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Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Campaign

Office of Social and Economic Development
Bahá’í World Centre

August 2002


‘Abdu’l-Bahá, in The Secret of Divine Civilization, states that knowledge is the key to the progress of civilization. “It is inconceivable that any nation should achieve prosperity and success unless this paramount, this fundamental concern is carried forward.” At the same time, He observes that “the mass of the population is uninformed as to these vital agencies which would constitute an immediate remedy for society’s chronic ills” and that “because of their inadequate schooling, most of the population lack even the vocabulary to explain what they want.”
Bahá’u’lláh Himself emphasizes the power of expression. “Human utterance is an essence which aspireth to exert its influence and needeth moderation.”  And He adds:
Utterance must needs possess penetrating power. For if bereft of this quality it would fail to exert influence. And this penetrating influence dependeth on the spirit being pure and the heart stainless. Likewise it needeth moderation, without which the hearer would be unable to bear it, rather he would manifest opposition from the very outset. And moderation will be obtained by blending utterance with the tokens of divine wisdom which are recorded in the sacred Books and Tablets. Thus when the essence of one’s utterance is endowed with these two requisites it will prove highly effective and will be the prime factor in transforming the souls of men.
Above all other words is the Word of God. It is “the king of words and its pervasive influence is incalculable.” Through the Word of God the Manifestation recreates the human heart and mind and, thereby, sets in motion a process leading to a new civilization. The Universal House of Justice has explained, in a letter to all National Spiritual Assemblies, the importance of endowing each individual with capacity to interact with and respond to the Word of God.
The Holy Word has been extolled by the Prophets of God as the medium of celestial power and the wellspring of all spiritual, social and material progress. Access to it, constant study of it and daily use of it in our individual lives are vital to the inner personal transformation towards which we strive and whose ultimate outer manifestation will be the emergence of that divine civilization which is the promise of the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh.
After analyzing the results of a series of pilot projects, the Office of Social and Economic Development has defined the parameters of a program aimed at the spiritual empowerment of junior youth. The program seeks to endow young people between the ages of 12 and 15 with the capabilities needed to effectively use “the word” as an instrument of their own transformation and the transformation of their society. It is intended not only for Bahá’ís, opening for them the opportunity to read and study the Word of God, but also for junior youth in general, whose engagement with Bahá’í-inspired themes will enable them to contribute more effectively to the progress of their communities, their nations, and the world.
The present document outlines the parameters of the program, which, it is envisioned, will take different forms according to the reality of the country where it is implemented. It is the hope of the Office of Social and Economic Development that, as the program is established in country after country, a global campaign for the spiritual empowerment of junior youth, on whom the future so intimately depends, will emerge.

