Forever Under Construction

Posted in Books, Children by homeyra on September 13, 2009

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Pea Boy and Other stories from Iran – Amazon

One good news among all the bad ones: Shirin‘s second children’s picture book is out. My best wishes to this wonderful, witty, funny and talented young lady 🙂

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Click picture to see other pages

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Stunted

Posted in Children, Pakistan, World by homeyra on May 13, 2009

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Stunted growth is a reduced growth rate in human development. It is a primary manifestation of malnutrition in early childhood, including malnutrition during fetal development brought on by the malnourished mother.

I got there listening to British-Pakistani historian and novelist Tariq Ali in the following discussion with Harry Kreisler, host of Conversations with History – Institute of International Studies; University of California, Berkeley.

Tariq Ali places the present crisis in its historical context exploring the origins of the Pakistani state, the failure to forge a national identity, the inability and unwillingness of Pakistani leaders to address the country’s poverty and inequality, and the role of the military in the country’s spiral toward violence and disunity. In this context, Tariq Ali highlights the significance of the U.S. relationship throughout Pakistan’s history and he analyzes current US policy and it implications for stability in the region. See P U L S E for commentary

Check this summary of the Moderation and Militancy in Islam series.

DU

Posted in Children, Iraq by homeyra on July 13, 2008

Babies born in Fallujah are showing illnesses and deformities on a scale never seen before, doctors and residents say.

The new cases, and the number of deaths among children, have risen after “special weaponrywas used in the two massive bombing campaigns in Fallujah in 2004…” read more

A Great Day for Kids

Posted in Children, Education, Rural Iran by homeyra on June 26, 2008

After various attempts since the 40’s, in 1966 the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults created mobile libraries to serve the rural population of Iran.

In the beginning the mobile libraries consisted of convoys brought to the villages on the back of animals and later motorcycles replaced the mules. Two libraries also migrated with the nomadic tribes thanks to the jeeps supplied by the army.

Many remember the substantial impact of this project on their early life in rural Iran. Kids were encouraged to write stories and, during the 70’s, the Institute published a selection from 7000 stories written by youngsters of all over Iran.

Today each mobile library provides to over 50 villages. About 50 cars, mini-buses, and buses – a few with audiovisual equipment – are active: Obviously far from enough to reach the whole country.

According to the staff, kids are always very enthusiastic. In addition to lending books, the educators tell stories, read poetry and conduct discussion sessions. They also provide children with materials and instructions for various crafts.

The appearance of the mobile library always means a great day to the kids.

Unfortunately, this project does not receive appropriate political and economical support, nor does it enjoy the attention of citizens, the press or the bloggers.

For more information and/or to make a contribution contact Kian, whose great weblog reports on various educational projects in rural Iran.

انتظار طولانی کودکان روستایی برای رسیدن کتابخانه های سیار

کتابخانه های سیار و تاریخچه آن

Keep Smiling

Posted in Children, Photo, Photoblog by homeyra on July 17, 2007

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Seeing things
Courtesy of Mohamed Somji

The following is written by Mohamed:

“This is a house in Govandi – a slum area in Mumbai that is competing with Dharavi, another slum area for the title of the largest slum in Asia (and probably the world). I have never, ever seen poverty and squalor as I did in these slums and the only redeeming thing was the innocent children who exuded carefree happiness and a naive ambiguity about the state of affairs that they seem to be in. They obviously know no better and they are happy playing in the dirt pools and running around bare feet and naked.

This boy’s name is Mohamed Ali and he lives in that room with his five siblings and parents. The garlands on the top right of the picture is what they produce. The whole family chips in and after a full day of work, they make 60 rupees for them. That’s a dollar and twenty five cents and that is supposed to feed the whole family. However, the little boy just kept smiling at us unaware of the struggles he will have to undertake in the not so distant future. I hope he keeps smiling..

The NGO that I am accompanying has contributed towards better housing which you can see in the picture within the slums and also provide for schooling for a lucky few.”

… and we are here … debating!

Update:Kilroy has fallen in love with this picture, and he “sees things” 🙂 – comment below

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Children Are Sacred

Posted in Children by homeyra on April 25, 2007

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Courtesy of Ben Heine
We shouldn’t spit on them!

