Iran’s ‘Walls of Kindness’
Feb. 15, 2016
International sanctions have been lifted on Iran, but many people in the country are still facing hard times. Now a grassroots movement has sprung up to help them cope.
Iran's capital, Tehran, sprawls across a plateau more than 1,200 meters above sea level. In winter, the mercury plunges and frigid temperatures bear down on the city's 8 million residents.
But anyone at the mercy of the cold can now find something to wear at a “Wall of Kindness.”
Tehran's citizens come to the walls and hang unneeded clothes on them. They also leave shoes and other items. Anyone is free to take whatever they want. There are no rules. It's strictly a citizen-run charity.
“They are helping those of us who can't afford to buy clothes,” says a man visiting one of the walls. “They are keeping our flickering hopes alive."
The walls began appearing last autumn. Within three months, they had spread to towns and villages across the country.
Last year, unemployment topped 10 percent nationwide. Many felt the pinch of skyrocketing prices. In Tehran alone, authorities announced that about 8,000 homeless people and others had been taken into shelters late last month.
But who set up the first wall? Our search led us to Mashhad, a northeastern city that is Iran's second largest.
We met a man there who we’ll call Mehran. He agreed to talk to us on the condition that we wouldn’t use his real name or show his face.
Mehran is a devout Muslim, and works for a religious organization. His house is piled high with clothes given to him by friends and others.
Every day he hangs new clothes on an exterior wall of his house. For Mehran, it all started last October. That's when he heard people in other countries donate their old clothes.
The practice isn't so common in Iran. But Mehran thought it was in line with the teachings of Islam. He immediately put clothes hooks on the wall.
He also put out the word on social media. He wasn't sure if anyone would respond, but the response was overwhelming.
“Only three or four hours after I posted my plea, people came here to hang their clothes on the wall,” Mehran says. “They were supportive of my idea. I couldn't believe it."
There was concern at first the clothes would end up getting stolen, but that hasn't been the case. It became known as the "Wall of Kindness."
While Mehran keeps a low profile, his idea has taken off and is a source of pride.
“I'm very happy that what I did has had such an impact in Iran,” he says. “I think many people have come to realize it's easy to act."
Today, the clothes hanging on the walls are mostly donated by young people.
College students working for a local environmental non-governmental organization often carry freshly washed clothes to hang on the walls. About 30 people belong to the NGO.
They negotiated with Tehran residents and set up three walls. With the help of local laundries, they clean the clothes before putting them out.
They’re hoping to do their part to maintain the sense of goodwill that's taking root in the country.
“I'd like to keep doing this until the day the idea becomes commonplace in our society that we can help others with the things we don't need," says Sina Alidousti, a member of the NGO.
The charitable movement that started in Mashhad is spreading throughout the country.