From a self governing School for immigrants to being nominated for the second best literary award in the world
Early in the morning in 1982, a convoy of communist government forces were traveling from Ghezelabad Airport (Maulana Jalal Uddin Mohammad Balkhi International Airport – Mazar-e-Sharif) to the city centre, five kilometres from the city centre. In one of the alleys in “Alachapan” village, there was an attack committed by Mujahidin forces. The convoy of government forces was stationed in the alley near Sayed Ali Balabagh’s house and the Mujahidin forces were inside his garden.
The clash began with the destruction of a government tank by a rocket that was fired by the Mujahidin. From midnight to 5 am, the clash between Mujahidin from inside of Sayed Ali’s garden and government forces from outside of the garden continued. Bullets fired by government forces and Mujahidin soldiers hit the thick mud walls of Sayed Ali’s house one after another. In the midst of a life and death battle, in which a rocket could possibly end the Sayed Ali’s family’s life at any moment, the only support for the children of the family was that of the grandfather. The grandchildren both boys and girls, were trembling with fear. One of the children was seven or eight year old Nader: “It was terrible because of the bullets and the sound of heavy weapons, we cried until morning. With each shot of a heavy weapon, we screamed and hugged our grandfather’s feet tighter. “Grandpa was leaning against the wall, caressing our heads and comforting us.”
That night, Sayed Ali decided to leave Afghanistan and join his son Sayed Anwar in Iran with his daughter in law and grandchildren.
Sayed Anwar was a government official in the Sheberghan city during the reign of Davood Khan and for this reason he was known as “Sayed Mamour”. After the coup d’état in Haft e Saur, when the government of Davood Khan fell by the left parties. Nader’s father was imprisoned and in 1982, during the reign of Hafizullah Amin, he emigrated to Iran after being released from prison.
In the morning, Sayed Ali with his daughter in law and seven grandchildren, were waiting for a 302 bus to take them to Kabul, near the Mazar-e-Sharif-Kabul road, and the final destination was Bandar Abbas, Iran. The bus did not arrive that day and Sayed Ali returned home with his son-Sayed Anwar-‘s family. The news of Sayed Ali’s immigration spread to the whole village of Alachapan and Mujahidin was informed.
At night, when it was dark in the Alachapan village and the streets were deserted, Sayed Ali’s grandchildren including Nader, were waiting for the night-time clashes between Mujahidin and the government forces to begin. Nader and the other children were waiting for the stray bullets to hit the walls of their yard, but no bullets shot that night however, armed burglars entered Sayed Ali’s house instead. When the thieves left Nader’s grandfather’s house with money and other goods, Sayed Ali said that they were not thieves but Mujahidin soldiers who knew about their decision. A few days later, he managed to take his son’s family to Mashhad and left them with Nader.
A difficult journey from Ali Chupan School in Mazar-e-Sharif to the University of Tehran
In 1974, the fourth child of Sayed Anwar, nicknamed “Sayed Mamour”, was born. The previous year, Sardar Davood had succeeded in ending the forty-year reign of his cousin Zaher Shah with a white coup and establishing a republican system. Sayed Mamour, Nader’s father was an officer in one of the offices of Davood Khan’s government in Sheberghan, and for this reason he was called Sayed Mamour. The days of Davood Khan’s Republic were going well one after another, and Nader was growing up as the Davud Khan’s government was in reign longer.
Nader was able to run in the AlaChapan village with the older children and participated in children’s games when a political event changed his and many others’ lives. Nader was 4 years old when Davud Khan’s government was overthrown by a quick and bloody coup by the communist parties. In 1981, Nader was in second grade at Alachapan Elementary School. In the autumn of that year, the school where Nader was a student burned down and he was deprived of education.
As the clashes between the communist government and the Mujahidin intensified and the school in the AlaChapan village was burned down, his lessons and dreams burned to ashes like the school’s wooden door. A few years later, when Nader moved to Bandar Abbas with his family, he was then able to resume his education.
When Nader endured the tiredness caused by traveling and faced the cold weather in Afghanistan and Mashhad in the warm weather of Bandar Abbas, his father Anwar was trying to teach him Persian words in an Iranian dialect every morning and evening so that he would not feel alienated in the bakery, school and alleys of Towhid town. I couldn’t pronounce the Iranian words easily.
