It is his first morning in Costa Rica, and Mahmood Jafari sits at the end of a small table in the courtyard of Hotel Casa Antigua in Alajuela mapping out any changes he can bring to the country. Whether they be as specific as making more areas wheelchair accessible or as widespread as caring for the poor, Jafari wants to come up with plans for social aid in Costa Rica and beyond.
The outspoken Iranian freedom advocate visiting via Canada said he sees this nation as a beacon of peace that can project a message promoting community and tolerance across the world. A nation that has survived without an army for 65 years and is home to the University for Peace in Ciudad Colón sounded encouraging enough for Jafari to make the 3,000-mile trek from his home in Calgary.
“We can pass this message to other governments,” Jafari says. “There is no need for a military. There is no need to make new weapons to kill each other.”
These pacifistic words come from a former Iranian soldier who was hardened by the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. Years after fighting in the war, Jafari was shot in the back while walking down the street. That left his legs paralyzed. However, he doesn’t see his wheelchair as a confinement. Instead he views it as just another way to move.
Five years ago Jafari began a program in Iran to help others with disabilities, hoping to change the universal phrasing from “disability” to “people with different ability.” That’s only one of the world’s problems he’s hoping to change.
Now he is touring Costa Rica for two weeks to get a feel for what the population may need, making his first stop in Atenas to talk with Ticos and become familiar with their struggles. He said he believes he can help in the same way he helped people in Chile, by sending large containers of new and used sanitary medical equipment to those in need of care.
Or he can ally with the Red Cross, as he did in Calgary, to support those who cannot do so themselves.
“We can use Costa Rica as a model to other countries,” Jafari says. “You don’t need to destroy your army, but at least spend some money on your people. Feed the people to make your country stronger.”
In the past he has raised awareness and donations through grueling solo handcycle rides across Canada. In taking a
400-km hand-bike ride from Calgary to Edmonton, Jafari received endorsement from both cities’ Canadian Football League teams as well as the Ability Society of Alberta.
Though he had so much success raising funds back home, he says he doesn’t want to intrude on a country that might not need his help. He is aware that Costa Rica is better off in some ways than neighbors Nicaragua and Panamá, but still thinks the nation sandwiched between them can become a central hub in providing any necessary medical supplies or food.
“First the community has to accept me. I want to learn from this community,” Jafari says. “They might not need that much, but for sure this community can teach many people around the world.”