October 29, 2011

'..to be just we have to give..'

i realized recently that the group of kids who come for tutoring do not know these basic facts:
  • how many days and months are in a year
  • how many seconds are in a minute
  • how many minutes are in an hour
  • how the earth revolves around the sun or the moon around the earth
when i contemplate how many millions of poor children in the world who are like this group of children, completely unaware or ignorant of so many essential facts and reference points for living in this world, it makes all of the articles, essays, blogs and commentaries about the importance of education by those of us who have had advantage, privilege, opportunities and wealth seem in vain.  let's stop spending all of our time on statistics and discourses and get out there in the neighborhoods actually helping kids, committing to even one child until that child is educated well.
there are always a few children in the group who are especially downtrodden.  it takes a while before the layers are peeled away and i can discern more of what is going on at home.  immediately, though, i know that some children have very little parental influence in their lives.  they almost always have no father living at home and an overworked, underpaid mother who is struggling to survive.  this usually results in a lack of affection and encouragement.  somehow these kids get through life and school, relying heavily on their friendships as an anchor in their lives.

as heavy as my heart is sometimes, i seem to have endless energy to do something, somehow, someway, to improve these children's lives.  at the fundamental level they need love.  love for me is shown through constant affection, encouragement, literacy and practical assistance.  as Baha'u'llah proclaims, "The betterment of the world can be accomplished through pure and goodly deeds, through commendable and seemly conduct." 

as i help them, they help me grow as well toward this lofty ideal.

October 21, 2011

Birth of the Bab celebration

the House of the Bab in Shiraz, Iran
yesterday we celebrated and honored the Birth of the Bab at our home.  a group of youth and young adults were the only ones able to attend.  we began with Dyami reading a summary about the station of the Bab and what He was like as a child.  we sang a few prayers revealed by the Bab and then stood, facing the Qiblih, for the Tablet of Visitation.  when seated, the youth started singing their favorite songs while 2 of the young adults drummed some cool rhythms to them.  Ayana then shared the story of the Bab when the plague broke out without pausing, saying 'um' or making any mistakes -- she exemplified eloquent speech. :)  it was all simply sweet, uplifting and joyful.

it was now time for the game.  we made up a 'jeopardy' style game with 35 questions about the Dispensation of the Bab.  ayana was the emcee and had the answers.  the 2 teams had to choose a category and a number from 1-5 on the chart, not knowing what question was associated with the number.  i left the room most of the time to prepare refreshments but i could hear the fun the two teams were having as they competed against each other.  by the end of the game everyone was interacting, laughing and enjoying their time together.  it was just as we'd hoped it would be.  afterwards we sang O Lord, my God together and then went outside for a fun water balloon toss. :)

October 18, 2011

tutoring sessions

the last 2 days of tutoring have marked a significant advancement.  yesterday emil and his sisters, magdelene and martha, came, as well as abu's sister, elizabeth.  all 4 of them are between the ages 9-12 but they still desire to be tutored.  the little 7-8 year old boys have spread the word. i explained to them that i can't manage any more than the 8 of them because it's challenging to keep them all focused and engaged at their level, and we only have 8 dining chairs.

yesterday was chaotic; today was full of order.  i wrote sentences which they could read well enough -- they were focused on rules and spiritual qualities for how to behave.  one sentence was 'You are a noble human being'.  another was 'Use your mind to think'.  we discussed each of them and they all agree with them or to abide by them (like 'Be on time or you will not be let in').

today i also prepared dinner fully so i wouldn't have anything to do when the kids left (like make a salad).  i also put the timer on so 15 minutes before they were leaving i put the flame on to heat up the rice and stew.  this was very helpful!  i also insisted that they leave on time at 5:30, putting it in terms of honoring my family and dinner time (especially since i request that ayana, dyami and domani stay upstairs during that hour).

what makes tutoring so enjoyable now (though i must admit that every session has been truly lovely) is that the kids are comfortable to participate, ask a question about some word or concept they don't know, and follow a high standard of conduct that i've expected of them.  today i mentioned to them that we should have a spelling contest in a few months.  they are all interested.  they like the idea, too, of them being able to read in a few months.  i told them my focus is teaching them how to read but that we can integrate math into the tutoring as well.

it took quite a while to get to know the kids, furnish our home, let things settle down with the owner, create a workable schedule for weekday afternoons, and lay a foundation for cleanliness and good manners..but now that i look back on it, i realize how necessary each day of waiting was for this to be happening now as smoothly as it is.  praise be to God!