Background for a Campaign for Junior Youth

The proposed campaign for junior youth is shaped by two interrelated experiences. The first is the experience that was gained from large-scale expansion in the Bahá’í world over more than three decades. From among the segments of any given population that embraced the Faith, invariably the junior youth responded with a high degree of energy and enthusiasm to consolidation activities. “Strategies to advance the process of entry by troops cannot ignore children and junior youth,” the Universal House of Justice explained in a message dated  26 November 1999, “if the victories won in one generation are not to be lost with the passage of time. It is imperative, then, that at this point in the process of systematization of the teaching work, definite steps be taken to ensure that the vision of the community fully embraces its younger members.” Similarly, in the Ridván 2000 message the House of Justice singles out this group for particular attention:
Among the young ones in the community are those known as junior youth, who fall between the ages of, say, 12 and 15. They represent a special group with special needs as they are somewhat in between childhood and youth when many changes are occurring within them. Creative attention must be devoted to involving them in programs of activity that will engage their interests, mold their capacities for teaching and service, and involve them in social interaction with older youth.
The second body of experience that shaped the idea for a campaign comes from efforts to promote literacy in the Bahá’í world. In July 1989, the Universal House of Justice wrote to all National Spiritual Assemblies emphasizing the importance of every believer having access to the Holy Word. Reading provides “the most immediate access to the dynamic influence of the sacred Word” and is, therefore, “a fundamental right and privilege of every human being.”  The House of Justice cited the example of the Iranian Bahá’í community, which, with no outside aid, created a multifaceted approach to education that resulted in a literate Bahá’í community, and called upon all national communities to take purposeful steps toward this same goal. “Systematic attention”, the House of Justice explained, needs to be given “to eventually eliminating illiteracy from the Bahá’í community.”
National communities responded to this call in a variety of ways.  Recognizing that promoting literacy is a complex social process that requires sustained action over a considerable period of time, the Office of Social and Economic Development embarked on an endeavor to systematize the experience of these countries. The first step was the establishment of three pilot literacy projects in 1994, and four more in 1996. In February 1996, and again in November 1997, representatives from the projects gathered at the Bahá’í World Centre, together with a number of other interested persons and professionals in the field, to consult on their accomplishments. It was clear that some of the pilot efforts had achieved impressive results. What was most striking, however, was that, here again, junior youth had responded with a much higher level of enthusiasm than any other segment of the populations served.
The insights that emerged from these two experiences convinced the Office of Social and Economic Development that a campaign could be launched to reach on a global scale young people between the ages of 12 and 15. The analysis of successful approaches and methods in the field confirmed its conviction that literacy programs need to be designed in the broader context of enhancing the power of expression. Accordingly, it began to outline the components of a program for that purpose aimed at junior youth, which would allow the learning that had accumulated thus far to be rapidly diffused throughout the Bahá’í world. A few national communities, well positioned to take up the challenge, were asked to apply the program’s elements in their countries, which served to clarify further its nature and parameters. These efforts constitute the initials stages of a campaign which will gather momentum each year as additional countries are invited to join the enterprise, spreading the program to new areas and embracing first thousands and eventually hundreds of thousands of young people.
It is important to underscore here that the campaign has not been designed as an instrument for teaching the Faith. Nor is the junior youth spiritual empowerment program intended to replace the classes that are conducted in every Bahá’í community for the Bahá’í education of the members of this age group. The campaign is, rather, an endeavor of the worldwide Bahá’í community in the field of social and economic development, the purpose of which is to equip young people with the words and a way of thinking that will enable them to engage in meaningful social action as they grow. Undoubtedly, many of those transformed by the program will be attracted to Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings, and therefore opportunities should be provided for the junior youth to learn more about the Faith, if they choose. Additional information on the relationship between teaching the Faith and social and economic development can be found in the November 1999 document “A Clarification of Some Issues Concerning Social and Economic Development in Local and National Communities”, prepared by the Office of Social and Economic Development.

General Parameters of the Program

What is described in the paragraphs below are the general parameters of a program for the spiritual empowerment of junior youth. When implemented in a given country, the program will assume a shape, and take on characteristics, suitable to the culture and local circumstances. In some, for instance, efforts will need to begin on a small scale and grow gradually and systematically over time. In others the institutional capacity will exist to reach thousands at the outset. Some will want to focus exclusively on the study of materials, while others will find it more effective to incorporate a range of extracurricular activities in promotion of the arts and community service. In some, the program will extend throughout the year. In others, the circumstances of life will necessitate that it be offered in a concentrated period of several weeks once a year. Viewed from a global perspective, these diverse national endeavors will contribute to a campaign that is organic, proceeding at different rates in different places, that is sometimes a bit chaotic, but that is ever-advancing, driven by a worldwide process of learning.

