An Iranian-born human rights activist told Newsmax TV on Thursday that she is working to bring eight badly burned young survivors of a deadly 2008 school fire in Iran to the United States for reconstructive surgery.
Ghazal Omid, Washington, D.C., -based activist and author of "Living in Hell: The True Story of an Iranian Woman," told "MidPoint" host Ed Berliner that the Shriners Hospital for children in Galveston, Texas, has agreed to treat the children for free — but she has to cover airfare and long-term housing for the young patients and their parents.
Omid said that she has very consciously taken on this project at a time of turmoil in the Middle East and antagonism between the United States and Iran.
"I wanted to showcase that we can actually think of each other. We can care about one another," said Omid.
In appealing to Newsmax TV viewers for help, Omid recounted the children's story.
They were 8 years old and at their school in a village near the Iranian city of Shiraz when fire broke out inside their locked classroom.
"In the middle of a December day, the children had a gasoline burner [for heating] that caught on fire by accident. One of the children was actually passing by it. Her coat caught on fire," said Omid.
There were 20 children inside the room, and Omid said that "because the rest of the school was in session for exams, the teacher had left them in the room with doors shut from outside, windows shut from inside and outside."
Omid said that their screams for help were initially mistaken for child's horseplay.
Twelve children died in the blaze. The eight survivors were so badly burned, Omid said matter-of-factly that at moments she has wondered if death might not have been the more merciful outcome.
"I know that this is extremely harsh for me to say, but sometimes I feel that if these eight wouldn't have survived, perhaps that would've been better for them," she said.
But she has opted instead to help the children, now age 14, find the best available treatment for their injuries, which are considerable.
Two of the eight will need a yearlong course of surgeries to restore lips, noses, and ears that were burned away, said Omid. One also has burns on her lungs that require care.
Six others can be treated with less intensive procedures such as Co2 skin laser treatments, and won't need to remain in the United States for as long.
Even so, Omid estimated that she would need to raise $300,000 to secure plane tickets and housing for a group totaling 24 children and parents.
Omid has launched a website to publicize the children's plight and said she plans to expand her campaign to crowdfunding sites such as Indiegogo and GoFundMe.
She also described her project as a call to people of all faiths, and an antidote to the religious violence roiling the Middle East.
"I want to create an environment that ISIS would feel neglected in," she said.