Iran Quake: Six Year Old Amir's Family Is Gone
The story of an orphan amid the destruction and death in Iran
By Dean Owen (WVUS Public Relations Director) With reports from John Schenk, WVI Communications Manager
BAM, Iran (January 1, 2004) -- Six –year-old Amir, a young boy with shaggy dark hair and wide, deep-set chestnut-colored eyes, was sleeping alongside his mother, father and sister in a small bedroom early Friday morning, December 26, when the earth shook violently.
Within moments, his house was demolished, his father and sister were dead, and his mother severely injured. Three hours later, still needing medical attention, Amir’s mother collapsed.
“She died in front of my own eyes,” Amir’s maternal grandmother, who has become the child’s surrogate parent, tells John Schenk, World Vision International Communications Manager.
Six days later, this child, whom the grandmother describes as “really naughty,” stares blankly into the wall of a canvas tent in front of the pile of dust and rubble that used to be his home. “He has a stunned, faraway look in his eyes,” Schenk says.
“He has nightmares and he talks to himself in a whisper, it’s not clear what is saying,” Amir’s grandmother tells Schenk. “And when he does talk to me, he asks about his parents. He thinks they both are still in the hospital”
Schenk remarks that the grandmother paused for a moment, looked at her grandson, then turned back to him and said in a low voice: “I have no answers for his questions, I don’t know what to say.
“I lie and then I cry.”
The grandmother tells Schenk that the 6.7 earthquake rocked her home three to four kilometers away and, after accounting for her other daughter living with her, “had a funny feeling” about her other daughter, Amir’s mother. She walked in the early morning cold to Amir’s home and immediately heard her daughter crying for help.
Some neighbors helped her pry Amir’s mother from the rubble. She was injured and needed to be hospitalized immediately. There were no cars on the streets nearby, let alone an ambulance. “Then, I heard a weak voice asking for water,” the grandmother told Schenk.
It was Amir.
Amir is one of more than 1,200 orphans the Iranian government knows of – so far – who have lost parents in the devastating quake, according to The New York Times. Many of those children are in an orphanage in Kerman, about 110 kilometers north of Bam, which was visited Wednesday by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami.
Schenk, a veteran of numerous international crises – from the Ethiopia famine in the mid-1980’s to the Gujarat earthquake in India in 2001 - believes it will take Bam and the surrounding community many months to rebuild the homes and other facilities that were lost.
“The city looks like it received a direct hit of artillery fire,” Schenk says. “Bam reminds me of Beirut at the end of Lebanon’s 16-year civil war.”
World Vision is not just going to drop in relief supplies and leave, he says. “We are looking at this relief effort for the long haul and will stay until the job is finished.”
Schenk accompanied a World Vision airlift into Iran on December 31which included more than 14,000 blankets and other relief supplies totaling about a quarter million dollars (U.S.). In Bam, he said, there are humanitarian workers from several countries, including the United States, which severed diplomatic relations in Iran after that nation’s Islamic Revolution in 1979.
“I met people from Ireland, Australia and many other places,” Schenk says. “Many, many nations are represented here, helping to address the incredible need.”
for the World Vision NZ Bam earthquake relief appeal.