Math, Persian language, art, science and theology teacher Soraya Motaharnia has been hailed in her native Iran for funding students in need of medical treatment and multiple special surgical procedures, and providing financial assistance to hundreds of indigent students. She says three major forces have pushed her forward throughout her life: studying, taking care of the weak, and the desire to play a role in promoting her society. As soon as she graduated from university she was assigned a teaching post at a remote village in the deprived province of Sanandaj, capital of Kurdistan Province. Here she was moved by the plight of a young girl with facial scarring from a housefire and a young boy with complex ankle injuries that prevented him walking. These were the first youngsters she took under her wing and paid for medical treatment their parents could not afford. She paid for the education of another young girl, persuading her parents not to push her into an early arranged marriage.
Her own parents’ encouragement motivated her to establish a charity, helping 1,100 students who had medical and educational problems, and providing jobs for women with marriage difficulties and divorce. Her caring crusade has extended to collecting money for earthquake victims in Kermanshah province and flood-stricken people in Lorestan province.
After for a short time at that first village assignment, she realized students suffered from several problems including a dilapidated school and lack of facilities, severe educational weaknesses, a high drop-out rate because of poverty and early arranged marriages, illness and malnutrition. Soraya’s job was not just teaching, sometimes she had to act as school principal and even classroom cleaner. Involving the villagers and education officials she was able to turn her dilapidated school building into a high quality and modern facility. She researched new teaching methods, constantly updating her teaching knowledge and techniques. Even with two children of her own to look after, she continued her educational and community building efforts, throwing open her own home in summer to hold classes for her students.
Teaching in other remote and deprived locations around Iran she has developed innovative teaching methods including dictation tips to improve the writing ability of students, combining subjects such as maths and physical exercise to improve student participation and motivation, teaching science through fun activities, encouraging her students to paint from nature in her art classes and other forms of game-centred teaching, brainstorming and personal lesson plans based on individual student needs. Using Internet resources she has created animation, motion graphics and amusing educational videos for students, arranged camping trips to visit historic cities, along with museums and science centres to help students understand the outside world.
The result of these efforts over nearly 30 years have been seen in her students’ educational achievements, many of them going on to specialized jobs and careers after college graduation. She believes her biggest achievement was decreasing the number of school dropouts to near zero. A string of awards, including being declared the best teacher in Iran for two consecutive years, have followed the acclaim for all her efforts.