by Rea on 16 May 2017
When was the last time you did something to help someone in need?
In December 2015, during a particularly cold winter, one anonymous philanthropist took a simple wall and transformed it into a wall of kindness as a symbol of hope, unity and cooperative citizenship.
Another, inspired to help more homeless people in the capital of Tehran, formed a group of volunteers that turned ordinary streets into places of generosity.
Here's how the citizens of Iran are helping the less fortunate and what makes them one of the most altruistic nations in the world.
Iran's Wall of Kindness: A Viral Trend of Generosity
In the city of Mashhad, Iran's second most populous city, a brightly painted wall became the country's first wall of kindness. Installed with pegs and hangers, and a sign that read "if you do not need it, leave it. If you need it, take it" invited citizens to give back to those in need.
The idea behind the wall of kindness was quickly taken up by the people of Mashhad, and it wasn't long before the pegs and coat hangers were filled with second-hand clothes waiting for their new owners.
As one Facebook user said in reference to the Wall of Kindness in Iran: "Walls remind us of distance, but in some streets, in Shiraz, they brought people closer to each other."
This simple altruistic act soon spread across social media and copies were established around Iran and neighbouring nations like Pakistan and China.
According to the man who started the initiative and wishes to remain anonymous, "A man came to me from a poor neighbourhood in Mashhad and told me he found the address for the wall of kindness on social media."
Based on the outcome of the wall of kindness, it just goes to show the positive and powerful impact social media can have on our societies, and it is not all about selfies and Snapchats.
Inspired to Give Back: Fridges for the Homeless
Home to more than 15,000 homeless citizens, Tehran is no stranger to the plight of the less fortunate. Around the same time as the wall of kindness sprung up around the country, another initiative also took root.
Spearheaded by Payan-e Kartonkhabi, a group made up of volunteers who want to help eliminate homelessness; refrigerators were installed across the city's streets. Signs invited citizens to donate food to the needy and for those that were hungry to take what they need.
“At the beginning some were pessimistic,” recalls Ali Heidari, founder of the group. "Shoush (the first neighbourhood to receive a fridge) is known for theft, so some were saying that in less than 24 hours every part of the refrigerator would be stolen."
Fortunately, the naysayers were proven wrong, and as with the impact of the wall of kindness, the project has also expanded to other parts of Tehran. In fact, some shops have even started leaving boxes outside with food for the large homeless population in the city.
Why Are The Citizens of Iran So Charitable?
Projects like The Wall of Kindness and Fridges for the Homeless reflect the charitable nature of Iranians and if you are asking, ‘Why?’, one thing is certain:
It all comes down to Islam.
While many Westerners tend to focus on the negative and extreme versions of the religion, you do not need to look much further than the Quran for proof that Islam is a peaceful religion.
Charitable giving forms the third pillar of Islamic practice. Developed fourteen hundred years ago, compulsory charity or zakat is based on the belief that that wealth is a gift from God.
Financially stable citizens are required to give back to the less fortunate members of the community through altruistic acts that aim to share their wealth with others, helping those struggling to stand on their own and eventually become productive members of society.
Imagine what the world would be like if this were a tenant for every community around the world.
What Are You Doing in Your Communities?
What these spontaneous acts of kindness teach us is that we do not need to wait for traditional sources like government initiatives and NGOs to step in and make a difference. Acts like these show us that anyone can make a difference, even if it is just in one person's life.
When visiting Iran, you might come into contact with these simple acts of kindness or even the people that benefit from these initiatives. The Wall of Kindness and Fridges for the Homeless give travellers a different perception of Iran than the one media outlets push out en masse.
Hopefully, the altruistic spirit of Iran will not only change how you view the citizens of this country, but it will inspire you to do something for the less fortunate members of your community.
Whether you decide to leave behind a pair of shoes you no longer need for the rest of your travels or return home with inspiration to start your own initiative, Iran can teach us all a lesson on how a simple act of kindness can transform a country to care about others the majority usually ignore.