David Shavolian’s family has been working with the Ohr-Hasholom orphanage in Israel for quite a few years. The orphanage, which now provides shelter, food, clothing, and education to 100 to upwards of 150 children in Israel, regardless of background or how they came to the orphanage, offers its inhabitants a second chance, giving them the tools they need to break the cycle of poverty and become well-adjusted adults. While the work they do speaks for itself, Shavolian, New York City real estate agent and expert, has a special place in his heart for the orphanage due to his own surprising history.
David Shavolian came to the United States in 1986. Born an Iranian Jew, at just thirteen years old he was forced to flee his home in Tehran, Iran’s capital, to escape persecution for his faith. Travelling by camel he made it to Pakistan, where he acquired a visa to Austria and finally the United States, five months after leaving Iran. Speaking not a word of English and with no money to his name, he managed to make his way from an impoverished Iranian Jew in America to a successful New York City businessman.
For many other children, however, escaping the bonds of poverty is not possible without intervention. Shavolian, after all, had a father in America to help him navigate his new world. The orphans at Ohr-Hasholom and others like them do not.
Finding solutions to child poverty is very important to David Shavolian. Through his generous funding of the Israeli orphanage he has helped hundreds of children on the path to becoming successful, well-adjusted adults, but his homeland is always on the back of his mind.
Child poverty in Iran is high, with Iran ranking 27th on the United Nation’s list of poorest nations. Of those children, UNICEF estimates 1.5 million live in orphanages. Many of these orphanages rely heavily on international aid from groups such as MAP, and while Shavolian would like to supply economic aid to all of Iran’s orphans, he cannot singlehandedly raise the country’s children out of poverty. But he is not idly sitting by doing nothing; instead, he has become an outspoken advocate for these children and doing his best to bring awareness to their plight.
The recent involvement of the UN in Iran has helped give him a platform from which to speak. David Shavolian has discussed the effects of nuclear sanctions on Iran’s children, and the general effects of religious persecution. While he has a unique connection to Iranian culture and society, he strongly believes that the issues facing children should concern everyone.
Shavolian was fortunate to be able to escape persecution and make himself into a successful American businessman. Those children unlucky enough to not escape, either poverty or prosecution, he suggests, are not able to grow into well-adjusted adults. Maladjusted adults are unable to make positive contributions to society, repeating the cycle of poverty and violence, and adding to the disruption in the Middle Eastern region. In today’s globalized world, it is everyone’s responsibility to prevent this.
Children are the future of today’s troubled world, especially in the Middle East. Recent events in Israel, Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, and Iraq have proven both the instability and potential of the region, and David Shavolian has a lot of hope for the home he left behind. By helping children, he believes, a society can alter its course for a more positive future.
How can a society help? Whether it is through government programs or the generosity of individuals, there are several factors that determine the health and success rate of children in poverty. The two that are perhaps the most important are nutrition and education. Growing children require healthy diets to properly develop physically and mentally. While the definition of a healthy diet varies from region to region, a general consensus is that it must be balanced and plentiful enough to allow for adequate growth.
Every child does not necessarily need three square meals a day full of fruits, vegetables, meat, and carbohydrates, as the American food pyramid suggests, but they do need access to sanitary drinking water and food, fresh produce, and a good source of protein. In impoverished situations, not only is there often not enough food, but what food is available can be contaminated. Poor nutrition is a leading cause of illness, and has been linked to developmental issues like growth and cognitive delays.
Education, when it is available, is often compromised by poor nutrition. Children who are starving cannot concentrate nor do they have any incentive to learn.. Cognitive delays from malnutrition, furthermore, inhibit education from having positive effects. If issues of nutrition are addressed, however, children may receive more out of education, even if the education available is poor. Improving both nutrition and education for poverty stricken children, David Shavolian suggests, might just give them the tools they need to break the cycle.