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A YOUTH SPIRITUAL EMPOWERMENT PROJECT

A presentation made by Miss Cherish Chee, a Baha’i youth,  during Pure Life Society founder Swami Satyanda’s 2010 Birthday Commemoration Seminar – Making a World of Difference – Hearing Each Other, Working Together A Spiritual Response

Spiritual Principles

A time of Preparation

It is often said that the period of youth is a time of preparation. This is indeed true. Referring to the great changes needed in the world today, the Universal House of Justice writes that “the transformation which is to occur in the functioning of society, will certainly depend to a great extent on the effectiveness of the preparations the youth make for the world they will inherit.” What we should ask, then, is how young people can best prepare themselves for the responsibilities they will inherit.
For any person, her youthful years are those in which she will make many decisions which will set the course of her life. In these years, she is most likely to choose her life’s work, complete her education, begin to earn her own living, marry and start to raise her own family. Most importantly, it is during this period, when her mind is most questing and that the spiritual values that will govern her future behavior are adopted.

Age of Maturity

As a youth, they will be making many important decisions about their lives. Therefore, the years immediately before one matures into an adolescence plays an especially crucial role in determining the kind of decisions one will make. By the time one reaches the age of maturity, many of his patterns of thought and behavior would have been fixed.

“It is extremely difficult to teach an individual and refine his character once puberty is passed. By then, as experience hath shown, even if every effort be exerted to modify some tendency of his, it all availeth nothing. He may, perhaps, improve somewhat today, but let a few days pass and he forgetteth, and turneth backward to his habitual conditionand accostumed ways.” ‘Abdu’l Baha

Introducing the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program

Junior youth is the stage where one transitions from childhood to youth, usually between the ages of 11 to 14. This pe- riod is generally characterised by sudden and rapid change. Physical, intellectual and emotional changes influence be- havior in a number of ways. Junior youth are very inquisitive and have greatly enhanced abilities to look beyond outer appearances. They are very energetic and have a strong legitimate desire to belong to a group of peers.
The Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program is organised around the concept of a junior youth group. The 10 to 15 members of the group would meet together regularly and be guided systematically to discover and learn. They also dis- cuss and analyze themes related to universal spiritual values with a trained animator. The atmosphere of the meetings, while joyous, friendly and intimate, would not be frivolous, and would contribute to the enhancement of those qualities and attitudes that a life of service to humanity require.

In each group, an older person who is a true friend to the junior youth will assist them in the development of their ca- pacities. Those who perform this function are known as animators of junior youth groups. Their presence helps the members of the group to remain hopeful and convinced that they can protect themselves against the negative influences of a disintegrating society. Although serving in this capacity is not the exclusive prerogative of any particular age, older youth tend to make excellent animators as they find it easy to treat junior youth not as children but as equals, and to en- courage them to ask questions, express doubts and engage in the investigation of reality.

Juniour Youths Serving Their Communities

I’d like to share a recent example of an insight shared to me by a 14 year old junior youth:

“After studying this book with the members of my group and the animator, I have a deeper understanding on how human beings are different from animals. I have heard people say that humans are just a smart animal, but I dis- agree. We are illumined with the human spirit and have the power to make conscious choices as well as the ability to reflect on the consequences of our actions.”
Another component of the program are the complementary activities. If the junior youth are to be empowered to take charge of their own development and contribute to the progress of their communities, they need to participate effectively in the formulation and implementation of meaningful activities.

A junior youth group in Brazil decided to invite various professionals from different industries to speak to their group. A gardener provided a practical lesson by assisting the junior youth to prepare a small garden at the school. The artist helped the junior youth create dolls which they then delivered to children in an orphanage. They were especially excited when the biologist visited. He showed them animal specimens and explained different types of plants.

The feedback from the animator was this:
“The effect is fantastic as it expands the vision of the junior youth as to their working options, they gain respect for the professionals and they make plans for the future. Some of the junior youth were especially filled with happiness when they learned that their parents shared the same occupation as the professional speaking.”

Towards the betterment of their neighbourhood

Another component of the program are the service projects junior youth groups engage in. As a group, they discuss and plan to carry out projects that can benefit the neighbourhood or community they live in. This helps reinforce the lessons learned in the junior youth texts.
“It is incumbent upon every man of insight and understanding to strive to translate that which hath been written into reality and action.”  –  Baha’u’llah

Transforming lives around the world

I’d like to end by sharing an account of a youth who has gone through the junior youth program. His spiritual insight proves a maturity far beyond his years.
“The worst thing in the village is caste prejudice. People fight because of caste. It seems to me that we need to change this caste prejudice very urgently. We should live together in unity. Here there is fighting for this reason…For exam- ple, if someone is of a higher caste and you are of a lower caste, the higher caste people will not let you set foot in their house. But I don’t think this way. I think they have come to my house, so they should sit with me, pray with me. As we read in the [junior youth] books we should live in unity so that all prejudices will come to an end. Having studied this book, people will become educated.”

– Varsha from Biharsharif, India

As we reflect on this theme of Making a World of a Difference and ponder on the fact that the future of the world ulti- mately lies in the hands of the young, I leave you with a question – How can you play a part in molding exemplary youth who will inherit the world?

Thank you.

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