Having served Afghan communities in Tehran for quite a while, we realized that refugee communities are not well integrated into the Iranian communities as there are negative perceptions on both sides. In order to help the refugee communities to become closer to their host communities, we decided to take some teenage boys to an amusement park on a weekend where many Iranian families also go.
A group of 20 teenagers with 2 social workers got on a bus to go to the amusement park. At the bus station, the social workers realized that the young Afghan boys were quite unhappy about something and when they inquired about it they found out that the bus conductor had misbehaved towards the Afghan teenagers and had spoken disrespectfully to them. From this the Afghan teenagers concluded that Iranians hate them.
Our AEP social workers asked the conductor what had led him to behave in such improper manner. The conductor, who was still furious, quite frankly said that he did not want to deal with the Afghan population as they did not deserve to receive any services! The conductor was irritated by the social workers for recognizing and emphasizing the rights of the young Afghan teenagers.
The social workers then went to the station manager and told him about the situation. The manager despised such behavior, particularly from a man in official uniforms, who he said was “damaging the reputation of the entire bus system”. The manager was told that media and legal authorities may be informed if the correct action was not taken!
The manager then called the conductor and asked him to apologize to the Afghan teenagers. At first the driver refused to apologize, but finally he surrendered and apologized. The Afghan teenagers meanwhile had been quietly observing the process from beginning to the end. Through this they had been taught that it is their right not to be treated poorly by others, and they learnt how to stand up for their rights peacefully.
Finally, they all went to the amusement park and had a wonderful time. At the end of the day, a 16-year-old boy elatedly told the social workers that the events of that day had truly changed his thinking about Iranians. In the amusement park, the young Afghan teenager was asked by an Iranian man to watch his baby for a short time while he was gone. The Afghan teenager thus experienced trust from the Iranians for the first time.