Having served Afghan communities in Tehran for quite a while, the staff of the Afghan Empowerment Project (AEP) 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 more integrated into their host communities, we decided to take some Afghan teenage boys to an amusement park on a weekend where many Iranian families also go.
A group of twenty teenagers with two 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. The bus conductor had spoken disrespectfully to the teenagers and from this they had concluded that Iranians hate them.
Our AEP social workers addressed the behavior of the conductor with him. The conductor said that he did not believe that the Afghan population deserved to receive any services. He went so far as to challenge the social workers for recognizing and emphasizing the rights of the Afghan teenagers.
At first the conductor refused to see his error, but through wise dialogue he came to understand the hurt he had caused. The civil systems of society are there to serve the whole population and not just segments of it.
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.
When they arrived at the amusement park, they had a wonderful time. At the end of the day, a 16-year-old boy excitedly told the social workers that the events of that day had 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. This challenged the teenagers’ belief that all Iranians hated them.