When I was 9 years old, I met Salim.
The teacher traveled a long distance from Iran’s capital, Tehran, to the small village where Salim, 7, and several younger boys would soon start school. Construction on the one-story brick building was nearly complete. “Salim is to come to school each day,” the teacher explains, “he will learn to read and write.” Salim’s father replies, “We have much work to do on the land.” Salim is deeply conflicted, but he begins school, where he studies Persian, and learns the Arab alphabet. He understands that the letters can be combined to form words, and that those words can help his family and the village. “If you can read, you can learn new ways to improve the soil…” Salim is smart; he sees the bigger picture. He can’t wait to tell his father what he has learned, but when Salim returns home from school, his father is still working in the fields, too tired to listen. “Salim cannot tell him tonight that he knows many letters and that soon he will learn them all. Perhaps tomorrow he will explain the change that will come to their village because today he, Salim, began to learn the letters of the alphabet.”
When Salim was growing up in 1960, he was one of about 21 million people living in Iran, one of 1.2 billion children in the world. Today, I hope Salim has children and grandchildren of his own. If they still live in Iran, Salim’s family lives among over 80 million Iranians, and Salim’s grandchildren live among 2.4 billion kids on earth.
I met Salim by reading a book. Faces Looking Up was a gift from my Uncle George and my Aunt Lottie when I was 9, and it’s still on my bookshelf. Faces Looking Up told me stories about children living in Iran, Japan, the Philippines, the U.A.R. (United Arab Republic, now called Egypt), England, India, France, Israel, Denmark, Greece, Nigeria and the U.S.S.R. (now Russia and many independent nations).