Saideh Ghods: One Woman’s Volunteerism Providing Hope to Thousands

In the northeastern hills of Tehran’s Darband district lies an 18,000 square meter hospital and rehabilitation center dedicated to treating children diagnosed with cancer. The center was created by Saideh Ghods, whose two-year old daughter, Kiana, was diagnosed with cancer in 1986. Throughout the rounds of chemotherapy and checkups, Mrs. Ghods witnessed the lack of facilities and resources for underprivileged cancer patients which led her in 1991 to establish the Mahak Society to Support Children with Cancer. In the past two decades, Mahak has been pivotal in helping over 12,000 patients facing cancer.

Funded entirely by donations, Mahak is now one of the largest non-governmental organizations (NGO) in Iran, largely due to Mrs. Ghods’ work. Mahak’s hospital and rehabilitation center houses a clinic, chemotherapy laboratory, radiotherapy department, physiotherapy ward, water therapy section, operating rooms, MRI and CT scans, radiology ward, intensive care unit, library, children’s playroom, restaurant and amphitheater.

In order to ensure that underprivileged children outside of Tehran also have access to these facilities, Mahak’s social work department arranges for children from the provinces to be transferred by ambulance or plane. These children account for 60% of Mahak’s patients. As a result of their efforts, Mahak has been officially recognized by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as an organization that helps Afghan and Iraqi refugee children. Mahak provides treatment to these children both at the hospital and onsite at refugee camps.

Mrs. Ghods has received a number of honors and awards and was recognized by the Wall Street Journal as one of 2008’s 50 Women to Watch. Mrs. Ghods is continuing to expand her efforts with support from Iranian-Americans in collaboration with the International Society for Children with Cancer, a U.S.-based and volunteer-run nonprofit organization established in 2004. ISCC has undertaken Mahak’s mission to provide care to children in developing countries. By operating in the United States, ISCC has access to resources and a larger platform. Contributions by U.S. citizens and residents to NGOs in Iran – whether to send medical supplies or funds - are regulated by the U.S. Treasury Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC). This year ISCC obtained a license from OFAC enabling it to accept donations from U.S. citizens and residents to further its humanitarian mission inside Iran through support of Mahak.

Mrs. Ghods’ story is an inspiration to all who are faced with personal challenges and use them as a catalyst to help others with similar tests. Her drive and spirit not only served her own daughter during a difficult period, but have also benefited thousands of children and families since then.