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Dolls feeding street children
– by Aida Azarnoush
You can find them everywhere – in big cities, on the streets, in between cars that are stuck in traffic jams: street children. They beg, selling little items or wash car windows. Most of them are from families who migrated from the countryside to a town with the hope of finding jobs and starting a better life.
But reality looks a lot harsher. The newcomers from the countryside mostly settle on city outskirts. They live in makeshift huts and don’t get regular jobs. Their children don’t attend school, but work as roadside vendors, garbage collectors and beggars.
The urban society they would like to become part of views them with disdain. “Many people think all street children are infected with HIV and shun any contact with them,” says Zohre Sayyadi, a social activist. The figure of HIV-infected is higher amongst youngsters living on the streets than in Iranian society on average, due to drug abuse with dirty needles or to unsafe sex practices. In Zohre’s eyes, this is “no reason to exclude them”. She is involved in Titalo, a civil-society organisation which supports migrants from Baluchistan, Iran’s south-eastern region. In Baluchi, “titalo” means “tenderness”.
With only a small budget, Titalo is engaged to find proper housing and livelihoods as well as education of the young generation. The central aim is to help the families to get along without sending their offspring to work. One solution is “lobtaks”, as traditional dolls from Baluchistan are called. In Baluchi tradition, lobtak dolls stand for benevolence and kindness, and they are believed to grant wishes. The NGO collects fabric remnants from dressmakers, and women of the Baluchi community use them to make the dolls.
These dolls are sold in shops and ensure a small but regular income for the families. The project helps children to dedicate time to school instead of work. In small tents, volunteers teach children so they catch up on the school syllabus and can eventually be enrolled in regular schools. “At the same time, we show everyone that the migrants from Baluchistan have beautiful traditions of high cultural value,” Zohre Sayyadi says.
Aida Azarnoush is a journalist and lives in Bonn, Germany.