They showed me the cat and wanted me to say “Gorbeh” but I could only say “Pishak”. “When he pointed to the photo, I immediately said Pishak, but they expected me to say Gorbeh”.
After finishing sixth grade, Nader decided to take on seventh grade as a leap in order to show himself off in the humiliating environment for immigrants so he could be accepted by others. While all of Nader’s teachers doubted him, Nader was able to get good grades on the exam with the help of the landlord’s daughter, who was learning to sew and tailor with the help of Nader’s mother. At the end of high school, Nader, with the help of his language teacher, registered for the entrance exam for a private high school in Hormozgan province. When the results were announced, among the 500 or so participants, Nader is ranked 32nd out of 70 accepted students.
Before the death of Sayed Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1989, and Sayed Ali Khamenei coming to power as the leader of Islamic Republic of Iran and Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani as the fourth president of Iran, living conditions and the right to access facilities, including the right for education was easy for Afghan immigrants. But with the coming of power of the “prosperity government” headed by Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the good era of Afghan immigrants faded. Nader graduated from high school in 1994 with excellent grades. Simultaneously with his participation in the university entrance exam in the same year, the Iranian government implemented the first plan to restrict the education for Afghan immigrant students. With the implementation of this plan, Nader could not choose universities other than the five cities of Tehran, Tabriz, Shiraz, Mashhad and Isfahan: “I was really hurt mentally.” In The first year he did not succeed and in the second year he was determined for either the University of Tehran or nowhere. And finally he succeeded.
The plan was similar to the Afghan Concourse quota scheme, restricted and barred entry to Afghan students. Mechanical Engineering in Agricultural Machinery, University of Tehran, the result of Nader’s entrance exam was announced, and at the same time, he could enter the Shahid Ghandi university in the field of Telecommunication Engineering by a scholarship. After completing the registration process, Nader’s Afghan identity was revealed so he was deprived of that opportunity.
Nader decided not to reveal his identity to anyone because of the hardships he endured during his childhood. He looked like Iranians and spoke the Bandar Abbas dialect. No one, not even his roommates, understood Nader was not Iranian and came from Mazar-e-Sharif. However, he was secretly looking for Afghan students studying at the University of Tehran.
In the summer of 1998, the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, Nader’s hometown, fell at the hands of the Taliban, and eleven employees at the Iranian embassy in Mazar-e-Sharif were killed by Taliban forces. The Taliban had denied responsibility for the attack, saying it was carried out by an insurgent group. This event directly put Afghan immigrants in Iran in a tight spot and they faced many difficulties and suspicions. The situation in those days was very chaotic and inflamed and the immigrants were precived as enemies. One day, Nader saw an announcement on the restaurant gate of the University of Tehran listing the names of Afghan students and summoning them to the university’s security department, and his name was also on the list.
When Nader went to the university security department with some of his fellow students, the department sent them to Tehran province. The Taliban indirectly dumped their poison into the lives of the refugees. Nader and his friends were interrogated by the governor’s office to ensure that the Taliban hadn’t entered Iranian universities as students. When Nader returned to the university security department the situation at the university changed completely: “When my identity was revealed that I was not from Bandar Abbas, but Afghanistan all my friends, classmates and roommates distanced themselves from me.”
After this incident, when his identity was revealed to everyone, he expanded his relations with Afghan students at the University of Tehran and his room became a hangout for immigrant students. After graduating, Nader succeeded in receiving his master’s degree in sociology from the University of Tehran.
The Farhang School is a gateway to the Astrid Lindgren award
In the spring of 2000, Nader Musavi and his closest friend, Mohammad Karim Moradi, went to the Bagher Abad area in the suburbs of Tehran to see Ms. Sharifi and learn the tricks of schooling and the process of setting up a self-governing school.
Nader, in those days, like many other Afghan students, left just two courses undone in the fourth year, in order to be considered an undergraduate to be able to take advantage of accommodations such as dormitorys and the student identification card. In those days, Nader and Karim were fully focused on establish a self-governing school for immigrant children. They did not even imagine that one day they would be nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, the second most prestigious international award after the Nobel Prize in Children’s Literature.
While Nader was studying in University of Tehran in mechanical engineering for agricultural machinery, Afghanistan’s provinces fell by Taliban extremist movement, and by the time Nader was finishing his last semester the Taliban had taken over almost all of Afghanistan. Taliban domination of Afghanistan triggered a second wave of Afghan immigration to Iran; Thousands of families in Afghanistan who were threatened by the Taliban, economic insecurity and hunger, settled in different cities of Iran, especially in Tehran, Mashhad, Qom and Isfahan.
