ERFO Sponsoring 42 New Orphans in Bam
June 14, 2005
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
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
to ISPAC as
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
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
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:
We are efficient because we are a small group committed and dedicated
to orphans. This makes decision making easy and definite. We pay substantial
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
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
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
Iranian political groups, which support and donate to our organization and
help us fund raise when necessary.
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.
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
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
less than 10 legal guardians in the last 15 years proves that point.
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
orphans are more respected by Muslims and they also come with education
(continuing education is a must), a dowry and substantial amount of cash,
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