Slavery & Nobility – Slavernij & Nobelheid

Having lived in Mali (West Africa) for a few years, any news stories from that region have my automatic attention. And today I felt very proud of a courageaous 24-year-old woman, Hadijatoy Mani, from Niger. She took her own government to court for failing to protect her (and her 2 children ) from slavery.

The Court of Justice of the regional body Ecowas ordered the government – which says it has done all it can to eradicate slavery – to pay Ms Mani 10m CFA francs (£12,430; $19,750). Despite being outlawed, slavery also persists in other West African states.

Hadijatou was sold at the age of 12 and forced to work as a slave for 10 years. She accused the government of Niger of failing to protect her from slavery, which was criminalised five years ago.

The Ecowas court ruling will be binding on all 15 member states and will have consequences for people being kept as slaves.

For the full story, check the BBC website and its Special Report section. The International Labour Organization estimates that approximately 12.3 million people worldwide are forced labourers. That is equal to 2 people in every 1,000 human beings!!!

So, I did a search for ‘slavery’ on Ocean and the following gems caught my eye:

The Bahá’í Faith is the first religion to explicitly ban slavery in its Sacred Scripture. Bahá’u’lláh prohibited this practice in clear and unambiguous language. In the Kitáb-i-Aqdas (paragraph 72), it is stated:

“It is forbidden you to trade in slaves, be they men or women. It is not for him who is himself a servant to buy another of God’s servants, and this hath been prohibited in His Holy Tablet. Thus, by His mercy, hath the commandment been recorded by the Pen of justice. Let no man exalt himself above another; all are but bondslaves before the Lord, and all exemplify the truth that there is none other God but Him. He, verily, is the All-Wise, Whose wisdom encompasseth all things.”

In 2000 (Ridvan message 157) the Universal House of Justice said:
“It grieves our hearts to realize that in so many parts of the world children are employed as soldiers, exploited as labourers, sold into virtual slavery, forced into prostitution, made the objects of pornography, abandoned by parents centred on their own desires, and subjected to other forms of victimization too numerous to mention. Many such horrors are inflicted by the parents themselves upon their own children. The spiritual and psychological damage defies estimation. Our worldwide community cannot escape the consequences of these conditions. This realization should spur us all to urgent and sustained effort in the interests of children and the future.”

And from Bahá’u’lláh’s Hidden Words:
“O Children of Men! Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest. Such is My counsel to you. O concourse of light! Heed ye this counsel that ye may obtain the fruit of holiness from the tree of wondrous glory.”

Enough food for thought & contemplation for tonight, I think.

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Poverty – Armoede: Blog Action Day

I’m stuck here. The theme of today’s Blog Action Day is Poverty.

But that is such a huge issue that I feel overwhelmed by it which doesn’t make blogging easy….

Children from La Villa de San Antonio, Honduras

Children from La Villa de San Antonio, Honduras

OK, let’s start simple. According to the Dutch Wikipedia:

Armoede = het hebben van te weinig bestaansmiddelen om aan de wezenlijke menselijke levensbehoeften te voldoen. De meest wezenlijke levensbehoeften zijn onder andere voedsel, kleren en huisvesting.

Now the English Wikipedia definition is slightly different:

Poverty = deprivation of common necessities that determine the quality of life, including food, clothing, shelter and safe drinking watre, and may also include the deprivation of opportunities to learn, to obtain better employment to escape poverty, and/or to enjoy the respect of fellow citizens.

So, in the English version it links poverty to other people and society.

I’d like to add another definition. This is from the “Eradicating Poverty: moving forward as one” statement (14 February 2008) by the Baha’i International Community (BIC):

Poverty can be described as the absence of those ethical, social and material resources needed to develop the moral, intellectual and social capacities of individuals, communities and institutions.

I must say, I like this last definition much more because it links individuals and their physical needs with the social and spiritual needs of themselves and their communities.

The BIC statement is just great. As an agroforester, I’m especially attracted to p. 11 :

A core element of a strategy of sustainable development is the reform of agricultural policies and processes. Food production and agriculture is the world’s single largest source of employment; nearly 70% of the poor in developing countries live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Although farming has been devalued by manufacturing and a rapidly expanding urban population, agriculture still represents the fundamental basis of economic and community life: malnourishment and food insecurity suffocate all attempts at development and progress. Despite this pivot al role, poverty is often concentrated in rural areas. Damage to natural resources, poor information and infrastructure often result in food insecurity, premature deaths and mass migration to urban areas in search of a better life. The farmer must be accorded his or her rightful place in the processes of development and civilization building: as the villages are reconstructed, the cities will follow.

It also reminded me very much of what the Women’s Major Group was trying to do at the 16th session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-16) in May 2008. If you’d like to read more about the Baha’i representation and the events the BIC organised during CSD-16, please click here.

In the daily meetings of the Women’s Major Group, organised by represenatives of WOCAN (women organising for change in agriculture & natural resource management) and 2 other organisations, we tried to get the point across that ‘The face of a farmer is a female face’. All our activities, statements & discussions focused on this aspect. In today’s global society close to 70% of farmers are female. We might not notice this in Europe, but if you look with a global eye, you’ll see it’s true.

As a Major Group we emphasized the need for education & training of women and girls; the facilitation of access to credit & resources for female farmers; inheritance & legal rights to land, water and trees; access to markets and processing chains etc. And as the BIC statement says on p. 7:

In areas where women have gained access to education, employment, and ownership opportunities, dramatic effects have been observed at many levels: at the level of the family, more equitable division of food, resources, and health care among girls and boys; higher rates of literacy among children; lower rates of fertility leading to better economic conditions and maternal health; and the injection of new concerns into public discourse.

