Project Stories:

Reconstruction support after earthquake in Iran: the houses are getting ready!

humedica employee Johanna Bischoff reports about her project visit


The 12th of November 2017 a heavy earthquake hit the North West of Iran. Along the Iraqi border the city Sarpol-e Zahab and its surrounding area was particularly hard affected. Whole villages were razed to the ground, there were approximately 400 dead and 7.000 wounded people.

humedica had sent out two medical teams to provide emergency care. Thanks to the many donations the aid organization was able to organize reconstruction activities for needy families subsequently.

Isolierungsarbeiten beim Hausbau im Iran von humedica

While reconstructing the houses the focus is on proper insulation and robust masonry to provide long-lasting secure accommodation. Photo: Cyrus Ghiasi

Together with the Iraqi project coordinator Javad Sheikholeslami and his German wife Monika we support five especially needy families to reconstruct their homes. Javad is continuously on site since December 2017 to coordinate the reconstruction measures.

Bauarbeiten im Iran von humedica

The humedica project coordinator Javad Sheikholeslami is permanently on site not only to organize the reconstruction measures as good as possible, but also to document them accordingly. Photo: Cyrus Ghiasi

Voyage to the earthquake region

The responsible humedica project administrator Johanna Bischoff now had the chance to visit the project, to get to know the supported families and to seize up the situation, the work quality and its progress for herself.

as well as in her detailed travel report:

In the middle of the night I arrive at Teheran. There are still more than 30°C and the heat wave in Germany seems like a joke to me in comparison the local temperatures here. The same night I continue my trip to the small town Saveh, the next morning our Iraqi-German contact Cyrus Ghiasi and his brother-in-law will accompany me to the earthquake region.

We are driving through beautiful landscapes passing various rock and hill formations. On my way I see many people, who go after their daily routines despite the heat – farmers in their fields, vendors at the roadside, pedestrians walking where no houses are in sight. They all can only dream of shadow or other protection from the sun. For me, sitting and already sweating in the air-conditioned car, they are all heroes of everyday in a very hot country.

Landschaft im Iran nähe des humedica-Projekts

On her drive to the earthquake area humedica employee Johanna Bischoff passes sun-drenched rock and hill landscapes. Photo: humedica

When we reach the city Sarpol-e Zahab in the early evening, I can see everywhere the marks left by the earthquake. Even nearly one year after the earthquake, the small town near the border to Iraq seems mainly to consist of tents, containers and construction sites. That there are houses, which can be used, seems like a miracle. I am told that this region has always been one of the poorest and most neglected parts of the country. Once and again the people here underwent crises: during the Iran-Iraq-war returning Iraqi combat planes used to drop bombs on Sarpol-e Zahab, which were of no more use.

Only a few kilometres from Sarpol-e Sahab there is the village Baz Gir, where three of the five humedica houses are built. Here we meet with our project coordinator Javad. Only one house in the whole village seems to have survived the earthquake. The rest of the village looks like one large construction site. The families are living in tents and small containers besides their construction sites and work hard in order to be able to move in their new houses in the (hopefully) near future. I can not imagine how this village may have looked before the earthquake.

Von humedica gebautes Haus im Erdbebengebiet im Iran.

The damages caused by the earthquake in November 2017 can still be seen everywhere in the village Baz Gir. Photo: humedica

Five houses, five families, five fates

The same evening I can visit all five construction sites and meet the new owners. The people radiate with joy and are very grateful to the German sponsors. Each family was carefully selected, each has its own hard fate. These families would never have been able to finance the loan by the government on their own.

In Baz Gir I meet Vaisi. She is a widow and lives here together with her son and his family, her daughter and her 14-year-old granddaughter Hanieh. Both her husband and her second daughter, the mother of Hanieh, has been murdered by her son-in-law 13 years ago. Since then they live from hand to mouth. The new house seems like a palace to them, it is way more than they would ever have been able to pay for.

Empfänger der humedica-Hilfe im Iran vor ihrem Haus

Vaisi appreciates hugely the secure home for her family and herself. Photo: humedica

Also the Moradi family, who reconstructs its home a few houses further down the road, has no easy life. The father is already 70 years old, their oldest son has cancer, the two other sons are seasonal workers. What they earn hardly covers the needs of the family.

