ILNA: Interview with Nader Musavi

Nader Musavi, principal of Afghans’ children’s home in Iran, expressed that: in the year 1379 (2000), we founded autonomous schools in the “Nemat Abad Pasgah” region to help dropout immigrant children who were unable to register for local schools.

He added: here, we worked with Afghan immigrant children for two years and with the passage of time, we were informed around their needs and we figured out that they have no knowledge about their old country (Afghanistan).

He said: one of the problems was that the immigrant children were only engaged with Iranian books, so they were not aware of Afghanistan’s history and geography and we felt a desperate need of that, so we decided to recreate “Nowruz booklets” * and publish Gol-e-sorkh (Rose) booklets.

He said: these booklets which have gained lots of attention among Afghan children, were a mixture of typical Iranian educational content and information about Afghanistan. In addition to these booklets, we also had a book of social studies which had its content inspired by the lifestyle of the Hashemi family, an immigrant family in Iran. This book also raised lots of attention to itself and had a circulation of 12000.

The principal of Afghans’ children’s home in Iran also announced Koodakan-e-aftab (children of the sun) magazine as a series of efforts to familiarize immigrant children with positive and pleasant happenings in their country which also had satisfactory results. “In this magazine, we talked about Afghan elite, different ceremonies all over the country and Afghanistan’s different cities and tried to inform Afghan children about the ethnicities of each other, in order to tell them that Afghanistan is not a land for only one particular ethnicity.” He added.

The founder of Afghans’ children’s home in Iran added that friendship and mutualism were the main purposes of the magazine and besides that, we tried to acquaint Afghan children with the children of other countries and extend the use of the Persian language.

Musavi said: unfortunately, nowadays the Persian language is diluted by other languages in the region, and English, Urdu, and Arabic are most often spoken. When a kid tells us a sentence there are only a few Persian words in that and the rest is Rather English, Arabic, or Urdu, so we decided to work on the extension of the use of the Persian language.

He also said that: in other parts of the magazine, we introduced the honorable Afghan elite who have studied in Iran as immigrants to familiarize children with successful examples of an immigrant lifestyle. Another part was about good news which in that we attempted to enlighten them about good news and Afghanistan’s history, geography, and products.

About the educational problems he said: in recent years, the biggest problem for the education of immigrant children has been the governmental schools’  inaccessibility for them, as they couldn’t register in the school near their houses.

He continued: fortunately, in the past two years, many of them could register in a governmental school, as the supreme leader has commended. Although there are a number of kids who are still unregistered because there is no room for them in any school. However, the problems are extremely reduced thanks to the supreme leader and policymakers of different departments who made such an appropriate decision for our children.

He mentioned that: some of the problems are rooted in the fact that the immigrant children born in Iran do not study anything about Afghanistan in their educational content. These kids are indirectly encouraged to stay in Iran when they study Iranian educational books; when kids have no idea about the old country of themselves, how they can be interested in that country? So they will be reluctant to return to Afghanistan even when they grow up.

The Afghan cultural activist also stated the children’s discouragement of going back to Afghanistan as a major problem and expressed:  preparing the ground for the immigrant children’s repatriation is a goal we are looking forward to. These children are the human capital of Afghanistan. Unfortunately, there are some of them who don’t recognize themselves as Afghan. “I’m an Iranian! From Tehran.” they might say! They say they just love to be in Iran.

Pointing at the fact that unfortunately there are no regulations or programs to organize this process of repatriation, he criticized the embassy of Afghanistan in Tehran and mentioned: it’s embarrassing that there are 400,000 students of one country studying in another country but the representative of this ministry does nothing for them! there is neither motivation nor effort!

Thanking Iran’s ministry of interior for their permit of Afghan immigrants’ education and their assiduity of convincing them to be hopeful about returning to their country, he said: we request Iranian families to talk to their children about immigrant children. They should inform them that they should sympathize with immigrants more and don’t reject them because of their language and ethnicity.