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Faces of Grief

Three Words

Posted in Children, Social work, Society by homeyra on January 30, 2007

In the last decade I had the opportunity to witness some successful average scale implementations of social improvement projects.

There is a great amount of material available online: development models, guidelines, case studies. If I had to make a parallel of projects I have knowledge of it would be the following:

  • A person sees an issue.
  • He/she decides to get involved in.
  • Sooner or later he faces an increasing and often overwhelming demand.
  • The initiator uses his own assets – knowledge, relations … or finds someone with appropriate means to address the mater in hand in a larger scale.
  • If the understanding of the problem in hand is genuine, and the initiator(s) sincerely involved, their knowledge and relations make it possible to raise enough funds to create a sustainable structure.

Although almost all the issues are related to poverty, the difficulties of implementing a project are much less about finances, and much more about written or unwritten social prejudices, and above all the project leaders’ understanding of the issue.

If I have to choose tree words in the above chapter, they will be: seeing, deciding and understanding.

——————–

I had a previous post about Camila Batmanghelidjh, psychotherapist and founder and leader of Kids Company, excertps from this new article are still an interesting read to share.

… there are “no bad children“, just children whose bitter lack of a caring adult in their lives has led to a volcanic rage which finds release in aggression. “… victims of abuse become its perpetrators, violence being the only route to empowerment that they know.”

[Camilla] … is well aware that … those three words, “no bad children”, make her a target for derision. But it is 10 years since she founded Kids Company … has defied the sceptics by providing a positive alternative … as specialists increasingly report that criminalising youngsters only pushes them further into lawlessness, Batmanghelidjh’s approach becomes more pertinent than ever…

“Some people now talk about feral’ children when referring to kids who seem wildly out of control, but I don’t like that expression because it suggests the blame lies simply within the child. The reason I speak up for these youngsters is not because I agree with what they are doing, but because I feel their story is being told only one way.”

… the missing chapter is society’s disregard for what makes a good childhood. “… Politicians talk about the importance of education and skills, but no-one mentions the priority of building a society which understands the benefits of loving care.”

Batmanghelidjh dates our present fractured society from the Thatcher era, when the potency of the individual was elevated at the expense of community. “Those left in poor circumstances on the periphery felt humiliated, and that hasn’t changed. As a result, what we’ve got … subversive economies which can’t be policed legitimately, so violence becomes the weapon of control.”

Children with no emotional anchor never learn a self-calming repertoire … they become … “thermostatically impaired,” their unmanaged energies building towards ferocious anger which explodes to cause malicious injury to others.

“With their own lives devastated by neglect or abuse, they behave like suicide bombers: they don’t care if they survive or not, for, in being uncherished, they themselves cherish nothing… they have no experience of participating or being wanted by society.” Punishment or banishment only confirms their status as the unwanted, for they have already lost the most important life source: their sense of belonging…”

“… every single child we’ve had is, or has been, so severely disturbed that other agencies and schools won’t take them. Many have been bullies and some, yes, are capable of murder. And because 95% of them are self-referrals, the agreement between us is truth. Our approach is holistic, multi-disciplinary and never judgmental, so, often for the first time in their lives, the children find adults who will listen to them and earn their trust.”

SHE makes it sound effortless, yet that is to deny the immense dedication and unstinting energy of her staff and volunteers. Through major fund-raising events – which are undoubtedly helped by her only family legacy, entrepreneurial flair – Kids Company pulls in around £4m a year …

“Our staff understand that they’re accountable only to the children. … In this kind of profession the turnover is 18 months, but 90% of our people started with us 10 years ago and they’ve stayed, giving the children 100%.”

” … Sometimes kids will say: I’ve stabbed someone’, and although I don’t want to know where, when or who, I tell them that harming another person means they’re not managing to control their emotions, so we need to get help. And by then, because of the trust between us, they come with me to see a psychiatrist … ” Of all the young people who have encountered Kids Company, fewer than half a dozen continue in criminal activity. “The rest want to be legit.”

