Lilly Mohtadi keenly felt a need to do something about the plight of young Baha’is in Iran who have been denied their right to education.
One is a second cousin her age who is unsure what he is going to do after graduating from high school.
“I couldn’t just let him and hundreds, if not thousands, of other Baha’i youth in Iran get deprived of their educational rights while I just sit here and do nothing,” says the 17-year-old from Woodbury, on New York’s Long Island.
Then, in October 2011, Mohtadi went with her family to the Columbia University premiere of the Education Under Fire documentary.
She met Kenneth E. Bowers, secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly, and Bani Dugal, principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations in New York. She saw many of her Baha’i friends there as well.
“After I saw the documentary something sparked in me,” she recalls. “I knew that this was something that I could show around in my school or even the whole town.
“It was real footage and I had proof to show my other Persian friends who were in denial that such injustice could occur in Iran.”
The next month Mohtadi took the first step, making an appointment to talk with her school principal.
Only it felt “more like a jump,” she says. “I was extremely nervous and I even said the Remover of Difficulties [prayer] nine times.”
The teen showed her principal the Education Under Fire trailer, because the DVD wasn’t yet available, and pointed out the website for another awareness campaign called “Can You Solve This?”
To Mohtadi’s shock, right then and there the principal filled out a letter on the website in support of the cause.
He also suggested she go to the school’s S.A.V.E. (Students Against Violence Everywhere) and Awareness clubs.
“I decided that this was too much to do alone, especially in my junior year of high school,” she says. “So I asked my brother to help.
“I would speak at the S.A.V.E. club, which met every Tuesday, and he would speak at the Awareness club, which met every Monday.”
When the siblings began attending club meetings in December, they discovered both were already busy with other projects.
“We kept going every week hoping to get starting with something, but the closest we came was showing the documentary to the kids in the Awareness club and having them sign the letter to Congress members on the website (www.educationunderfire.org).”
S.A.V.E., however, was planning a Human Rights Day in May in which each period of the nine-period school day would be devoted to a different cause. And Mohtadi’s Advanced Placement Physics teacher, the adviser to S.A.V.E., saved her a spot.
So on May 23, at long last, Mohtadi was able to screen the documentary for about 100 students and teachers and hold a discussion on it.
“The questions,” she recalls, “were ‘Why do Muslims not like the Baha’is?’, ‘What can we do to help?’ ‘How come I’ve never heard of this before?’ and more.”
This fall, Mohtadi hopes to screen Education Under Fire in all the social studies classes, at her principal’s urging.
“Things are looking good right now and I hope I will be able to get the documentary played a few more times.”
From there, who knows?