His contributions through his volunteer work and leadership within the Afghan immigrant community in Iran has led to his nomination for the Nobel Prize in Children’s Literature.
Nader Musavi is forty-five years old and from Afghanistan. This is a brief and comprehensive introduction to a man who came to Iran with his family 35 years ago. But to learn more about Nader, we should mention his volunteer activities in educating immigrant students, activities that led to his nomination for the Astrid Lindgren Award, one of the most prestigious literary awards in the field of Children’s literature, known as the Children’s Nobel Prize. Providing an educational environment for immigrant children, promoting a culture of reading among immigrants, encouraging Afghan families to continue their daughters’ education, and publishing books with educational and cultural content appropriate to the culture of Afghanistan all shine in this Afghan immigrant’s career. In an intimate conversation with Nader Musavi, he tells us about his twenty-something years in Iran.
He is from the village of Ali Chupan in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan. An insecure spot in Afghanistan where, due to the war, its people have fled to neighboring countries to escape the ravages of war. Nader was about eight years old when his ties to his motherland, Ali Chupan, were severed and when he came to Iran, but his and his family’s destination was not Tehran; they first settled in Bandar Abbas. It was devastating for him to abandon Ali Chupan. The house that was once like a castle from which he could always hear the voices of his friends Jumah Khan, Habibollah, and Shafiqeh; became merely a set of Thatched walls as only relics such as toys and marbles were left on its shelves. In the winter of 1982, he reached Bandar Abbas. The land where Nader was to begin the new chapter of his life. “As soon as we arrived, my father began to teach my siblings and me; in the style of the old schools of Afghanistan. Even the custodian of the school did his best to assist me in completing my school lessons as I was behind. In September I took the school exam and passed the third grade. “After elementary school, I took middle school seriously until I passed the state gifted school exam.
” As he earned his high school diploma the law forbidding immigrants from choosing a field of study was announced in some cities. “Tehran, Mashhad, Tabriz, Khorasan, and Shiraz were the only cities where we could attend college, and fortunately I was accepted to the University of Tehran with a good grade.”
Establishing Farhang school
Obtaining his bachelor’s degree from the University of Tehran was accompanied by the full occupation of Afghanistan by the Taliban and an increase in the migration of his fellow Afghans to Iran. Fellow afghans, many of whom had immigrated illegally and were deprived of education due to the lack of sufficient documents for their children. “Every day I saw a lot of Afghan children leaving school and going to be child laborers. It was hard for me to digest the story that the war would destroy the future of the children of my country. My friends from university and I decided to establish a specific school for these displaced children.”
They rented a house, lovingly painted it’s doors and walls, equipping the school was hard work, but the union between him and his compatriots overcame the obstacles. “We went to the Abdullahabad thrift market. We bought second-hand carpets and rugs, provided boards for the classroom, and named the school Farhang (culture). “In the summer of 2000, they managed to attract about 250 Afghan students to the school. “We invited girls who were Afghan high school graduates to work as teachers. After these friends, we found our graduate students in the field of educational sciences and supported the school teachers by holding teacher training courses on Thursdays and Fridays every week.”
Preparing a book from among the recycled ones
Preparing books for the newly established school was not an easy task. The Ministry of Education never provided books but this never discouraged them. They visited their immigrant friends at the city waste recycling centers in Tehran and asked them to collect all the elementary school textbooks that can be returned to the education cycle. “Never say never! Yes we had to prepare books in this way for one or two years, but since 2000, when our relationship with the Ministry of Education in district 19 became better, we no longer had to worry about books, the only shortage was tables and desks.
” Communicating with the district education department also solved this problem for them, but not with new desks and benches. “The education department announced that they had a warehouse where broken and unused desks and benches were. We were allowed to pick up those broken items to repair for our school. When we went to the warehouse, we came across a mountain of tables and benches piled one on top of another. We sifted through all of them. Every new table and bench we found seemed like a treasure. Finally, our school was equipped with desks and benches.”
Teaching lessons on Afghanistan
Preserving Afghan identity and teaching Afghan culture to children was Nader’s concern. “Many children did not know much about Afghanistan. I created the magazine Taravat, and with rich content in Afghan culture and stories; I also involved the children in this work. Each of them suggested a subject about Afghanistan.” Then he goes to the textbooks. Inspired by the Iranian Social Education Book and the Story of the Hashemi Family, he compiled the Book of Return. “The Book of Return tells the story of an Afghan family who returns to their country after the war and shows their children city by city, customs, and traditions through beautiful stories.
”Nader also designs and compiles his math textbooks and problems for Afghan children. “All the letters and math problems used are related to Afghanistan and are suitable for Afghan children. For example, in mathematics, if the children are going to calculate the distance between two cities, they will be two cities in Afghanistan.”
Gole-Sorkh (red Anemone) Magazine
But one of Nader Musavi’s interesting initiatives in the field of educating immigrant students was to prepare and compile a Nowruz magazine for Afghan children. “Children couldn’t receive the Nowruz magazine which was provided by the Iranian Ministry of Education. The children were very sad about it. In the first year, I sat down and prepared the first immigrant Nowruz magazine with the title of Red Anemone Festival. All the work of this magazine was done manually and distributed among all the immigrant students. One year we came to our senses and saw that we had printed 30,000 copies of this magazine.” Nowruz magazine forms new work circles among immigrants:
“A lot of our colleagues were trained in drawing and layout software, and that led us to form a specialized graphic team.”
Establishment of the Board of Trustees of Immigrant Schools
It was time to put the immigrants’ schools in order so that the education of children could be pursued in a more orderly manner. “Many Iranian educational specialists came to our aid, and our efforts led to the admission of immigrant students into all Iranian schools.” It is now 21 years since the founding of the Farhang School by Nader and his immigrant friends; the school, which has 1,300 students, is no longer self-governing, but an international school.
Many of the school’s teachers today are former students of the school years ago, and many of them have gone to European countries to continue their education. Mojtaba started from this school and today he is a doctor, Matin Rashad is studying in Denmark and Samira is in postgraduate studies in Canada. Children who, if they had not set foot in the school of culture, we would not know who and where they would be today.
“One of our most important activities for children is to promote the culture of books and reading, and in this direction, Iranian activists in the field of literature are helping us,” Nader said. “Yade Yare Mehraban” exhibitions by Tehran Municipality have become an opportunity to strengthen the culture of books and reading among immigrant students. “As soon as I learned about this exhibition, I registered to participate. Then it was announced that immigrant schools were not allowed to be registered. But the name of our school was already registered. In this way, we succeeded to provide a significant amount of books and have been able to do this every year. The result was six libraries housing over 5,000 titles being added to immigrant schools.
” The Taravat magazine, which Nader started at the beginning of the school year, will be replaced by Children of The Sun magazine after many years. “This magazine for national students has been prepared and published since 2017.”Nader Musavi is now one of the nominees for the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. This honor is the highest in the field of children’s literature. He hopes to win the award so that he can take great strides in educating children and adolescents.