There are legions of children … who are overlooked by the authorities and those who value bureaucracy more than the individual. “These children are as traumatised as war veterans …

“… some parents and dealers want to shoot me because I’ve pulled kids out of the drug trade. But it’s interesting that they have never done it. It would take just one bullet, and they have never done it. Why? I believe the reason is that they recognise in me the person they wish they’d known when they themselves were kids being corrupted and run by dealers.” … Excerpts from This woman dedicates her life to ASBO kids, The Herald.

Previous post: Camila

small-pomegranate.JPG See also Three cups of Tea

CultureKicks!

Posted in Children, Culture, Iran, USA by homeyra on December 29, 2006

As soon as Youtube was unblocked, I spent a day to find some interesting things for blogging purposes.

My connection is awfully slow and the whole process is very time consuming. Among different material about Iran I came across a series of short movies taken by an American group while traveling in Iran during June 2006; from there I was lead to CultureKicks:

What We Do

Focusing on one country at a time, American kids are introduced to the people of a particular country while building positive perspectives about their culture.

Mission Statement
To offer young American kids the opportunity to understand, accept, and appreciate people from other cultures in preparation for a global future.

Vision
To build global unity for the next generation.

The website had a link to a travel blog which ended abruptly. It made me wonder what had happened to this group. Were they arrested, had disappeared or taken hostage, one never knows what can happen in those countries.

I sent an email and I was relieved to receive an answer a day or two after: the writer was back in the USA, alive, safe and sound. We exchanged a few emails and shared a few long distance laughs.

For the time being this organization focuses on Iran, here you can find videos, pictures and some facts about Iran. CultureKicks provides a 45 minute of presentation to the kids age 6 to 18 anywhere in the United States, by request. Via this site, kids can also connect to the Iran program and exchange letters, draw pictures, or create a work of art for the kids at English-speaking schools in Tehran.

I wish all the success to the initiators of CultureKicks and Sian-Jan in particular. Movafagh bashid 🙂

Camila

Posted in Children, Social work, Therapy by homeyra on December 22, 2006

Camila Batmanghelidjh is a psychotherapist and founder and leader of Kids Company, a charity in Peckham, south London, devoted to deprived and often severly disturbed children.

Far from being neglected herself, Camila grew up in an “unbelievably sheltered environment“. Born in 1963 in Tehran to an Iranian entrepreneur and his Belgian wife, “I had one of the most privileged childhoods…I was born into a very well known and wealthy family …”

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After two years in a school in Dorset, her own childhood suddenly turned as turbulent. With Iran in the grip of the revolution, her father was arrested and all his assets seized. Camila’s older sister killed herself. All her childhood possessions were burned. Her “entire personal history was wiped out. It was terrifying. My life changed dramatically.” Camila’s teachers helped her to apply for political asylum.

Severely dyslexic, Camila completed her studies using a tape recorder. She went on to study theatre and dramatic arts and later studied for a masters’ degree in the philosophy and psychology of psychotherapy and counseling in London. She did a total of 17 years’ training. “I was intuitively able to work, the training gave me the intellectual ability to name things – it didn’t teach me how to do the work.”

When she started to work as a therapyst she soon became frustrated by the number of her clients who failed to attend more than a few therapy sessions. I realised the system was flawed because it assumed there was always a responsible adult to take the children to sessions, I wanted to set up a structure where the children could ask for help directlyto develop something that would meet these children’s needs where they were.”

Camila, at the age of 25, stopped her mortgage repayments to finance the foundation of her own charity, The Place2Be, which today provides therapy for 20,000 children every year in schools throughout the country.

Taken to court by her building society, she was only saved from having her flat repossessed by a sympathetic judge. The same two-bedroom £70,000 north London flat has since been re-mortgaged twice to help finance Camila’s second charity, Kids Company.

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Camilla set up Kids Company under a railway arch in Peckham in 1996 which has developed into a six-day-a-week service, free for anyone who cares to use it.

Kids Company is a school, canteen and youth club visited by over 500 children a week. Far from a conventional youth club, it was set up specifically as a place for the most vulnerable children who commonly suffer significant mental health and emotional difficulties due to experiences of neglect, abuse and exposure to violence and drugs. Many have dropped out of school; often they’re homeless.

