Unsung Heroes Of Compassion
Born in the Iranian holy city of Mashhad in 1955, Zohre moved to Tehran when she was nine, later attending the University of Tehran, where she studied political science and history. At age twenty, Zohre relocated to the United States, where she continued her education at California’s San Jose State University, working toward degrees in anthropology and economics.
In 2000, after a successful career in retail, Zohre — inspired by parents who had devoted themselves to helping those in need, and encouraged by her husband and best friend of thirty-two years, Kamran — decided to pursue humanitarian work as a full time volunteer at Global Catalyst Foundation. The foundation works to improve lives through the effective application of information technologies. To that end, it supports projects worldwide dedicated to enhancing education, alleviating poverty, promoting social tolerance and celebrating diversity.
Soon after she started with Global Catalyst, Zohre set out for the African nation of Tanzania to conduct a feasibility study — at the behest of United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan — for bringing technology and electronic connectivity to a remote refugee camp. The camp held ninety-six thousand refugees from Burundi who had fled across the border to escape the ethnic conflicts of their homeland. When she got there, however, Zohre was appalled by the conditions she found at the camp, where food shortages and ailments due to contaminated water were endemic. She began collecting data to show Global Catalyst that its money and time would be better spent providing for the refugees’ basic needs.
But a camp leader, a Burundian who had spent seven years in the camp and who had been assigned to discuss the refugees’ needs with Zohre, stopped her. He explained that the refugees had been waiting a long time for computers and Internet access, and were thrilled at the prospect of finally seeing their dream come true.
Zohre was stunned. “I can’t understand this,” she says she told him. “Your children don’t have access to clean water and are suffering from food shortages, and you want access to the Internet?” His response, she says, changed her life and her perspective on humanitarian work. He replied that the refugees were tired of waiting for UN World Food Programme trucks to deliver food and other aid. “We need to know about the outside world,” he told her. “We need to educate ourselves. We need to catch up with the outside world. I want my kids to catch up with the outside world.”
After that, Zohre dedicated herself to implementing the project, which she says was one of the most successful projects in terms of impact that she has worked on. Global Catalyst established three community centers, one within the camp and the other two in nearby Kasulu, the local village, which faced conditions as bad as those in the refugee camp. The centers, each of which received fifteen computers and was equipped with Internet access, offer computer training , one even saw the establishment of the Cisco Networking Academy, which provides online courses and other interactive tools and activities that promote training in information and communication technologies.
Global Catalyst also supplied electricity for the technology stations in the form of a solar panel in the refugee camp and a bio-gas generator for the village centers. Zohre says that all three were self-sustaining within six months, and that the implementation of bio-gas to power the center in Kasulu had the effect of encouraging other humanitarian and governmental organizations to bring electricity to the entire village.
Asked to explain what drives her altruistic efforts, Zohre answers that it was never a matter of choice. “I strongly believe that this is my destiny,” she says, “and I feel so lucky to be chosen to do service.”