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ERFO Sponsoring 42 New Orphans in Bam
June 14, 2005

Dear Contributors

This is a brief communication to bring you up to date with ERFO activities since our report of Feb. 11, 2005..

Thanks to donors from within Iran and Iranians living in Europe (see updated contributors list) we have been able to continue our efforts in adopting more needy orphans from BAM. Mrs. Masumeh Farivar, Mr. Jamal Farivar and I visited Bam and the children in April and May 2005. We are pleased to announce that we will be sponsoring 42 more children and they’ll all start receiving financial aid from ERFO once the paperwork for them is completed within the next few weeks. We’ll publish the new names, account numbers and amount of one time conditioned and supervised grant as soon as we can.

Our efforts on behalf of the Tsunami orphans were also met with success. We were able to raise close to $20,000. We are making final decisions about how to reach these needy orphans and which international group (i.e., UNICEF, Save the Children, etc.) will best serve our/your intention.

I was invited by the United Nations office of the International Scientific and Professional Advisory Council of the United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice program (www.ispac-italy.org) located in Milam, Italy, to participate in a week long meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, and to speak at the conference on Wednesday April 20, 2005.

This was an international conference attended by academics, lawyers, delegates from many nations, entitled “CRIME PREVENTION AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE IN THE CONTEXT OF NATURAL DISASTERS: LESSONS LEARNED”.

As you have guessed the individual donors as well as governmental agencies have serious concerns regarding helping disaster stricken countries. They feel that donated money and materials are not optimally distributed to victims and there is a fear that soon people and governments will not honor their pledges if this trend continues.

We at ERFO are proud to have been chosen as a charity organization that epitomizes “EFFICIENCY, CLARITY AND EFFECTIVENESS”. This should make you even more comfortable about your donation to ERFO.

My presentation about our organization and methodology was very well received by the participants and the UN staff. There is hope that some countries and NGOs will emulate our way of doing business when dealing with natural disaster victims.

The following is a synopsis of what I had to say at the conference which was complemented by a PowerPoint presentation. This same text was also submitted to ISPAC as a guideline to my speech on crime prevention at the time of natural disasters.

The Earthquake Relief Fund for Orphans (ERFO) was established in 1990 as a registered non-profit 501 (C) 3 non-governmental organization (NGO) in Boston, Massachusetts with the primary purpose of helping the children orphaned by a major earthquake in the Northern Provinces of Guilan and Zanjan in Iran. The earthquake left more than 35,000 dead and approximately 500 children orphaned. ERFO has continued to identify and help orphans of subsequent earthquakes in Iran including the provinces of Ardebil, Quaen, Birjand, Qazvin, and finally the Bam region.

ERFO is an all-voluntary NGO with a board of trustees which oversees activities of the board of directors. The board of directors consists of an executive, treasurer, secretary, accountant, auditor, and legal advisor. The activities in Iran are also handled by a volunteer director appointed by the board of directors.

Shortly after a major earthquake, an ERFO representative travels to the damaged area to identify orphans up to the age of 17 years. This process is accomplished by physically going to group and individual tents, temporary schools, villages, local mosques, local papers, radio stations, and the local governmental social service and welfare agencies (Behzisti). The orphanage status of each child is confirmed by obtaining parent’s death certificates and birth certificates, as well as the children’s birth certificates. Each child’s financial need is evaluated and confirmed independently by both the local city or village council and the Behzisti office.

ERFO then locates and appoints a legal guardian to care for each child. The guardian preferably should be the closest relative (i.e. grand parents, uncle or aunt and if none has survived or is willing to accept the responsibility, a family friend who lives in the same area). We are sensitive to local culture and religious customs. As such, for girls, our first preference is to find them guardinaship with their grand parents or their surviving maternal aunt. If that is not possible, we try to find families with no older boys, For Boys, the first guardianship choices are uncles or grand parents, then families with children of similar age or no children at all. Individuals suspicious of drug abuse or with questionable personality disorders are not allowed guardianship.

