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The disastrous earthquake of Bam took Ashiane to Bam on December 2003. We did not have any experience with disaster but past experience has shown that disasters, as horrible as they are, can actually provide an opportunity for development and social change. What these experiences have presented to us is the need to give a voice and important role to women. In order for this to take place a short as well as a long term plan is needed. Both plans have to be rooted in a realistic assessment of people’s needs, potential and life experiences. Women have to be in the center of this process for the reason that their empowerment will benefit their family and the community at large.

Our initial work in Bam transformed quickly to efforts to create and organize a women’s center there. The center is currently operating in a temporary structure. You can read about the activities of the center by following the Bam Update link. Our goal is to create a physical space that is built, run and maintained by the women of Bam. A space that women assess their needs, come up with solutions and work to implement them.

Bam update
Important news and developments in the activities of the women’s center in Bam will be posted here from time to time with the most recent on top.

October- December 2004

The center continued with income generating activities and investigated other income generating possibilities. Several suggestions were considered by the center, among them the two that were deemed more promising are: baking and hair salon. The women considered the idea of registering the center as an independent NGO. The suggestion that the women center becomes a registered local NGO was fully supported by our office and we promised the women to help them with the application process. The center also approached the city officials to obtain a permit to start the child care center run by the women. The new financial activities are on their way. The women also discussed the possibility of another exchange trip with the Turkish group.

The month of the December was a difficult month for the women because it coincides with the one year anniversary of the earthquake that destroyed the city. The families were preparing for the memorial ceremonies.

July- September 2004

The idea of child care center that was a concern for women from the beginning took a prominent position at their weekly discussion. At this point many of the women want to work and their young children need a better care. The center received a donation of two fully equipped connex from the Swiss Development Agency to be used for the child care by the members of the center. The women have selected two members among themselves to receive training for managing the child care center. The group also received several workshops on family planning, drug prevention and nutrition. The month of September was a quite month since many members were busy with date picking.

May-June 2004

Around the middle of May 2004 the center moved to a prefabricated unit donated by the Dutch NGO Assistance International. The move to the prefab unit was a big step for the women’s center. The women organized the move and started planning for the operation of the center. The four financial active groups (sewing, doll making, needle work (pateh) and flower making) that were formed while the center was in the tent city continued their activities. The women suggested taking a trip to a neighboring city (Zahedan) to purchase goods to sell in Bam. The trip brought new experiences and some financial gain to the center. Some of the women have never left Bam and taking such an initiative was a big step toward their empowerment. The saving and credit group idea that was suggested by the Turkish sisters was implemented right after the move. Creation of the savings group was another confidence building step for the women. They realized that with very little savings they can build credit by participating in the saving box of the center. The saving group can lend money after six months to its qualified members.

April 2004

Through our office in U.S. we tried to contact other NGO’s and grassroots organization that had experience with disaster in order to learn from their experience. Ashiane’s requests for assistance from GROOTS International (www.groots.org) led to an exchange trip with Foundation for the Support of Women’s Work (www.kedv.org.tr), a Turkish NGO that is part of GROOTS.

The exchange was a significant learning experience for the women who were coming to the center. The Turkish women during the 6 days of their visit shared their experience in recovery with the Iranian women. The sharing centered around the areas of income generating activities, gathering information on what is effecting their rebuilding process and creating a child care center that is run by the women.

February 2004

Two weeks after the earthquake we obtained a tent in the Vahdat tent city. Our original intention was to offer counseling to women who lost family members, but soon we realized that women wanted and needed to work. The women asked us to support them in establishing income-generating activities in familiar areas. The work started with a few sewing machines and some supplies for making flowers and expanded to four activities. The activities included a sewing workshop (that started originally with two sewing machines and kept growing), flower making (silk, plastic), handicraft art of Bam that is called Pateh and doll making. In all the areas of the work we had an experienced person among the women who taught the others.

The work was coordinated by one social worker from our Teheran’s office who traveled to Bam every other week and supported and guided the local women in their activities. Our effort in Bam was the first to start job creation and we have had a good response from the community and a large waiting list of women who wanted to join the “women’s center”.