Lang Scholar Fatima Boozarjomehri '17 Brings Sustainable Eyewear to Iran
Since arriving at Swarthmore, Fatima Boozarjomehri ’17 has been dedicating her time and energy to enrich the lives of children thousands of miles away.
With the help of the College's Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, Boozarjomehri has founded an initiative called “Re-vision,” which provides affordable and sustainable glasses to Afghan refugees going to school in Iran who cannot otherwise afford them.
Boozarjomehri’s work in Iran began the summer after her freshman year, when she and her roommate, Asma Noray ’17, set out to promote English literacy in Iran. They wanted to teach English to Afghan girls in rural villages because a large part of the college entrance exam in Iran is an English section, which these students did not have the opportunity to learn in their schools.
“No matter how brilliant the girls are in math or science, they won’t be able to get into universities because they won’t ever pass the English exam,” says Boozarjomehri, an honors religion major from Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.
During her sophomore year, Boozarjomehri received a Lang Opportunity Scholarship to help fund the literacy project. The program she created was so successful that the Iranian government took it over and expanded it to 10 other villages in the area. With that project now ostensibly out of her hands, she accepted an internship at an urban school in Tehran, Ale-Ahmad International School, where she interviewed the students to gauge the needs of the community.
“I started working with the Afghan kids in Tehran, thinking my project was again going to be English literacy," she says. "But then I realized that there are a lot of other issues that are a lot more complex that I can try to address."
One of those issues was poor eyesight. She realized many of her students were doing poorly because of vision problems. Glasses in Iran typically run from $70 to $150, which is more than the average student in Tehran can make in a year, so Boozarjamehri set out to make eyewear these kids could afford. Typically these costs can be covered partially or in full by insurance, but because these students are all Afghan refugees, they do not qualify for insurance in Iran.
In one telling incident, she recalls getting frustrated with a student who kept making the same types of mistakes, despite staying after class for extra help. "He sat at the back of the class and when I asked him why he would not pay attention, he would say, ‘I don’t know what you expect me to see!’ Then, when he came to the front of the classroom, he did really well.”
In order to provide cheap eyewear, Boozarjamehri had to explore every link in the production chain. One of her classmates and fellow Lang Scholars, Tyler Alexander '17, helped her to design a glasses mold that she could 3D print and use to make frames out of recycled plastic.
To supply the plastic for the molds, the Ale-Ahmad International School set out plastic recycling bins so the students can contribute to the glasses they will later be wearing. This has the added benefit of increasing awareness of environmentally friendly practices. Any extra plastic they need will be purchased cheaply from a local recycling plant.
The efforts came to fruition last month, when the eyeware went on display at the Give Kids Sight Day conference, which took place in Philadelphia and was hosted by Public Citizens for Children and Youth.
This summer, Boozarjamehri will be piloting the project with a group of 100 students in Iran. She hopes the project can continue long into the future and has brought on her brother, Mohammad Boozarjomehri '19, to help with the project.
For Boozarjomehri, the most rewarding aspect of her work is seeing the impact it has on the lives of those less fortunate.
“Doing what we sometimes consider to be so little," she says, "can go a long way towards making kids happy."