Two years ago, a few friends started a class on a straw mat in a park. The children who joined didn’t come to study typical subjects like math or science. Instead, they started learning how to think about spiritual principles like love, generosity and patience and apply them to their daily lives.
Around the world, Baha’is and their friends are teaching classes like these, open to children of all backgrounds. The classes consist of groups of friends who often meet in parks like the one at St. Jamestown’s, in each other’s homes, or in community centres. The teachers of this class have changed occasionally, and some kids move away or join swimming lessons, but recently 13 children were participating. The teachers hope to increase that number.
Songs, colouring and cooperative games complement quotations and stories that help the children understand the application of the concepts they are exploring. Quotations from the Baha’i writings illustrate qualities like justice, truthfulness and love. Stories draw on examples from the life of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, the son and appointed successor of Baha’u’llah, who Baha’is consider to have perfectly embodied the teachings of their faith.
Hearing these stories helps the children envision what those qualities would look like in their own lives. Vahid, one of the teachers, said one of the moments he remembers best happened while walking two children home after class. One was upset at someone, so the other girl reminded her of ‘Abdu’l-Baha and encouraged her to forgive and forget like he would do.
The experiences in the class have inspired the children to take on several acts of service in the St. Jamestown community. Last July, in just under two hours they raised $110 towards relief efforts in Haiti and the charity Covenant House from a bake sale in front of the neighbourhood grocery store. Currently, they are planning a food drive. For the past two summers, they have held a picnic for parents to make presentations and sing some of the songs they are learning.
In April 2010, another group, this one with adults, started with the goal of bringing together diverse community members on equal footing to explore the application of the Baha’i teachings to their lives and the betterment of the community as a whole. The sequence of courses they are using, which is also implemented worldwide, functions as a preparation for acts of service like the children’s class. For more information on this sequence of courses, please visit The Ruhi Institute website.
Vahid, who serves as a facilitator for the group, said that his experience with the children’s classes gave him practical insights to share with the other participants. One of the members of the group now wants to serve by helping with the class. Together, these activities in the neighbourhood are driving a community building process that promotes a way of thinking, studying, and acting in which all people consider themselves as treading a common path of service.