A blind street vendor is using social media to sell his goods, prompted by Iran’s lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic.
Before the coronavirus crisis, Mohammad Reza Rezaei carried his goods in two large bags on his back, walking from alley to alley selling to his customers. But the pandemic pushed him to find a different way of serving his clientele.
Mohammad Reza Rezaei, born in 1982, is a victim of a landmine explosion. "One summer afternoon in 1995, I was walking in the Vali-Abad neighborhood at the beginning of Marzijran Road on the outskirts of Arak, where there is a military barracks,” he says. “Suddenly everything was dark. I realized an explosive device caused the loss of my eyesight and my left arm up to my elbow. I was in the fifth grade at elementary school, and my world changed forever.” His life, he says, has been split into two: before the accident, and the reality of life after it.
Becoming blind was a disaster for Mohammad Reza. Before the accident, he says, his world was full of color, light, joy, and hope. Still, he says, he has always had a strong determination and keeps fighting.
Arak, in Mazandaran county hundreds of kilometers from the border with Iraq, was not officially part of the war zone where the eight-year Iran-Iraq conflict took place. Because of this, and since his accident happened years after the war, the Revolutionary Guards claimed the area where the child was injured was not part of their area of protection, even though the accident happened near Guards' military barracks. The decision not to take responsibility for the accident took place in a meeting of the Provincial Security Council, and no other government agencies accepted any responsibility for Mohammad Reza Rezaei's disabilities either.
The Article Two Committee, which consists of eight members of the military and security agencies and the Foundation for Martyrs and Veterans Affairs, is the authority in charge of investigating landmine accidents and circumstances for victims. No victims or representatives of victims sit on the committee, and in most cases, it refuses to compensate child victims, or to provide them with services, including pensions later in life. The committee presents a range of reasons for these decisions, most of them unconvincing.
"I did not have the power to fight the system, but I can change my life, so I tried to test my abilities,” Mohammad Reza Rezaei says. “I studied until I graduated, and after graduation I continued my social activities in collaboration with an organization called the House of Hope for Blind Youth, and for years I volunteered to improve the situation for blind people."
Building a Business
He tried for many years to find a suitable job, applying to work for telephone and internet cafes or in government offices without success.“Unfortunately, because my face was damaged during the explosion, or perhaps because a blind person was thought to be unable to perform the tasks assigned to him, my employment was blocked,” he says. “I wanted a job and I didn't want to live my life through public donations and begging from people. I wanted to try my best, but all these years that I have been knocking on every door, no institution was willing to give me a decent job. So I talked to a couple of my supporters and they agreed to provide me with the initial capital and I started selling on the streets."
Mohammad Reza says he tries his best to promote his work through customer satisfaction, goodwill and by selling high-quality products. Along the way, he has been encouraged by his sympathetic and supportive customers, who encouraged him as he walked from passage to passage to make a living, giving his sales pitch as he went along.
But with the outbreak of coronavirus and the eventual lockdown, there was no way he could sell his goods on the street. He did not have a shop or a business license or ID and he could not sell to offices or organizations. But staying at home was tantamount to letting his children starve. “I got help from social media,” he said, explaining that he is on Telegram, Instagram and Twitter. His profiles encourage people to support a man who has taken steps to empower himself and protect his own well-being and the well-being of others, despite his disabilities. “I offered paper towels, sanitary items, Scotch tape, tablecloths, gloves and toilet paper online. I do all this with the hope that I will be able to rebuild my old and dilapidated house so that I can make a good and safe place for my retirement and for the lives of my children.” Mohammad Reza has two children, aged twelve and four.
"You don't have to break the quarantine and get out of the house in this difficult situation," he posted on Telegram. "I will deliver the items you need at a reasonable price.”
He says he manages his online profiles, engagement and contacts himself and doesn’t turn to anyone else for help. A lot of this has been made possible by a Google app designed for blind people.
“I receive a monthly pension of 384,500 tomans [US$20] from the welfare organization for my family of four, and of course I also receive subsidies and living expenses available to the general public. In total, I receive about 750,000 tomans [$37.5] a month for our small family from the government."
Before the lockdown, in addition to his walks through the alleys of Arak, Mohammad Reza Rezaei set up pitches on sidewalks, in markets and shopping malls, and in smaller commercial areas of Arak.
He has asked his supporters and followers on social media to help him with the costs of rebuilding his house and seeing how it can help boost his business. “Another idea I have is to build a small shop in my dilapidated house, which is located in a good neighborhood. It can be my place of business and save me from having to peddle and moving around."