October 16, 2011

decision to make a change

a week ago a group of jr. youth met in our home to form a jr. youth group.  there were 8 of them.  2 had to leave early but the rest wanted to stay and talk.  we consulted and changed the day of the week to fridays from 4-6pm because sundays were not the best day for everyone.  since it was changed to a friday afternoon, i could no longer offer the 8-10 year olds a children's class at that time (the other days of the week are full, 3 of which are set aside to tutor them in reading).

so friday i organized our home and set up materials to use for demonstrations; i chose some games to play as icebreakers and asked our boys to go upstairs before 4pm so our home would be ready for the group to begin downstairs in our living room.  4pm turned quickly into 4:30 before i started to wonder if they were all going to be late and only have an hour here before our family would need to ask them to leave at 6pm.  by 5pm a group of the boys that come for tutoring had come by to see if they could play with dyami and domani.  i invited them to play soccer on the grass but told them they would have to leave once the jr. youth came -- as i was still hopeful they would be coming.

by 5:30 dashiel arrived home and no one had come.  after sitting on the bench talking with the kids on our front patio for about 15 minutes, it was time to say goodbye, come inside (avoiding the inevitable mosquito bites that occur that time of day) and prepare dinner.  we invited the kids to come by on saturday to play soccer with us after lunch..

this was the moment of putting those spiritual powers into practice -- being detached, understanding and ready to persevere.  i didn't feel sad or upset.  i felt calm and curious.  i know all of these jr. youth well enough now (most of them since july) to know that they are genuinely interested in joining this group.  i kept wondering why they didn't come as i prepared dinner.  while we were eating the guard knocked at the door announcing that one of them was at the gate.  we declined letting whoever it was inside at that time.  we had begun 'family friday' and thought it best to wait before finding out who it was.  i was sure this was just a moment to let pass and let time reveal what forces are at work in this process of trying to bring many young souls together for a great undertaking.

saturday morning our family was just hanging out so we called out our window to gideon, the 9 year old who is our closest little friend, inviting him over to play with dyami and domani inside while dashiel was writing and ayana was working on a school project with a friend.  gideon came over to play and soon there was another knock at the door.  it was emil, one of the jr. youth who didn't show on friday.  i sat outside on the bench with him and asked him why he didn't come on friday.  he was the one that came after 6pm on friday. he explained how he stayed at school playing games.  it was such a pure-hearted answer, not complicated or dishonest.  he said that he still wants us to form a group and asked if he could finish reading the book that he started during the week (when i was tutoring the younger kids).  he came inside to read a story about the chinese king who tests the purity and honesty of the children's hearts.  [our home has become a little library.  sometimes we lend one out, but for the most part we keep them here.  it's really unfair and unfortunate how deprived the typical african child is of basic story books.  ghana is much worse off than south africa.  it's the upper class who send their children to good, private schools to have an opportunity to advance onto university.  the masses attend public school which are incredibly inadequate.. apparently they have deteriorated drastically over the past 10 years or so as this new generation of wealthy ghanaians have begun to send their children to international schools..]

saturday afternoons are a time of neighborhood children's classes and jr. youth groups at the local Baha'i's home.  i had planned on bringing all of our new friends who were interested in attending for their first time.  before it started, i was hanging out on the grassy field across the dirt road from the Baha'i's home while the kids played soccer.  in addition to emil, evelyn had now come to join us for the neighborhood classes -- she explained that she had to cook that afternoon.  she is still interested as well.. 

saturday was my first time seeing how the classes are held nearby.  i came to observe how the local Baha'is have been conducting classes for 40-60 children and jr. youth for 8 years now.  up to that point i had only 1 official children's class with the kids who live around us.  i haven't been sure when to schedule it for 3 reasons:  saturdays aren't good because one of the children goes to church all day; sunday mornings some of them come to the local Devotions at one of the Baha'is home; and now friday afternoons are scheduled for the jr. youth group.  in addition, the Assembly has asked me to support a teacher for a new children's class that is supposed to begin in the near future -- when it is set, i will most likely need to merge my class into that one and no longer have it in our home because it will be in a neighborhood that's been identified as receptive to having a children's class.

all of these factors lead me to this morning's decision.  i have been supporting the local Devotions each sunday morning.  after the prayers and singing, the adults deepen and the children go to the 'Baha'i children's class'.  for more than a month the kids we know well now have also been coming with us.  as long as i've been coming, there has never been a teacher for this class -- i was compelled to serve as a teacher for this small group of children of varying ages.  the entire experience has been very difficult.  i do it out of my love for Baha'u'llah and for the children whose souls are always in need of spiritual training and instruction..

but today it entered my heart that i'd like to have Devotions in our home and then offer a small children's class to the 3 who come regularly with us, as well as for dyami and domani.  i consulted with dash about it and he loved the idea.  our family has a very child-centered and musical focus when it comes to Devotions, and we have missed that energy that we experienced in South Africa.  this idea came as a result of attending yesterday's classes in the neighborhood.  i witnessed a lot of bad behavior and a lack of order.  it was missing the spiritual atmosphere.  i struggled with having any negative thoughts and feelings as i'm very conscious about being humble, patient, understanding, etc.  but ever since i moved here i have felt unable to arise as an individual and be used to serve the Cause of Baha'u'llah in a way that will channel my energy and capacity.  i have committed myself to other people's activities and supported them where they needed assistance.  in that way i felt stuck, like the foreigner who is out of place, who doesn't fit the mold, who is uncomfortable in many ways, and who can't seem to receive the support i need to move forward with any suggestions or changes that i feel are necessary to greater progress.