The founder of Afghans’ children’s home in Iran emphasized that: fortunately, there has been lots of help from the Islamic Republic of Iran about the education of immigrant children and we are grateful. We will try our best to minimize the problems to be sure that the large scale investments of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran won’t be questioned in the future.

This Afghan cultural activist concluded that: having a well-informed and wise neighboring nation is decidedly beneficial and those who are educated in this country will benefit from both Iran and Afghanistan.

*Nowruz booklets are booklets which are generally distributed to the Iranian elementary school students before Nowruz, so they can be studied during the new year holidays.

Nader Musavi: “The new generation of Afghan children is experiencing a crisis of self-identity. They are not absorbed by Iran and no measures are taken to educate them so that they can return to their home country.”

Teaching Afghan immigrant children is an issue that few people pay attention to. Nader Musavi is one of the few people who has done a lot of work in this field and in 2000, he established the “Afghan Children’s Home” to support and educate immigrant children. He is also the editor of the magazine “Children of the Sun”, which was published for Afghan immigrant children in Iran. The journal seeks to dissuade children from prejudice and to teach them peaceful coexistence.

Nader Musavi (founder of the “Afghan Children’s Home” in Iran and editor of the “Children of the Sun” magazine) told ILNA about the activities of the “Afghan Children’s Home” and its programs: “In 2000, we established a school with our friends’ help, for immigrant children who could not enter public schools for any reason. When I started working at school, I saw that many of them had no knowledge about Afghanistan and its history.”

He continued: “These children are not attracted by Iran and they are literally suspended but also are very eager to learn more about Afghanistan. This led us to start working for the children as an amateur after one or two years of working in the school. We started publishing a small magazine for children. The next step was to simulate the Nowruz magazine (a magazine given to Iranian children in Persian new year holidays), which included school lessons and information about Afghanistan. The magazine was published for almost five years, unfortunately, it was closed for a while due to financial issues, but after that, we started publishing it again. “

Musavi pointed out: “We are not content with just publishing a magazine at the “Afghan Children’s Home”, we also publish books written by Afghan writers and hold competitions for Afghan immigrant children in self-governing schools. “Children of the Sun” magazine has been well received by immigrant children, and we are trying to turn the magazine into a biweekly magazine after a while and then turn it into a weekly magazine finally. 

He pointed out: “since 2000, when I established a school for immigrant children in the area of “Nematabad Checkpoint” in Tehran, I have not been supported by anyone, either the Iranian government or the Afghan government, until now. He added: “I have collected a number of letters from children, some of which have been published, and we are currently working on “a letter to Iranian children.” During these years, I tried to reflect the voice of the children. “A Letter to the Leader of Iran” was a collection of 3,000 letters from immigrant children who couldn’t go to school. I delivered this collection of letters to the House of Leader, which I believe was very influential.”

The editor of the monthly magazine “Children of the Sun” continued: “Children unburdened themselves in these letters. These statements had to be reflected in some way, and I could not provide a wider range of services to solve their problems. The only thing I could do was to reflect their voices. When I was studying for a master’s degree in sociology, I encouraged a number of my Iranian friends to write their dissertations on the educational problems of immigrant children both in public schools and in self-governing schools.”

“The issue of educating immigrant children should be raised as a problem”

Musavi said that the problems of immigrant children should be turned into a discourse in order to recognize it as a problem in the society. “Unfortunately, until now, the issue of the education of immigrant children had not been recognized as an issue,” he said. “I remember talking to one of my professors once he said: “This is not an issue”. While in 2003-04, we had about ninety thousand students who couldn’t go to school. Some of them were child laborers. This is a big problem that ninety thousand students can’t go to school. “

He added: “Recently, in the past two or three years, a lot of work has been done to solve this issue. These activities have underlain the situation for children to be accepted to public schools. I think it was in September last year that immigrant children were allowed to attend public schools but didn’t have much time to enroll. According to forecasts, nearly 250,000 students had to enter public schools, which was a major challenge. The majority of schools are single-shift and the population of the classrooms is high, and on the other hand, the immigrants live in low-income areas of the city, where the population density of the families is higher and as a result, the children could not register for schools. Of the approximately 300 students we had in school, about 70 entered public schools. I hope all the kids can go to school this year. The order that is given and the program that is planned is for all the children.”

