GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Motivations and Experiences of Bathing Volunteers in a Charity Care Center in Iran
Paper Proposal Text :
This presentation focuses on the activities of female volunteers who assist the elderly, sick and disabled in bathing at the Kahrizak Charity Care Center in Iran. Based on the information by the author’s participant observation research in the Center from 2001 to 2003, motivations and experiences of the female volunteers and personal interpretations of their volunteer work will be discussed. This research will show how individual charitable practices, which are the basis for humanitarian NGO activities in Iran, is deeply rooted in Shi’a beliefs, and contribute to a better understanding of Muslim organizations, although Iran is not a member of GCC.
The Kahrizak Charity Care Center, run by the Kahrizak Charity Foundation, is a facility that provides care for the impoverished disabled, sick and elderly in Iran. The Center is the biggest welfare complex in the Middle East, located in the southern outskirts of Tehran. Since its establishment in 1972, the center gradually extended its facilities and activities, and now there are 1,700 residents and 1,000 paid staff in the Center with branch offices in Los Angeles, London, Toronto, and Paris. The annual cost to run the center is estimated to be about 10 million dollars, of which 85% are provided by donations from people inside and outside of Iran.
In the Center, volunteer workers in various fields play very important roles. While the paid nursing staff is basically not motivated by charitable intentions, volunteer work without any payment is seen as a good deed, donating their time, energy, abilities and love to the vulnerable. As donations given to the Center are mainly based on religious intentions, volunteer workers are also motivated by religious values.
However, at this time, Kahrizak Charity Care Center is not regarded as an “Islamic” NGO in Iran. It sounds paradoxical, but as a result of the Islamic Revolution, any organization or activity described as “Islamic” has a political connotation in Iran, so the Center carefully avoids expressing their activities as “Islamic.” The Center emphasizes that their purpose is to provide the residents with the highest level of care as a non-governmental and non-profit organization.
In this presentation, some aspects of the motivations and experiences of bathing volunteers will be introduced from their narratives, with characteristics of the practice of “bathing”. Caring for and washing another’s unclean body is one of the hardest tasks, so that assistance with bathing is regarded as an ascetic practice. The volunteers can expect to receive God’s rewards from their work in the center, more so than only giving monetary donations, because it is a more difficult thing to do.
Bathing is the act of washing bodies’ dirt for hygiene. On the other hand, it is also connected to the religious act of purifying the body and the soul in Islam, since the concepts of purity and impurity in Islam are related to direct contact with bodily discharges, including urine, feces, blood, semen or cadavers. Therefore, bathing volunteer activities are understood with the analogy of ritual ablution done before saying the prayers and burial, and with the view of another world after death. Their activities are based on the Islamic concept of redemption and afterlife.
Also volunteers believe that through intercession with God by residents, they can purify their past sins and have their wishes fulfilled. The prayers of gratitude that the residents offer on behalf of the volunteers are believed to be answered more readily by God. The Center places the role of the volunteer workers as the most important part of its charity, because of the close relationships existing between the volunteers and residents. These family-like relationships increase the frequency of the volunteers’ visits, and that enables the Center to give a long-term support to the residents. The warm atmosphere of the Center encourages people to believe that miracles could happen as rewards from God, such as recovery from serious illness or success in exams, etc.
The Center is a modern medical-welfare facility, as well as it provides a place in which people can earn merits by helping the poor. Some features of caring for others are connected to rituals and concepts of Shi’a Islam, and have allowed the Center to successfully offer opportunities to experience “God’s mercy”. This is one of the reasons that the Kahrizak Charity Care Center has survived for 40 years in unstable political situation in Iran and become the biggest welfare institution in the Middle East.