A Wonderful Wall

A Wonderful Wall A Wonderful Wall

Over the past week news of a charitable cause went viral in international news outlets, as random “walls of kindness” began popping up in different cities across Iran. The concept is simple. Someone places clothes hangers on a street wall and paints instructions similar to this: “If you don’t need it, leave it. If you need it, take it.”

The movement in which people hang clothes on walls as donation for the homeless during the cold winter season is picking up. There is no keeper, no rules, and no restrictions. Nobody checks to see if one is truly in need of what they take, but the walls have never been empty since the start.

The story was covered by the press including BBC news, The Telegraph, ABC Online, The Indian Express, Radio Free Europe, The Hour, and RYOT within a few days.

It is not clear how, where, or by whom the movement was initiated, but Persian language daily ‘Hamshahri’ said it likely sprang from one man’s goodwill act in a neighborhood in the northwestern shrine city of Mashhad, Khorasan Razavi Province.

The man who initiated it, on the condition of anonymity, told the newspaper he had seen similar initiatives in Australia and Europe, and thought of implementing the idea in his city.

The initiative soon spread to other major cities including Isfahan, Kerman, Tabriz and Bandar Abbas. The most recent one took off a few days ago in downtown Tehran.

Iranians are also supporting the cause via social networks such as Facebook, Instagram, Telegram and promoting it through popular social media websites.

Government and affiliated institutions have largely been the primary source of support for the needy through organizations like the state-run Imam Khomeini Relief Committee. Most shelters, orphanages and drug-rehabilitation centers are funded and run through official or semi-official channels. Hwowever, government funds are almost always limited and there is no strong infrastructure for a sustainable and all-encompassing support.

Over the past decade, Iran has undergone severe economic challenges due to international sanctions because of the dispute over its nuclear energy program. In July, a final deal between Tehran and six world powers, led to an agreement that is supposed to result in lifting of the economic sanctions in exchange for some restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear agenda.

However, the economic and political challenges have rarely come in the way of Iranians’ participation in volunteer work. There are currently around 90 NGOs and non-profit organizations operating across the country with 40 active in the capital.

The most acknowledged ones include Ehsan House (the charitable institute for protecting social victims), MAHAK (society to support children suffering from cancer), Kahrizak Charity Foundation (for the physically handicapped or elderly individuals with no financial resources), Kind Hands Charity Foundation (for orphans and female breadwinners), Ra’ad Rehabilitation Goodwill Complex (dedicated solely to promote the cause of the physically disabled), Omid-e Mehr (helping vulnerable young women) and Payam Omid Charity (providing financial aid to the needy).

There are other NGOs and charities supporting MS patients and their families, diabetics, autistic people, mentally retarded, students who cannot afford education costs, children without guardians, those who lack funds to get married, and many more in need of financial, psychological, or physical support.

 Great Assets

The biggest impact of volunteerism in Iran can be seen in the voluntary blood donation system. There are 500,000 regular blood donors who are great assets to the Iranian health system. Since blood donation is rooted in Iranian cultural and religious beliefs, it increases during religious events. In fact, the number of people willing to donate blood at such times is so huge that it is beyond the Iranian Blood Transfusion Organization’s capacity to collect it.

According to the World Health Organization, about 4% of the Iranian population is carriers of the thalassemia gene. In other words, nearly 2-3 million people suffer from thalassemia minor. Although more than 98% of donated blood is converted into varieties of blood products and components, it should be mentioned that both whole blood and blood components is delivered free of charge to those in need. This has been possible because of the large number of blood donors.

It should be pointed out that during the first four days of the devastating December 26, 2003 Bam earthquake, blood collection increased 7-fold, indicating that people are ready to rise to the occasion.

Volunteerism brings about a great deal of benefit to a nation. It helps build a strong and cohesive society and is a means for combating social exclusion and ills that often engulf people and societies. In other words, it is an essential act of being a good citizen.

Volunteer work also positively affects individuals by increasing their self-esteem, enhancing various skills and capacities, and expanding career paths and to be healthier physically and mentally.

A very large part of a person’s voluntary spirit stems from personal preferences, or religious heritage, however, there are different ways of promoting volunteerism that ultimately leads to the public good.

 Economic Impact

The economic impact of the volunteer sector (also called the nonprofit or third sector) is extensive but almost impossible to accurately estimate. Estimating the economic value of volunteering is important because it can also emphasize to government and policymakers that voluntary work makes a significant contribution to the economy, encourage people to become volunteers and make a difference, and inform the media and the community about the value of volunteer time.

In 2010, the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) conducted a comprehensive national survey on volunteerism, the first of its kind in the country. The household labor-based survey revealed that a total of 16.6 million people over 15 years of age volunteered in 2010. The survey estimated the contribution of volunteering to the Bangladesh economy in 2010 at approximately $1.66 billion. The findings also showed that the economic value of volunteering in 2009-2010 was equivalent to 1.7% of GDP.