Musavi continued: Another problem is that many immigrant students that haven’t been able to enter public schools for years, are way behind from their school grade that they are supposed to be at. For example, a twelve-year-old child must sit in the first grade, which, according to the education norm, he cannot go to school. Many of the children who were unable to attend school last year were in this group. In our schools, we set up advanced catch-up classes for such children, teaching a one-year curriculum in six months, and even setting up some classes in the summer. We tried to get the kids to match their ages with their grades and be able to make up those lost years.”

Afghan children’s education revolves around the cycle of stubbornness and bigotry

Regarding the main approach of “Children of the Sun” magazine,  “Our main approach in the magazine, considering the years I had worked for children, was towards filling the psychological gaps in children such as solving the issue of identity, downplaying ethnic and religious differences and, most importantly,  helping them to obtain a strong sense of self-confidence and self-esteem. We introduced those who had the same circumstances as our children and were mostly raised in Iran, but with great effort they were able to make great strides and become a source of wealth and job opportunity in Afghanistan. “, he said.  

He added: “On the other hand, we worked on reducing ethnic and religious differences. The topic we cover a lot in the magazine is the issue of peaceful coexistence with other people in different ethnic groups. Unfortunately, the problem we have in Afghanistan is that people can’t live together properly and people continuously conflict with each other. We also defined a section in the journal where we talk to immigrant children who are exercising, painting, or succeeding in an art or sports field so that the other children’s sense of hope is revived and know that they can do it too. In the magazine, we tried to convey this thought to the children in different ways that the future of Afghanistan is in your hands and you must study today.”

Referring to the literature section of the magazine, Musavi said: “In the literature section, we also collaborated with some professionals such as Mr. Mohammad Hossein Mohammadi, who is one of the leading poets and storytellers in Afghanistan and has won the Golshiri Literary Award in Iran and has worked in the field of children too. We have told our friends who have collaborated with us in the field of literature in the magazine that what the approach of the magazine is and that their poetry, stories and novels should be about promoting peace, friendship, convergence and respect for nature and also Farsi (Dari). Unfortunately, in Afghanistan, Farsi (Dari) is combined with Arabic and other languages, and Farsi (Dari) is rejected, and I tried to work on that in the magazine too.”

Asked where magazines are usually distributed, he said: “Some magazines in Iran are distributed among Afghan children in self-governing schools and special schools for Afghan children. we couldn’t distribute the magazine for free, because we still don’t have a special sponsor. But we deliver a magazine with 48 pages of color at a price of two thousand tomans (14 cents), which is the minimum price, while about 1600 tomans is only spent on printing it, and on the other hand, about 700 tomans is spent on designing it. Of course, we obtain part of the cost of the magazine from the school.”

Mousavi added: “We want the children to pay the 2,000 tomans at their own will. We hope we can find support. We have already set up a section called Magazine Donation. This means that a person can pay for a one-year subscription to the magazine, which will be given free of charge to an Afghan child for one year. The subscription fee, including “new year magazine” and the monthly magazine itself, is 50,000 Tomans. The magazine also goes to the child with the name of the person who paid for the subscription fee. In addition, the person can communicate with the child. We hope that we will be able to meet the needs of the children and that the people will support and accompany us.”

He pointed out that perhaps a child would change his mind by reading a magazine, and that his life’s pathway would be fundamentally different after that. “We need to turn on the internal engine of every child so that the child can pursue his or her own goals,” he said. “We hope that at least 5,000 children will receive the magazine for free in the first place. Unfortunately, in many of our families, there is no plan to buy a magazine unless they spend extravagantly. It’s very painful that they don’t spend money for magazines and books that much, while family heads spend more for many other things.” He added.