so i set up our home for Devotions.  i asked the children if they would like to go to the local Devotions or stay at our home.  when they arrived, they brought 2 jr. youth, one of whom was emil.  there were now 5 of them!  it was immediately a sign that the more i hang in there (instead of getting down that nothing worked on friday for ex.), the more i realize how essential it is to be patient at all times and under all conditions.  all of them wanted to stay.  we shared a most spirited Devotions with them, with drumming, singing and even a little marching around the room. :)  2 of the children offered Baha'i prayers from memory.  it was sweet and perfect.  they were reverent and joyful.  it was a great beginning to experiencing a Devotions that our children cherish and never want to miss.  we realize that if our children love it, then others will love it.  this is what we experienced in south africa from so many of the kids in delft.  Devotions was truly uplifting and a ladder for the soul to ascend nearer to God.

what was most special and significant about the decision to hold the activities in our home today is that the class set the stage for a high standard of conduct, for putting into practice the manners and attitude necessary to gain all that is possible from the Message of Baha'u'llah.  the participation of all of them was surprisingly fully engaged and animated, thoughtful and with effort to learn.  midway through, while playing the virtues bingo game, the jr. youth girl i saw yesterday came with a friend to join the class!  we explained the spirit of what a Baha'i class is about and now they are part of the beauty of it as well.  by the end of class, everyone was happy to clean up before closing with learning how to sing, 'So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.' Baha'u'llah

i finally felt content, grateful to serve Baha'u'llah to my fullest ability, to connect soul to soul with everyone in the class, and feel confirmed in the process.  i will need to explain to the local friends why i will no longer be supporting sunday morning Devotions.  it will not be easy for me because i am loyal to supporting and very devoted to community building.  yet i realize for myself that individual initiative creates an opportunity to spread that sense of community building and release the spirit of servitude in a way that perhaps could not be done by merely assisting something that already exists.  i stretched my spiritual wings today and felt like they were upheld by the breezes of confirmation. :)

October 07, 2011

..but a tiny seed

i love this little garden.  initially it required a lot of care and patience to prepare it for the seeds.  when we started working on the plot of land, we needed to pull up grass and remove many rocks.  it was full of concrete pieces leftover from the construction of the water container foundation that was built adjacent to it.  the main activity of preparing the soil was taking food scraps from the kitchen and burrying it in the soil.  the kids enjoyed the burrying part the most. :)  i would later mix it up thoroughly, trying to spread it out while constantly removing concrete pieces and more rocks.  it took a lot of work to till the soil and continue working with it until it was ready to plant the seeds.

we had been saving local seeds: tomato, peppers, beans, watermelon & cucumber.  we chose a sprouted potato, too.  after the seeds were planted and the soil was bare, the kids wondered what was happening and how long it would take to see signs of their growth.  this required such patience.  we continued to water the soil, trusting that this was helping give 'birth' to the seedlings.  once they appeared through the soil we were happy and hopeful that this soil would support the growth of more plants.
  
i now wanted to try a little sheet mulching and plant some pea pods above it.  i dug out the soil, put lots of food scraps, covered them with some layers of cardboard, and then replaced the soil over that.  it's not the ultimate way to sheet mulch, but i still like the idea of it decomposing and gradually lending to rich, organic soil.  after the seedlings were growing, i chose another little area of the garden to sheet mulch as well.  i'm already looking forward to when this harvest is finished so we can retill the soil and cover all of the areas with sheet mulching.

the other day was the moment for which the kids had been waiting!  the bean pods were ready to be harvested -- they were jumping with excitement to show me, taking pride in all of the watering and care they had shown the plants in order to bring forth this 'fruit'.  i was so happy for them.  we cooked them that evening but the outer skin was very fibrous so we popped the beans in our mouths and enjoyed them on their own.  without mentioning anything about organic food, i felt in my heart while eating them that this food has the best nutrients and energy because it was grown here..and with that invisible component: love.

the kids in the neighborhood used to water the seedlings until school began.  now that the tutoring is underway and children's classes are beginning, i'll naturally incorporate growing seeds into the activities and lessons.  it is the perfect analogy for life.  we begin as tiny 'seeds'.  we require a lot of care and patience and proper nourishment.  we undergo tests or forces which challenge our development, all of which make us stronger ultimately.  and then we mature and bear forth fruits -- though for us the fruits of life are our children, acquired faith and knowledge, and deeds of servitude to the human race.  i've always enjoyed singing the kids' version of the prayer-song: "I am, O my God, but a tiny seed, which Thou hast sown in the soil of Thy love, and caused to spring forth by the hands of Thy bounty.."  i am constantly striving to educate children to see each other as little plants. :)