During these years, the official governmental schools in Iran only accepted children from families who had a residence card or a passport. The cards were only valid for one city, and if a family moved to another city for any reason, they would be deprived of the benefits of the card. At that time, families who had a spare card but had moved to another city, families whose passports had expired, and families who did not have a card or a certificate at all, could not send their children to public governmental schools. The fourth group deprived of education were immigrant children who for any reason, were older than their school age and were not accepted by public governmental schools or were accepted in first or second grade.
Nader Musavi, when he was in the 9th grade, dreamed of establishing a school for deprived immigrant children in Iran. Nader wanted other immigrant children not to endure the hardships, humiliation and insults he had endured. By the time Nader was in the final semesters of his undergraduate studies, the second wave of immigration had intensified and not accepted immigrant children had become a major problem for immigrants: “We needed money to run a school. The government did not help and we had to provide all the necessary facilities ourselves. “Because we were educated, immigrants expected us to do something. ”
One spring day in 2000, Mohammad Karim Moradi, Nader’s friend from his old dormitory in the University of Tehran, offered a solution for the school budget. Karim’s father was killed in an accident in Iran, and Karim offers his father’s wergild money to Nader to establish a self-governing school for immigrant children. Nader and Karim work together to establish the “Farhang school” in a corner of Tehran. This and other schools like this are known as “self-governing schools” because they are not officially permitted by the Iranian Ministry of Education and are run by education activists.
“After renting a place, we went to a recycling centre and antique shops in the south of Tehran. Most of our children were working in those centers. With their help, we were able to collect used books left from Iranian schools and bring them to our school. “We bought some carpets from the second-hand store for the classroom floors and the Farhang school were ready to teach immigrant children.” Since late that spring, when Nader and Karim began preparing the Farhang school until the early fall, about 400 immigrant children were enrolled in Farhang school.
Nader and Karim started Farhang school with recycled books, second-hand carpets, and teachers who had never attended university and only had graduated from high school. In September when schools started in Iran Farhang could no longer accept more students. Karim and Nader had to rent a second building for the school at the beginning of the first year of its establishment. Migration from Afghanistan to Iran was decreasing, and the official governmental Iranian schools did not accept uneducated children. So Farhang and other self-government schools tried harder and harder every day. Every day, month and year, Nader tries to recover more deprived students and asks his friends and the Faculty of Educational Sciences of the University of Tehran to teach the teachers of Farhang School scientific teaching methods. Every year, the Farhang schools status improved and Nader built tables and chairs for school with help of blacksmiths, and now hundreds of deprived immigrant students who are studying in Farhang which cost Karim’s father’s blood money.
Preliminary restrictions on the education of Afghan children and students in Iranian schools and universities were imposed during the presidency of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. After Rafsanjani until 2005 and the end of the presidency of Sayed Mohammad Khatami, the Iranian government didn’t object the self-governing schools of immigrants, but did not also help or cooperate. Nader was so busy with educating immigrant children in self-governing schools. He even wrote his master’s thesis on immigrant self-governing schools, and the statistics of these schools were very clear to Nader. Most of them operated underground for fear of being sealed “About 90,000 immigrant students study in these schools.” Late in Khatami’s presidency, and before Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council passed a resolution that measured the number of Afghan immigrant schools in Iran with that of Pakistan’s Quetta Deobandi schools, and ordered the closure of immigrant self-governing schools. The plan had two obvious reasons. Fear of Taliban influence in Iran through such schools and limiting the space for immigrants to return to Afghanistan: “It was not possible to raise the Taliban in self-governing schools because these schools taught all of Iran’s curriculum and official Iranian ideology. “The Iranian government wanted to reduce the incentive for immigrants to stay in Iran so that they could return to Afghanistan.” During the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the space for the activities of the self-governing schools became very narrow: “The government closed our school several times a year. “After a few days, we secretly nested in another alley like bees, and when they heard about it, they closed it again.” In 2015, Nader, in order not to ban closing the school every day, registered the school in the name of an Iranian friend and got a permit.” All of the things, school, magazines, and more are registered in the name of an Iranian friend, it’s like We do not exist.” It is not only Nader Musavi who works in the field of educating immigrant children, but what distinguishes him is other cultural activities and the facilitation of educational services for immigrant children. Nader has published and distributed thousands of copies of Taravat Magazine, Kudakan e Aftab and Gol e Sorkh Courier magazine with educational content mixed with the culture, history and geography of Afghanistan for immigrant children. These magazines help immigrant children who have never been to Afghanistan breathe its air through the pages of a magazine and be aware of developments in Afghanistan.
