Young people find voice through service in interfaith projects
On a Saturday in November 2018, the San Diego Baha’i Center was filled with the laughter of junior youths from three faith communities as they put the finishing touches on a joint service project for the Ronald McDonald House.
A month later, interfaith youths assembled at the Baha’i Public Meeting room in Columbia, Maryland, to engage in discourse spotlighting the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
What tied together programs held 2,700 miles apart was the eagerness of young people from varied spiritual traditions to help build a livable community.
“Youth oftentimes are viewed as the problems,” say Christine Kennedy and Wanjiku Kagira-Kargbo, who coordinated the Maryland meeting on behalf of the Columbia Baha’i community and the NAACP.
“There is a paradigm shift on a global level. Youth are being invited to sit at the decision-making table and present new ideas to age-old ways of thinking.”
Lisa Patton agrees. As Baha’i representative to and president of the San Diego Inter-religious Council, she worked with representatives of the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to create opportunities for middle-schoolers to serve humanity.
“The primary goal of each project is to create an atmosphere of friendliness and fellowship so that each participant has the opportunity to experience the oneness of mankind through the spirit of service,” says Patton.
“Our hope is that members of diverse faith groups around the community begin to see one another as valuable resources when it comes to serving the place we all call home.”
Gathering stuffed animals that will go into welcome bags for Ronald McDonald House guests was fun, as were the team-building games the junior youths played.
But Patton recalls that for Hannah, a participant, the best part was imagining the looks on the children’s faces as they received the animals and wondering where they came from.
Another participant, Nafis, is looking forward to involving others at his school in such projects. “I believe projects like this should grow to include more people because it helps people make new friends.”
Echoes young Elliot, “I believe that more schools should be involved so that more kids and more families are helped.”
The Maryland event was conducted by the young people themselves, with Baha’i youth Yara Ayache serving as moderator, say Kennedy and Kagira-Kargbo. Adults were present only to observe “as youth explored, presented problems and offered their resolutions.”
Informing the discourse was a review of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The youths also watched the film The History of Human Rights before presenting their perspectives as initiators for positive change in society locally and globally.