HOOMAN’S QUEST: Tavakolian gives back during challenging time

By Craig Sesker for The Predicament

Nothing can stop Hooman “Mo” Tavakolian. Not even a deadly global pandemic.

In fact, the world’s fight against COVID-19 has made Tavakolian more determined than ever with his humanitarian efforts.

The successful New York City financial executive and wrestling ambassador has spent much of 2020 doing what he always does. Giving back to those less fortunate.

Tavakolian has taken part in numerous projects and initiatives in the United States and in his native Iran to provide opportunities for children in need. He’s traveled to Iran multiple times this year to contribute to humanitarian efforts he is directly involved in.

“When sports were put on hold earlier this year, I quickly turned my focus to finding other ways where I could help kids and make a positive impact,” he said. “When people are in need, I feel like it is my responsibility to try and help them.”

Tavakolian has stepped up to help people in the United States and beyond to help those fighting the deadly virus.

“At the height of the pandemic, we were providing masks, gloves, disinfectants and financial assistance to people who were in need,” he said. “We were trying to help them stay safe and help out any way we could. 2020 has been a very challenging year for everyone, and I am doing whatever I can to contribute.”

Tavakolian continues to work closely with Iranian wrestling legend Rasoul Khadem, an Olympic gold medalist and two-time world champion, to assist people in need.

Two top Iranian wrestlers – Olympic medalist and world champion Hassan Rahimi and Olympic champion Komeil Ghasemi – have been involved in the charitable projects with Tavakolian and Khadem.

Khadem is giving back to his country as a leader in developing ways to assist his countrymen in need. He and Tavakolian have forged a close relationship through wrestling and with the charitable work they have done.

One project Tavakolian and Khadem have teamed up on is the construction of schools for children in the border region of Iran and Afghanistan. These children are at highest risk and need the most help and guidance.

“It’s along the border of Iran and Afghanistan and Turkmenistan,” Tavakolian said. “We are building three elementary schools for kids in villages that were vulnerable to and were victims of ISIS infiltration. ISIS was recruiting a lot of these kids to join their terrorist organizations and we are trying to provide kids with a different path to follow. This area is safer now with a lot of military presence. We are trying to make a difference in helping these kids get an education and stay away from potential risk and harm. I hope in the near future we will be able to open a small wrestling gym as well.

“These kids have had it tough and we are trying to help them. They don’t have running water or electricity. Rasoul is looking to build homes for some of these underprivileged people. We also are hoping to teach people there how to make rugs and learn skills that can benefit them.”

Tavakolian has developed a close relationship with Khadem and considers him a mentor.

“Rasoul is very selfless,” Tavakolian said. “He has a huge charity that he runs in Iran. The whole focus is to help underprivileged people, mostly along the border. It’s a code of honor as a champion in Iran to give back to society and help the people. He plays a similar role to what Jordan Burroughs does with the way he helps people as an ambassador for wrestling in the United States.”

Tavakolian has been closely involved with United World Wrestling, particularly in the U.S. and in Asia.

“I have helped kids in poverty by providing them with opportunities in sports,” he said. “And now we’ve tried to help in other ways during the pandemic.”

During a tumultuous time where people aren’t traveling much, especially overseas, Tavakolian has flown twice to Iran in 2020.

“You definitely have to be careful,” he said. “It is obviously a little risky to travel right now, but it was more than worth it. I took precautions – I did testing and followed all of the protocols. I was very careful. I had to quarantine for two weeks when I returned to the United States.

“I traveled during the height of the pandemic in areas to provide help. I feel like if I don’t do it, nobody will. I feel obligated to provide hope to these kids.”

Tavakolian is proud of his Iranian heritage and also takes great pride in being an American citizen. He moved to the United States at a young age, growing up in Long Island. He works as an executive on Wall Street.

“I am an Iranian-American,” he said. “When I am in Iran, I show people that Americans like me are kind and generous. I hope it changes the perception that they have of what people in the U.S. are really like. I also hope to show my American friends that Iranian people are kind and welcoming.”

Tavakolian has been heavily involved in the sport of wrestling as an ambassador and liaison between the United States and Iran. He has served as a USA Team Leader on numerous overseas trips, including a handful to Iran.

He helped rebuild a wrestling facility that was bombed in Afghanistan. He donates shoes, equipment and gear to young athletes around the world so they can follow their dreams in wrestling.

The Tavakolian family provides an annual scholarship to a young athlete each year at the Beat the Streets Gala in New York City. He is a board member for the Titan Mercury Wrestling Club and is part of USA Wrestling’s International Relations Committee.

“It’s awesome to be able to assist the young wrestlers,” he said, “and give them opportunities to develop in the sport of wrestling.”

No matter how dire the circumstances or how divided the world may be, Tavakolian continues to fight. And he seemingly never gives up hope.

He is planning a return to Iran early next year for the grand opening of the schools he helped build. He also continues to support youths from Beat the Streets in New York.

“It’s very gratifying to be able to help and give back,” Tavakolian said. “I feel like my mission is to give back and try to make a difference. If I can change the direction of one child’s life, I feel like I have done my part. I hope others join me and help me make a better tomorrow for the generations to come. I used to be one of these kids.”