Success with Farhang school amazed Nader and motivated him like night and day doesn’t matter for he works to educate and excellency of immigrant children. In his spare time, he holds storytelling classes, letter-writing workshops, and book-reading competitions for students, and together with the amateur teachers of the School they do not miss any educational, training, or teaching methods. While holding any exhibition or competition, Registration forms were sent to all public governmental schools by the education ministry but not to self-governing schools. I was always in ambush, printing registration sheets and distributing them to all self-governing schools. “I remember that sometimes out of 100,000 contestants in Iran, we sent 30,000 registration forms for competitions from self-governing schools to the Ministry of Education, and our children won the competitions many times.”
In Self governing schools, another major problem was lack of new textbook. Families do not have enough money to buy books: “After we once had a verbal dispute with the publisher of the Ministry of Education, the ministry official ordered his subordinates to deliver us sufficient books from the government. After that day, we bought textbooks from the ministry at a much cheaper price than the market and gave them to the self-governing schools. Receiving scholarships for underprivileged children is another part of Nader Musavi’s activities: In any opportunity I talk to my friends and NGOs and organisations in Iran or abroad to Pay for clothes or education expenses of poor or homeless children and orphans. “So far, we have received scholarships for about 300 children from our school and other schools.”
For the past two years, the Iranian Children and Adolescent Writers Association has been monitoring Nader Musavi’s activities, and after researching his record, this year he has been nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, the second most prestigious international award after the Nobel Prize in Children and Adolescent Literature.
The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award is named after the late popular Swedish children’s book author who is world renowned. She died in 2002 at the age of 92, but her stories have been immortalized. In honour of her name and with the aim of promoting the pure literature of children and adolescents in the world, since 2002 the Swedish government has awarded an international prize worth 5 million Swedish krona equivalent to about 800 thousand US dollars, which is the largest prize for children’s literature and the second Grand Prize of Literature in the World, founded in her name.
This annual international award is given to three groups of activists in the field of children and adolescent literature, including the authors of the best stories and books in the field of children and adolescents, the best illustrators in the field of children and adolescents, and the promoters of books and reading for children and adolescents. This year, Nader Musavi has been nominated as a foreign nominee (non-Iranian who has worked for children in Iran) of the Iranian Association of Children and Adolescent Writers in the Book Promotion and Book Reading category to receive this international award. During the last two weeks that we have been talking, Mr. Musavi and a team of his colleagues have been preparing and arranging documents, videos and photos related to his activities in educating and promoting reading to children.
Until three or four months ago, when the first talks to introduce Nader Musavi as a candidate for the award had not yet begun, Nader did not know that such an award existed in the children’s section. He is now working hard to win the award, and with the huge amount of money he has big dreams for the children of Afghanistan: “Every corner of our school is full of joy and children are studying with great enthusiasm, but this school needs facilities and appearance. It is not beautiful. If I win the award, I want to spend it on the education of immigrant children and scholarships for more orphans in public governmental and self-governing schools. Children in Afghanistan are also the most deprived and forgotten part of society. So that there is no specialized and rich library for children in all of Afghanistan and there is not even a proper magazine for children. “I want to work in these sectors as well.”
Now Nader is busy with Afghan immigrant children in Iran. In recent years, he has established the Afghanistan Children House publication to meet the educational needs of children: “I have been given the opportunity to immigrate to Europe and the United States many times, but I wouldn’t change what I do with anything else. I have an incredible inner peace here and I think I have the best job in the world; because I work for people who have no refuge. When they are rejected from public governmental schools and elsewhere, we are their last hope.”
Nader Musavi is now 46 years old and still full of energy to educate children, especially Afghan children. Nader believes that “Afghan children should learn to replace the literature of war, hatred and blind prejudice with the literature of friendship, mutual acceptance, intimacy and kindness. Children! Education! Education!”.