Thomas Erdbrink has a great piece in the New York Times yesterday on how young people in Iran have taken it upon themselves to get relief aid to the victims of the double earthquake that hit northwest Iran earlier this month:
VARZAGHAN, Iran — As their caravan of private cars drove north along the Tehran-Tabriz highway, following the five trucks they had filled up with relief goods for the victims of the deadly double earthquake that struck northern Iran this month, a group of young Iranians — a mix of hipsters, off-road motor club members and children of affluent families — felt like rebels with a cause.
None of the people in the cars seemed to know exactly how it had begun, or to remember how they all met during the past sleepless days. They became friends while standing in long lines in the parking lot of a privately owned building, passing along boxes filled with blankets and toys.
Energized by anger over widespread accusations that Iran’s official relief organizations were not adequately helping survivors, they, and hundreds of others, spontaneously organized a 48-hour charity effort using text messages, Facebook and phone calls to gather money and goods.
But instead of handing over their collection to the Iranian Red Crescent Society — which is close to the government — as the authorities had asked in the state media, these youths were determined to transport it themselves to the most remote hill villages ravaged by the earthquakes, which struck a rural Turkish-speaking part of the country. More than 300 people were killed and thousands left homeless.
“We are getting this support because people trust us to bring the aid directly to the victims,” said Pouria, 31, who rode in the passenger’s seat of his friend’s sport utility vehicle.
Like the others interviewed for this article, he asked that his family name not be mentioned. But the young Iranians agreed to have photographs taken of their 15-hour journey from Tehran to the quake zone and of their distribution of the goods.
In Iran, where the state is involved in all layers of society, it is exceptional for a group of young people to organize a public effort of disaster relief.
Pouria, an office manager with broad shoulders, said he made a similar trip in 2003 to Bam, a southern city where a powerful earthquake killed 25,000 people, many of them buried in rubble. After the world gave money to help, Pouria said, he saw a lot of it disappear in the wrong pockets.
“Bam was a lesson for me,” Pouria said he had reminded his wife after news of this month’s earthquakes. “We normal people should take the initiative.”