The appointed legal guardian signs a contract with ERFO, guaranteeing that in return for receiving monthly stipend to support the child, he/she guarantees to care for the child in a peaceful home environment, provide the child with adequate nutrition, health care, and education when they reach school age (ERFO will pay for higher education even after age 18). Furthermore, the guardian guarantees that the child will not be abused mentally or physically and they will not be put to work either in their home or outside until they reach the legal age of 18. ERFO reserves the right to go to legal authorities or change guardians if they do not honor their commitment to the children and ERFO. The contract is both signed and fingerprinted by the guardian in the presence of an ERFO representative, local civil council, police and social service agencies all of whom sign and seal the contract.

The Funds are deposited in the child’s name, as a long-term certificate of deposit (CD) in the local Bank. The interest earned by this CD is deposited monthly in a separate short-term interest-bearing joint account in the name of the child and guardian. The guardian, along with the child, visit the bank on a monthly basis to receive the earned interest. The bank teller must see the child physically and is asked to report to authorities any apparent problem. The long term CD renews every 5 years automatically and may not be cashed until the child reaches the legal age. The exception is if the child or the guardian offers a financial self-sufficiency plan. If the plan is approved by ERFO and guaranteed by the local Social Welfare agency, we then not only release the CD, but also provide the child and guardian with a reasonable additional fund to carry out their program. Volunteers from a Social Welfare office also visit children at least once per year. Every year in February, ERFO representative will visit every child if possible to deliver the Persian New Year (Nowruz) gifts in the form of cash to supplement their stipend and pay for new clothing, etc. No money is distributed without obtaining a signed receipt.

Mrs. Masumeh Farivar, the trustee member and secretary of ERFO, within 24 hours of the December 26, 2003 earthquake in Bam, traveled from Boston to Bam. She did so primarily because of the extent of lives lost (more than 35,000), bodily injuries, vast property damages and the inherent confusion relating to the tragedy. We were most concerned with the possibility of frightened children being lost, stolen, misplaced, used, abused or relocated without a trace. Bam is geographically located near the Afghanistan border and is on the only highway that connects Afghanistan to Turkey and Europe across Iran. It is well known that this route is used by international drug traffickers that we suspected may try to take advantage of the situation. Additionally, the prevalence of opiate addiction is high in Bam perhaps due to its particular location. Upon arrival in Bam, Mrs. Farivar contacted authorities and obtained permission to see and locate orphaned children, and assured Behzisti authorities of the Kerman Province and Bam that ERFO will accept the responsibility of caring for at least 500 orphans. Prior to Mrs. Farivar leaving Bam, the ERFO representative in Iran, Mr. Jamal Farivar, went to Bam with his family members and 4 semi-volunteer social workers to start the arduous process of identifying orphans and their level of need. After several weeks of strenuous work, mostly in makeshift tents without sanitary conditions in the open yard of Behzisti, they identified 1345 children in the Bam region who had lost both parents as a result of the earthquake. This was a formidable and time-consuming task requiring copying about 28,000 pages of documents, since most of the birth certificates and papers necessary for legal work were buried under the rubble. In spite of our diligent and meticulous efforts, we had to re-evaluate our list several times and eliminate more than 600 children who had adequate inheritance in the form of property, pension or insurance. Our list was so dependable and complete that the Behzisti offices in Bam and Kerman have used it as reference.

After our work was complete, ERFO deposited the initial sums of money for about 504 of the most destitute orphans. Several months later, after the “dust had settled”, literally and figuratively, and armed with more concrete data, we provided more money in the form of CD (total of 950 CDs, with a value of $620 each) to the truly needy children and accepted responsibility for more children, bringing the total number of children cared for by ERFO in Bam to 664. We continue to look at more applications filed with the Bam Behzisti office for consideration.

Amongst more than 1200 children cared for by ERFO since it was established in 1990, we have 27 university graduates in Mangil, Rudbar, Ardebil and Birjand, and 14 are currently studying in the university. Most children reaching work age are engaged in gainful works. We have arranged and paid for the marriage of several children, and have arranged for tertiary center medical care and surgery for 3 children. We have had one suicide and 2 natural deaths, and one child became addicted to narcotics and his support was terminated after attempts to rehabilitate him failed. Several children have been helped to set up businesses and women have been provided with complete or partial dowry. We have paid to repair guardians home when the life of children could be in danger and have provided money for sanitation facilities and clean drinking water.

