboonam moo darovord" from all the asking. No
one seems to know.
There is a marvelous story of a man who once stood before God, his heart
breaking from the injustice and pain in the world. "Dear God,"
he cried out, "look at all the suffering, the anguish and distress
in your world. Why don't you send help?"
God responded, " I did send help. I sent you."
Najmeh Fakhraie is a 16-year-old student in Tehran.