…we are delighted that so many of you are already engaged in service by conducting community-building activities, as well as by organizing, coordinating, or otherwise administering the efforts of others; in all of these endeavours you are taking an increasing level of responsibility upon your shoulders. Not surprisingly, it is your age group that is gaining the most experience at aiding junior youth, and children too, with their moral and spiritual development, fostering in them capacity for collective service and true friendship. After all, aware of the world which these young souls will need to navigate, with its pitfalls and also its opportunities, you readily appreciate the importance of spiritual strengthening and preparation. Conscious, as you are, that Bahá’u’lláh came to transform both the inner life and external conditions of humanity, you are assisting those younger than yourselves to refine their characters and prepare to assume responsibility for the well-being of their communities. As they enter adolescence, you are helping them to enhance their power of expression, as well as enabling a strong moral sensibility to take root within them. In so doing, your own sense of purpose is becoming more clearly defined as you heed Bahá’u’lláh’s injunction: “Let deeds, not words, be your adorning.”
The Universal House of Justice, 1 July 2013 to the participants in the 114 youth conferences worldwide
July 13, 2013: Due to some logistical problems—our usual host and some of the children were away, we couldn’t get rides for the rest—we decided to do something a little different. We brought gloves and bags, gathered up the children we found in the neighbourhood, and picked up garbage around the apartment building where we hold classes. They were so excited. “I’ve never picked up trash before!” one of them exclaimed. They did a great job of it, each one of them going out of their way to fill up their bags before tossing them into the bins nearby. All the while we talked about keeping our shared spaces clean, taking care of our planet, and above all, the importance of service, noting how wonderful people would feel when they see that the neighbourhood is clean and garbage-free.
After the cleanup was done (and we dunked our bags in the garbage bin, NBA style) we surprised the children by taking them to the local corner store for popsicles. I don’t even have to say how excited they were—you can guess. It was only fair though, seeing as the weather was getting close to 30 degrees Celsius (86 F). The best part? As we were walking back to their apartment building, we pointed out to them how excited they were to pick up trash, without even knowing that they would be getting popsicles at the end—that they had shown enthusiasm for service, regardless of rewards. We asked them, would they consider picking up trash again, even without the popsicles? “Yes,” they answered in unison.
Gems, gems, everywhere, sparkling and bright. What a joy it is to help uncover them.
July 6, 2013: 3 children, aged 6–10. Our third class on the topic of being a true friend. Summer is a very busy time for our children, who seem to have a packed schedule of extracurricular activities this season. The big thing this week was a football (soccer) tournament, which sucked up about half of our class right off the bat, leaving us with our two girls and the six-year-old younger brother who’s been coming for the past few weeks. This week he was visibly more agitated, maybe because his brother and older cousins—who he was visibly attached to and looked up to—were gone, and he was stuck with the girls. He got through the prayers with some difficulty, restlessly moving around in his chair and muttering. We began introducing the day’s activity, in which the children would practice telling the story of the prisoners in the Siyáh-Chál on their own. Unfortunately, his patience didn’t last very long, and despite our entreaties, he got up and left, going back home (his home was in the next building over). We haven’t had many younger children showing up for class in recent months, so the whole issue of age gaps hasn’t come up as much as it once did. I’m left pondering now, though, whether it might be time to start up a new class to welcome the younger generation with a more age-appropriate curriculum.
In any case, the two girls remained and practiced the story, committing its key elements to memory with the help of the visual cue cards we had prepared. One of the girls—a ten-year-old, our resident actress—delivered the story quite well, and the younger one, an eight-year-old, also gave a good overview, albeit with a little more difficulty. I’m always reminded of the guidance given in Book 3, which states that each child has his or her own potential that needs to be discovered, developed, and put to good use—whether it’s skill in acting and eloquent storytelling, or in enthusiasm and leadership. Ours is the duty to help mine and polish these gems present in their character.
As summer arrives here in the Northern hemisphere, the time is ripe for reflection on another season of our neighbourhood children’s class. While we definitely can’t say we’ve achieved some of our most cherished goals—like establishing new classes to accommodate cousins and friends with different schedules—we’ve made other kinds of progress in our path of service. Our core participants, all cousins and siblings, are well engaged with the class and seem to be scaling the language barrier with more confidence and ease than before. Although our vocabulary builders made an impact in that respect, two other decisions we made seem to have made more of a difference: choosing shorter, simpler quotes to account for the children’s reading level, and increasing the number of times we repeat each lesson (from two times in a row to three or four). Focusing on getting the children to practice prayers inside and outside class has also made a big difference in the children’s engagement. We’re starting to think of doing something like the prayer books we’ve made in the past, so that the children would have something that they could take home to help them study their prayers on their own—not a bad idea to help kick off a new school year in September.
We’ve worked a lot on our functioning as a neighbourhood teaching team this season, too: there’s a core of three of us passing the duties of junior youth animator and children’s class teacher back and forth between us, accommodating vacations and other scheduled absences without sacrificing the regularity of the class. The result is that we’ve barely missed a class in the past six months, except that one time when we all ended up sick on the same weekend. That’s a pretty good record for a neighbourhood children’s class, and it’s all because we have a dedicated teaching team. Acting together as a team really makes us stronger than we could be on our own, and keeps us from feeling too much discouragement as we persevere along our path of service—as I sometimes did when I was teaching alone.
Now that it’s summertime, we’re expecting to have more time to regroup and reflect on next steps. One of those steps will probably be to expand the team, since at least one of us (my wife) will be giving birth to a baby boy in the fall and will probably be less available. Engaging neighbourhood youth, including some of the older siblings and cousins of the children in our class, will be a priority, especially considering the focus on youth in the latest guidance from the Universal House of Justice. We’ve already asked one youth to help out with activities during the summer and floated the idea to others; beyond that, there are many more eager youth out there who we need to follow up with. Lots of home visits will be in order, as we reconnect with families who’ve dropped off our so-called radar and renew the ties of friendship and fellowship with them. As always, watch this space!
Speaking of watching this space, you may have noticed a change in the layout and design of our website; welcome to the long awaited “version 2.0”! If you’re reading this via email, then please take a moment to check out the new look and let us know what you think in the comments. Our hope is that it’ll be easier for you to find what you’re looking for, whether it be lesson plans, activities, downloadables or insights and experience.