in all my entries thus far i’ve barely mentioned the reason that i’m here, so allow me a moment to expound. my primary purpose in coming to iran was to offer my services as a volunteer for the Family Planning Association of the Islamic Republic of Iran, one of the country’s most effective NGOs working in the areas of reproductive health, adolescent health, and HIV/AIDS. led by a progressive and intelligent director, FPA (for short) has been able to make progress in areas never before dreamed of (like lobbying for the successful amendment of the abortion law to expand eligibility and make the decision solely the woman’s). an organization of barely 10 fulltime employees manages nearly 2,000 volunteers working all across the country and they work their magic under one of the most bureaucratically complex government systems. kudos.
my role been one of a jack of all trades. within my first week at work, i revised their annual budget, edited a grant proposal, assisted on a project for a post-positive HIV/AIDS club, and advised on the development of a premarital reproductive health curriculum. currently, i’m drafting a pamphlet on unsafe abortion (the first of its kind in the country) that will be distributed to both private and government-run hospitals throughout tehran and neighboring towns. they’re even gonna give me author credits!
while the work itself has been challenging, it’s the atmosphere that’s been of most interest. seeing the amount of good work that such a small organization in a “developing country” setting can accomplish has been both inspiring and motivating. the employees, working on meager salaries, exhibit an awesome level of dedication, treating each issue with as much care as they would were the recipients their own friends and relatives. over the weeks that I’ve been here, I’ve also developed relationships with the five main staff members (all women within a few years of my own age).
we sit around in the afternoons and compare notes on our lives, both professional and personal. they tell me about the difficulties they face in their careers, a combination of both a lack of general upward mobility within the country and a specific barrier to professional growth for women. they explain the intricacies of familial obligations and bemoan their premature stunting at the hands of forced marriages. they look at me with wide eyes as I insist that not everyone in the states sleeps around and some people actually do get married. they worry that everyone in the west sees their homeland and as nothing more than a dumping ground for backwards terrorists and haters of all things western.
tell them we’re not like that, they implore. tell them we want to work with them, we want to learn from each other, we’re not like they say we are. as I listen to them complain of the hardships, I can’t help but feel sad for all the promise being stifled. and I can’t help but think that were it not for circumstance, it would have been me sitting on the other side of the table sighing and wishing I had the same opportunities as this eager visitor from the west.