Program Content

Experience in the field of literacy amply demonstrates that to successfully impart the various skills related to the power of expression— reading, writing, speech— program content must be rich and meaningful. Empty passages, such as “The dog walks on the road,” bring little result. Students, whether adults or youth, respond best when themes and words have relevance to their lives, motivate them, and elicit their effective participation. In the case of junior youth, a Bahá’í-inspired program can go far in raising their consciousness to higher levels, awaking and strengthening in them the will to take charge of their own development and contribute to the progress of their communities. The materials to be used in the campaign, then, must strive to incorporate spiritual and moral themes that promote such a process of transformation. Further, the texts should include not only readings, but also exercises that address language skills, critical analysis and higher thought processes, moral values, and social action.
What is being suggested is that national communities joining the campaign think of a program in terms of three levels and choose a set of core materials accordingly. The three levels would correspond roughly to the ages of 11 to 12, 12 to 13, and 13 to 14. Ideally, junior youth would enter the program at the age of 11 or 12 and progressively move through the levels year after year, completing it as they approach the age of 15, by which time, in one way or another, many of the patterns of thought that will characterize their endeavors throughout their lives will have been fixed. It is hoped that the program will have given them the first elements of a conceptual framework that will guide their future actions and enable them to play a fulfilling role in the life of humanity.
Clearly, then, the selection of the core texts will be of paramount importance to the program’s success. Certain points should be borne in mind about the nature of this age group, if suitable materials are to be chosen and developed for each level. First and foremost, it should be remembered that junior youth are not children, as is evident from the previously quoted passage from the message of the Universal House of Justice. In many parts of the world, young people of this age will have already had weighty and demanding responsibilities thrust upon them. They have had their share of hardships and have acquired the ability to think deeply about issues, even though their thought processes may not be structured. When properly challenged, they have strong powers of concentration. It would be a mistake to think that they are satisfied with simply “having fun” or, worse, that serious matters need to be dressed up in the guise of games in order to arouse their interest. This is not to say that the texts would not be studied in an atmosphere of joy and happiness.
The materials chosen for all three levels should be concerned with developing the capabilities of reading with good comprehension and expressing thoughts with clarity and eloquence. In addition, it is necessary to address at each level the broader question of the need for words to be accompanied by pure deeds. It is assumed that the young people entering the program will possess some reading skills (the mechanics of reading and writing are discussed below). The materials selected for Level I ought to contain readings and exercises that further these basic skills, helping the students to reach the point where they can read with ease and begin to articulate ideas with some precision. While, out of necessity, the materials for this level will have to maintain a certain degree of simplicity, the tendency to confuse simplicity with superficiality should be avoided. It is envisioned, rather, that the themes of the readings would set the basis for the moral structures of the youth by cultivating certain attitudes and imparting essential moral concepts.
For Level II, a range of texts needs to be selected that systematically builds on the foundation laid in the first level, both in terms of language proficiency and moral thought and action. In Level III the capabilities of reading with good comprehension and expressing thoughts with clarity and eloquence should be developed further and the discussion of moral reasoning broadened, making explicit some of the salient features of the conceptual framework the youth must gradually elaborate over the years to interact effectively with society.
Examples of texts for all three levels are included in the appendix. These will give an indication of the kind of materials that can be used in the program. Some national communities may wish to adopt these as their core texts so that they can begin without delay, but clearly they should not limit themselves to these items. Many materials will be needed at each level in order to create a rich educational environment, and it is hoped that, as the program takes root in country after country, a wide selection of Bahá’í-inspired materials for junior youth will become available.
In addition to the study of the core texts, the opportunity should be given to the junior youth to practice their newfound skills. There are numerous stories and newspaper and magazine articles that will capture their interest, and the program should make generous use  of these. There is also ample room for the development of other supplementary materials, designed specifically for the youth participating in the program, for example, a weekly or monthly news bulletin or comic books that tell uplifting stories. Special events in which the youth from an entire area or region come together to recite poetry, give talks, and sing songs can be organized as well.
In many countries, a fundamental question regarding language will have to be addressed at the outset. It is not uncommon for two languages to be widely spoken by a given population:  a tribal language or local dialect in which daily conversation occurs and the national language, usually the medium used in schools and in which reading materials are available. A decision will need to be made as to which language to use in the junior youth program. In some cases, the national language will be the obvious choice, while in others it may be necessary to work in the local language. Where the decision is not clear, various factors should be weighed. Materials presented in the local language may help to strengthen the connection between the young people and their community and culture. On the other hand, learning to read in one’s national language opens the door to a wider body of knowledge that is the heritage of the human race. This is particularly true in the case of the Word of God at the present time when the range of Sacred Texts translated into local languages is so limited. One possibility would be for the students to begin with materials in the local language and to make a transition to the national language at a suitable point in the program.