ERFO workers are volunteers, our expenses and obligatory fees are minimal, and 100% of donated money to the organization goes directly to the children. Published on the ERFO website for public viewing are all donors’ names and the amount of donation, children names and addresses, guardian name, bank name and branch location, and the children’s accounts (both long-term CD and short-term account numbers). The web site is www.erfo.org. Additionally, ERFO has published annual activity reports and audited financial information for all donors since it was established. This degree of organizational and financial transparency assures donors that their money is used as they intended and ensures ERFO of their continued support.

On a separate note, we have come across a great deal of difficulty in protecting children in the immediate post-tragedy time from crime and abduction by individuals seeking to take advantage of the disadvantaged. Based on our experiences we propose that after natural disasters of large scale, the government of note adopt a policy to immediately initiate military control and curfew of the affected area, station a military personnel at every street corner to prevent people entering and/or exiting to halt looting, and physically take control and care of every child until further planning by specialized units are initiated. This will prevent taking children prematurely and without prior course of action by the concerned family members. These children are often returned to authorities after a few months when the hastily adopting relatives realize that for one reason or another they are unable to care for these orphans. This will add another burden for the authorities. We have just adopted 13 such children in Bam that fell below the “radar screen” initially.

The significant points of our program are listed below:

  1. We are efficient because we are a small group committed and dedicated to orphans. This makes decision making easy and definite. We pay substantial incidental expenses out of our own pockets and keep formal organizational expenses low. The expense ratio is a big factor that is being considered by donors these days.

  2. Money moves from an ERFO account in US to an ERFO account in Iran where it is directly distributed to orphans in a systematic, organized and easily traceable fashion. While we work with the social welfare agency in the affected regions and help each other mutually in information gathering to avoid duplicating efforts and benefits, we have gained their support in following up with our children when we have moved out of the region. We have no other relation with the governmental agencies or NGOs in Iran or outside Iran. We have been able to remain apolitical and respect all ideas. We have refrained from advertising and self-promotion on both sides of the ocean and have worked hard to remain anonymous. In fact most of our previous benefit recipients did not know who we were and where we were from. Until recently we were an unknown entity even to the Behzisti officials in Iran. This has made us attractive to different Iranian political groups, which support and donate to our organization and help us fund raise when necessary.

  3. Our accounts are thoroughly audited by our board member Mr. Toghrol Azar, (previously an auditor for the Oil Ministry of Iran) on a yearly basis and by licensed auditors in US.

  4. Children are monitored several times a year by the local bank teller familiar with each child and local social workers from the Behzisti office. Additionally, at least once a year an ERFO representative in Iran also visits the children. We have in place mechanisms to encourage guardians (occasional recognition, monthly stipend that child receives) and to discourage undesired behavior (shame of losing children custody) when necessary. In a culture in which shame is strong, to become known as a person who was not fit to care for an orphan is indeed a situation one likes to avoid at all costs. Given that we have changed less than 10 legal guardians in the last 15 years proves that point.

  5. Children are given hope for the future. They know that if they succeed in school we’ll continue to support them as long as they are able and willing to continue their education. If a child and guardian have a desire and plan to start a business we’ll help them financially. In addition they all know that when they reach the age of 18 they’ll be able to cash their CD and start a new life. Women have an easier time to get married because orphans are more respected by Muslims and they also come with education (continuing education is a must), a dowry and substantial amount of cash, favorably positioning them in the culture.

In conclusion, I would like to highlight a few points about ERFO. ERFO is an organization that can serve as a paradigm in that it is possible to help needy individuals under dire situations in third world countries. We believe that for these organizations to be successful, honest and devoted leadership is needed in both the country of tragedy as well as the country sponsoring the organization. We have focused our efforts to ensure committed leadership and persistent re-evaluation of the effects of our interventions. It is only through honest leadership and devoted efforts of many in our organization that we have been able to accomplish our goals.


Mohammad Farivar, MD. FACP, FACG
Earthquake Relief Fund for Orphans
15 Laura Road
Newton, MA, 02468

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