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People in Your Neighborhood: La Jolla student Tara Samimi is a teen volunteer for social justice

La Jolla student Tara Samimi volunteers with two organizations to promote issues of social justice.
(Courtesy)

Tara Samimi has spent the past several years volunteering with two organizations to promote education and equal rights. Though she’s not new to the issues, she feels the current social-justice movement is well-placed and is looking to encourage her peers to contribute to the cause.

Tara, a 17-year-old entering her senior year at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, volunteers with the Mona Foundation, which aims to use education to empower girls and women in economically disadvantaged communities. Through her work with the group, she was invited in 2018 to visit the Badi School in Panama, where the foundation supports girls’ access to education.

Tara Samimi visited the Badi School in Panama with the Mona Foundation, which supports girls' access to education.
(Courtesy)

Her work with the Badi students “was an incredible experience,” Tara said. “I’ll never forget being able to interact with students who are the same age as me, so grateful for the opportunity to have an education.”

Tara also has been supporting and fundraising for the Tahirih Justice Center, an organization that provides legal and other services to immigrant women and girls escaping violence. Tara attended a gala for the organization and heard stories from a survivor named Aisha that spurred her to want to help.

“It struck a chord,” she said. “These women and girls are fleeing gender-based violence.”

Tara started the Tahirih Justice Club at The Bishop’s School to raise funds and awareness for the Tahirih Justice Center.

She spoke with the Light about her work and her thoughts about social justice and the responsibility of young people to give back.

Q. How did you become interested in issues of social justice and women’s rights?

A. “I think that, coming from my mom and grandmother, both strong women from Iran, where there is a lot of injustice … that was very impactful. They’ve been strong inspirations in my life.

“I’m so fortunate that I get to have an education, where a lot of women don’t. With Mona, their emphasis is on women and girls because [that] has a multiplier effect — they will become educated and use that to lift up their entire community and their family. So it’s not just educating one, it’s educating a whole community.”

Q. Why are these issues important to you?

A. “I’ve always considered myself a feminist. I emphasize equality a lot and I try to practice that every day, treating everyone with respect, no matter what they believe. Especially with what’s going on right now, that’s what we need.”

Q. What did you do with the Mona Foundation in Panama, and how did that influence you?

A. “We were able to see the community and the people we were helping. We heard from a girl named Monica, who received a scholarship to the Badi School and [went on to] design a refrigerator that does not pollute the environment. She won a technical scholarship to the University of Panama.

“Her story is really inspiring because a lot of them come from [situations] where it wasn’t really plausible that they would go to school.”

Q. What are the challenges in working with these organizations?

A. “The biggest challenge is not being able to do as much as I wish I could. I’m restricted by age and education level. I think it’s trying to do as much as you can with the resources you have and the outreach I have, which is limited to school and my friends.”

Another challenge is “trying to get more participation from my [peers], trying to engage them, make them as passionate about it as I am.”

Q. Social justice is a big topic right now. What advice do you have for someone your age who wants to get involved and take action?

A. “Just not sitting back and watching it happen. Because we’re young, it seems like there’s nothing we can do, like volunteering won’t do that much, but it really makes a difference. Protesting, posting something online — it helps, no matter how small it is.

“I’m volunteering, delivering signs to people for the upcoming election. It seems like small work, but you support people who support your beliefs, and doing that, you amplify [the work] in a sense.”

Q. What are you and your peers talking about now as it relates to social justice?

A. “Race is a big issue. [My generation] is more open-minded; we’re growing up in a more open-minded time period. My peers are pretty passionate about it.”

Q. What has surprised you about this work?

A. “When I got to go to Panama, I was surprised by how much I have in common with the students. They’re normal teenagers like me, getting their license. We talked about swimming and celebrations. It was cool to relate to them more than I thought I would be able to.”

Q. What are your longer-term plans?

A. “It’s hard to know, but I’ve taken a big interest in economics. I could use that in an international sense, to continue pursuing some of these social justice issues from an economic perspective.”

For more information about the Mona Foundation, visit monafoundation.org. For the Tahirih Justice Center, go to tahirih.org.