The young people usually self-refer themselves after hearing about the organisation through word-of-mouth. Kids Company provides them with emotional and practical support to bring about positive changes to their lives. It helps them regain access to care and education. It also provides support to teachers and parents who work with disadvantaged children.

Kids Company currently supports some 5,000 vulnerable children and young people.

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The unique thing about Kids Company is the attitude of its founder, whose refusal to be intimidated by the harsh circumstances of these kids’ situations, has allowed her to communicate with them where others have failed.

Gaining the respect of the children was a long process. “They admit now they came to destroy it… we were going to be their entertainment... but were taken aback by the fact that I didn’t fight. In the early days they used to say: ‘I’ll shoot you’ or ‘I’ll kill you’, and I’d reply, ‘Only by appointment!’

That’s how the relationship between us got established. They’re little boys. They don’t frighten me at all. I joke with the 17-year-old who’s presenting himself as the biggest thug in Peckham, carrying his knife in his shoe, and I tell him I’m going to pinch his cheeks!”

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Something all the children share is a lack of parental care. “… they’re badly traumatised by social circumstances: the exposure to violenceis very high … Many children tell me it’s amazing they have survived 17 years in this neighbourhood. They cannot imagine themselves in the future.”

“… I used Persian hospitalityeveryone is welcome no matter how they behave… they can drop in, have a meal, play pool or see our psychologists… They don’t have to talk to us…Just having somewhere safe to go to can be healing in itself … Over time, mutual trust builds up and they share their life experiences with you … There are times when the kids hate you and times when they love you, but they are always honest … I think with a bit of love, a bit of humour and a bit of parenting we got through.”

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Kids Company endeavours to attract the children everybody else seeks to avoid, kids who don’t even merit a figure on the audits of many institutions because they are neither in school nor in care. They don’t belong anywhere.

In the daytime, children who are not in school come for counselling and education. When the schools close, the centre becomes a youth club, providing art classes, sport, music, books, hot food and, most importantly, an alternative to the streets. On Christmas Day over 150 children with no better offers filled the centre’s gym for dinner, and Camila ensured there were presents for everyone.

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A testimony: She was invisible to the system

Camila runs the charity through her belief in thehealing powers of robust compassion and gentleness“. Kids Company boasts students among its former regulars, as well as responsible parents and professionals. Camila insists, her success rate is determined only by helping a child develop the ability to have a respectful relationship with somebody else.

Her work is influenced by the Attachment theory (based on the results of experiments which showed, approximately, that infant rhesus monkeys preferred emotional attachment over food). This essentially holds that children develop as the direct result of how their first carers engage with them.

To help troubled children learn to develop compassion and care for others, they first need to hear someone apologise for everything they have been through. Kids Company staff do that, then help children to empathise by forming intensive attachment relationships with them. A wide range of techniques is used to assist the staff deal with physically challenging children.

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Shattered Lives, Children who live with courage and dignity

Camila exposes the plight of children who are overlooked by the authorities and denounces those who value bureaucracy over the welfare of the individual child.

She insists on the importance of “loving care”: The healing process for these young people is only possible in the context of sustained relationships, where practical and emotional needs are addressed. Through this healing process, young people are encouraged to take responsibility for their emotions and their behaviours.

Camila responds to them with respect and understanding and has broken through where so many others have failed.

Camila seems a talented fundraiser too, she was named Ernst & Young’s Social Entrepreneur of the Year in 2005 and the Woman of the year for 2006.

Sources: BBC, Guardian, London against gun and knife crime, An honour to help kids and the above links

Other relevent links:

Camila talks about working with profoundly vulnerable youth, Sept 2005, Mp3
My week, Guardian
An insult to the young and unfair to the rest of us, a critical article about Camila in Timesonline
Only Connect, Guardian. “None of us can afford to insulate ourselves from the damage done by deprivation at society’s margins …”
This woman dedicates her life to ASBO kids, The Herald, January, 30, 07
… result of our failure, Guardian, February, 08,07
Violence as the currency of survival, Telegraph, February 16,07