Mousavi said that the situation will not change until we feel the need: “With this approach, Education in Afghanistan for children continues to revolve around the same vicious cycle of conflict, stubbornness, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and in fact,  groups like ISIS and the Taliban are still forming with this mindset. My dream is to be able to turn the magazine into a weekly magazine and pass on that message to children to change their lifestyles and attitudes. If 15 years ago Children’s Day had worked right; The situation was better now. The great Afghan politicians who are leading the society childishly today; Didn’t have a proper childhood. We must allow children to have a good childhood so that this childhood does not demonstrate itself clumsily in the future.”

Afghanistan’s education system is a disaster. Afghan children are lacking self-identity.

Noting that no government agency or system supports us in Iran or Afghanistan, and so far we have only seen public support, the head of the “Afghan Children’s Home” added: “Fortunately, children are being supported well in Iran, but in Afghanistan children are not seen at all, neither on TV nor at the community level. Previously, the situation was below zero, now at least we are reaching zero. In Kabul (the capital of Afghanistan), there is not a good place for a child to play and spend their childhood at. Now imagine the conditions of other villages and towns in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, children are being considered like a silkworm. They think it’s going to turn from a worm into a butterfly all at once. How can you expect to have healthy, polite, non-violent young people in Afghanistan when nothing has been done to develop their mindset in this way?”

Musavi continued: “A child’s book, song or educational animation may change a child’s outlook. Unfortunately, in Afghanistan, the production of books and magazines for children is very weak, and the animations that television broadcasts are a series of aimless foreign animations. On the other hand, even if we find a book for children in Afghanistan; It comes from Iran. Fortunately, nearly 50 percent of book publishing in Iran belongs to children, and that’s very gratifying.”

He added: “Unfortunately, we did not have enough resources in other areas. If we have support, we can expand our field of activity. However, with the activities that have been done; We see that in schools, children accept each other with their ethnic and religious differences. Unfortunately, this is not the case with the elders of Afghanistan. It has always been said that if you want to see if a society is advanced, see what the country’s education system is like. There is a catastrophe in Afghanistan’s education system. In this country, the position of teachers is very low. In Iran, fortunately, children are being educated, but Afghan children are not seen or being taking care of in Iran. They are not attracted by Iranian society, nor are they being educated to return to their homeland. Afghan children do not receive any education in their home country. If these children are to return to their home country, they must be taught to know their home country.”

“Afghan children hear this all the time that “you are an immigrant and you have to return to your country”, and they are being rejected all the time, but no measures have been taken to return them and no education has been given to them, at least to know their home country,” said “the children of the sun” magazine’s editor. He added: “Iranian education should develop books for Afghan children and work on this issue. They must either attract children to Iranian society or educate them to be able to return to Afghanistan. Most children drop out of high school because they have no place in Iranian society and cannot return to Afghanistan. Afghan children in Iran were neither fully absorbed nor fully repelled, and this is the worst blow to Afghan children and adolescents.”

He continued: “Iran’s citizenship law is through the bloodline, which means that if you do not belong to this country through your father’s side, you will not be able to obtain citizenship.” These kids grew up here, but there are no plans for them to prepare them to go back to their country. The new generation of Afghan children is experiencing a crisis of self-identity, that does not believe it belongs anywhere. This generation can be dragged to every direction.”

Musavi concluded by pointing to his motivation for working in the field of immigrant children, “I have always worked with the motivation that if I can only teach one Afghan child to study and he will reach a point where he can serve his country; then I have done a great job. I have been working for children for about sixteen years. Among these children, there were many who studied with us and then graduated from public schools, and after passing the teacher training course, they were able to become very good teachers. If we didn’t open the school, these kids would be illiterate.”

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