Empfänger der humedica-Hilfe im Iran vor ihrem Haus

The donations from Germany provide also the Moradi family members with an urgently needed robust roof over their heads, hopefully their cancer-suffering son will be able to get better there soon. Photo: humedica

The village chief Almas, his wife and their three children, who will also receive a new home, keep their heads over water thanks to two cows and a few chickens.

Empfänger der humedica-Hilfe im Iran vor ihrem Haus

Also Almas and his family express sincere gratitude for the help from Germany, which benefits this small Iranian village. Photo: humedica

We also support two other families in reconstructing their homes in the villages Kuik Majid and Tini Havas Ahmadi. Here lives the taxi driver Karimi with his wife and two small children. During the earthquake he was wounded, he broke his back in two places. He is not able to work now and often has to visit the hospital, which is three hours away in Kermanshah.

Empfänger der humedica-Hilfe im Iran vor ihrem Haus

Due to the earthquake Karimi and his family not only lost their home, he also still suffers from the health consequences. Photo: humedica

The family of the shepherd Bagmorad leads a life full of privation, too.

Empfänger der humedica-Hilfe im Iran

Also Bagmorad and his family suffer badly from the severe earthquake. The reconstruction of their home will help them to process their experiences. Photo: Afsane Peyvand

While meeting the five families, I feel immediately that our help comes to the right place. The sincere gratitude in their faces and words makes me instantly aware how much they appreciate our assistance. That someone is willing to see their misery, that we do not leave them alone makes their faces shine with joy and hope – and helps them to forget the many worries of their everyday life for a moment.

However, at the end of my visit I feel like I am the presentee. Everywhere I go, I am invited for a cup of tea, women bring me homemade bread, men self-made dairy products. When I try to talk to the women, we always end up laughing, because I understand so little of which they tell me or what they try to ask me, but our time together connects us. The people here have next to nothing, but I feel richly blessed by their cordiality. A heartwarming experience I will live on for a long time.

humedica-Mitarbeiter mit Empfängern der Hilfe im Iran

The responsible humedica employees Johanna Bischoff (on the right) and Javad Sheikholeslami (on the left) were welcomed with great warmth and gratitude, here by Bagmorad and his family. Photo: Cyrus Ghiasi

I am so grateful that Javad´s untiring commitment for the victims of the earthquake made this project possible. He rises early in the morning to drive the workers and volunteers, who still keep coming in to the earthquake region from all over the country, to the construction sites. The whole day long he is constantly on his feet to provide everybody with material and tools, to bring food to the workers, to assist the families with guidance and resources and to gather the necessary authorizations.

He strictly monitors the quality of each work stage. The houses are being built following the method Insulated Concrete Formwork (ICF) to ensure good insulation and best possible protection against earthquakes. As Javad lived in Germany for 16 years, he values German work quality very much. „The people here should see that we do not crooked houses, that we do everything with millimeter precision.“, he explains to me. Everybody knows about German work quality here, so he put up a German flag besides the humedica logo on each construction site.

humedica-Baustelle im Iran

After 16 Jahren in Germany humedica projekt coordinator Javad is glad to assist his countrymen to reconstruct their homes according to German standards. Photo: humedica

To take part in this intervention he has left his home, his family and his work on his farm in Saveh near Teheran. He feels too strongly about the fate of the people from the earthquake area to simply continue his everyday life. That is why he helps the people here now for months unflaggingly.

The question of the future

The conditions make it not easy for the people in this earthquake area to hope for better times. Recently, the economy has worsened. The high inflation causes prices to rise in the whole country. Everywhere you see left construction sites because the people do not have enough money to finish their houses. All that is left are debts with no housing situation changed for the better.

Seeing all this leaves me feeling a deep impact and a sense of helplessness. My wish that all these friendly, hospitable, hard-working people can return to normality after this catastrophe and can look to the future with confidence may be too great to be fulfilled. I am assured each time and again that our work helps them a lot. Besides the five families even more people benefit from the committed assistance of our project coordinator Javad. But most of all: the inhabitants here see and feel that there are people abroad who care about their fate. The presence of an international organization like humedica gives them hope for a better future.

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