Mechanics of Reading and Writing

It is recognized that in some countries the educational system is weak and that, as a result, youth of this age group are not well grounded in the mechanics of reading and writing. In that case, provisions will have to be made to teach them the basic skills they will require for the successful study of the core texts. Many packages are available for this purpose, some prepared nationally and others designed by international organizations. Care should be exercised, however, that the materials chosen do not incorporate messages that are in conflict with Bahá’í principles. It is also possible, of course, to develop Bahá’í-inspired materials for teaching the mechanics of reading and writing. Several attempts to produce such materials have been made, and two examples are provided in the appendix which take different approaches.
It should be noted that the content and structure of materials to teach basic literacy will vary significantly depending on the language. For example, English is usually taught using phonics or the whole-word recognition method, or some combination of the two. Spanish, and many other languages, lend themselves to instruction that concentrates on syllables. It may not be possible, therefore, simply to translate existing materials for reading mechanics from other countries. In fact there are various methods employed around the world, and any one of them could serve the needs of the program. Most studies indicate that more important than the specific method is the motivation of the students to learn.

The Delivery of Courses

Institutes everywhere face the challenge of providing suitable educational programs for junior youth. So eager are they to learn and take part in study circles that it is impossible to keep them from joining the older members of their communities in the study of the institute’s main sequence of courses. While some do well, most have not yet reached a level of maturity required to fully benefit from the courses. And experience shows that years later, when they have grown, many are not interested in restudying materials they have already seen so they miss the opportunity of gaining a more in-depth understanding of the subjects and sharpening their skills and abilities for service. One of the possible ways in which the junior youth spiritual empowerment program can be implemented, then, is in response to this challenge.
In this approach to the delivery of courses, the program would be offered in study circles by tutors trained by the national or regional institute. Such study circles would develop their own dynamics suitable for junior youth. Activities that complement the study of the core text would need to be carefully organized, drawing on appropriate pedagogical methods to maintain the interest and canalize the energies of these young people. It is envisioned that the training required by a tutor to work effectively with this age group would constitute the first course on a specialized branch in the institute’s curriculum. The materials employed in tutor training would gradually need to be developed over time through a process of consultation, action, and reflection on action.
However, the junior youth program need not be limited in use to study circles, regularly held throughout the year. Experience suggests that there are other ways in which courses could be delivered, whether by the institute, a national committee, or a Bahá’í-inspired agency operating in the country. One approach would be to offer the courses during a span of six to eight weeks of intensive study during the school holidays. Every year volunteer tutors would participate in a special training session prior to the launch of the endeavor. They would then be deployed with the aim of forming small study groups in villages and towns throughout the region or country. Just as the program is intended for all youth, whether members of the Bahá’í community or not, so too could the tutors be drawn from the wider community in order to ensure adequate coverage and to reach large numbers. Depending on the circumstances, the volunteer tutors could be asked to live in the villages where they are working, spend a few hours every day helping the junior youth to complete one level of study, and devote the rest of their time to carrying out other activities with the youth and serving the local community. In that case, they would be able to establish a special relationship with their students and return the following year to take the groups through the next level of study.
It should be mentioned that the two approaches described above are not mutually exclusive. Some national communities may find it useful to offer the program in the setting of study circles all year round, as well as through intensive periods of study. Of course, when efforts begin in any given national community, the initial groups may contain students of various ages, but eventually the time will come when the youth can be separated into the three age groups mentioned earlier. Another approach, entirely different, would be to introduce the program into the formal educational system of the country. Here again, the key to success would be to provide proper training to the teachers. No doubt as the program spreads to more and more countries and the global campaign unfolds, other approaches for the delivery of courses will emerge.

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