Maize field in Honduras

Maize field in Honduras

Well, what are we, as a world community, waiting for….?

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Blessed is the city – Gezegend is de stad

Nice Northumberland picture from last winter.

Today is World Habitat Day and this year’s theme is Harmonious Cities.

Blessed is the house

Blessed is the house

Yes, I know, this photo doesn’t fit the theme, but I do live out in the sticks and don’t have any photos of cities. Besides I rather prefer photos from the countryside. This house is just down the hill from where I live.

I thought it was interesting that UN-HABITAT choose this year’s theme Harmonious Cities to indicate cities being inclusive communities where everyone and every culture is at home.  It reminds me very much of what the worldwide Baha’i community aims for in all its activities, being inclusive and welcoming to all. Every activity and event focusing on building inclusive communities in which age, ethnicity, economic or educational background etc. don’t matter because we’re all in it together, working together to build a better world.

I once was asked in a job interview where I’d want to live on an scale from a large city to ‘een hutje op de hei’ (if you don’t read Dutch, just look at the photo, that’s it) and anything in between those 2 extremes. Well, I’d be in somewhere in a village or small town. Where would you be?

Unfortunately, the majority of the world population lives in towns and cities. Even worse, more than 1 billion people live in urban slums with few facilities and poor or no infrastructure. This urbanization of poverty and its environmental impact are challenging development ideas at a grande scale. Dealing with these issues requires real, honest cooperation amongst many people to be willing and able to apply creative solutions for inclusive community building.

Thinking about towns, villages and cities also reminds me of this prayer revealed by Baha’u’llah:

“Blessed is the spot, and the house, and the place, and the city, and the heart, and the mountain, and the refuge, and the cave, and the valley, and the land, and the sea, and the island, and the meadow where mention of God hath been made, and His praise glorified”.

“Gezegend zijn de plek en het huis en de plaats en de stad en het hart en de berg en de schuilplaats en de grot en het dal en het land en de zee en het eiland en de weide waar God wordt genoemd en Zijn eer wordt verheerlijkt”.

Required: 18 million teachers – Gezocht: 18 miljoen onderwijzers

18 million. Any idea how much that is? Do you know how many zeros there are in this number?

Guess what: 18 million extra teachers are needed to reach the Millenium Development Goal of universal primary education by 2015. Eighteen million….. In Africa alone, 3.8 million additional teachers are required to achieve this Goal.

That search for 18 million is a massive ‘Search for Truth’. Not as simple as our recent Baha’i childrens class where they searched for truth, using the story of the elephant & the blind men.

Searching the truth

Searching the truth

Quick question: do you remember your best teacher? Was he or she from a primary or secondary school, Sunday class at church, Baha’i children class, or summer school? Whenever it was, please send some positive thoughts to every teacher you know, because today is World Teachers’ Day. A Day set aside by UNESCO to honour and recognize teachers around the world.

In my opinion true education is about learning to search for the truth, just like our recent Baha’i childrens class (you remember the story of the blind men & the elephant?).

The UNESCO report “Learning: the treasure within” by the International Community on Education for the 21st Century stated in 1996 that education should be based on 4 pillars (4 onderwijspilaren).

These 4 pillars complement & strengthen each other. They are the pillars of:

  1. learning to know
  2. learning to do
  3. learning to live together
  4. learning to be

Learning to know lays the foundations of learning throughout life. It refers to the basic knowledge we need to understand our environment and to live in dignity. It includes arousing curiosity, research and discovery, and developing concentration, memory, and thought.

Learning to do is all about practical skills, teamwork and initiative, a readiness to take risks, turning our knowledge into effective innovations.

Learning to live together is based on developing an understanding of ourselves AND others through dialogue, resulting in empathy, respect, and appreciation. It is about recognizing our growing interdependence, experiencing shared purposes, implementing common projects and a joint future, and managing conflicts in a peaceful way.

Learning to be deals with freedom of thought, feeling, and imagination that we need to act more independently, with more insight, more critically, and more responsibly. The end of education is to discover and open the talents which are hidden like a treasure within every person.

Of course, as a Baha’i, this last phrase talking about ‘a treasure within’ reminds me immediately of a quotation from Gleanings by Baha’u’llah:

Lack of a proper education hath, however, deprived him of that which he doth inherently posses…….. Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures.

Individual Baha’is and their communities all over the world are heavily involved in education for children, junior youth and youth. Young people are our ‘most precious resource’ and I know of some awesome inspiring educational programmes such as SAT in South & Central America, and FAS community schools in India.

And although a a UNESCO press release states: ‘Even when the overall supply of teachers is sufficient, remote and disadvantaged areas across the globe may suffer persistent problems in recruitment and retention. This shortage of qualified teachers is one of the biggest challenges to achieving the Education for All goals’, I’m not that pessimistic.

Some readers might say that I have too much faith in the efforts and energy of my Baha’i family all around the globe. I don’t mind. I know these efforts have been blessed by Baha’u’llah.

Coming of Age – Volwassenheid

You know you’re getting old when you meet several people in quick succession where you think: ‘(S)he was only born in 1984 or 1990’, ‘(S)he doesn’t know that cartoon/movie/music?’ and ‘Why do I feel I’m the only one here whose DOB starts with 196..?’

Anyway, today is the International Day of Older Persons.

I’m pretty sure you didn’t know that. I’d also be very impressed if you knew that we’ve had World Assemblies on Ageing….. Well, did you? The latest one was in 2002.

I read up on this, so a tiny bit of history first (quite appropriate actually since older people are like living history books, full of good stories). In 1992 the UN’s General Assembly adopted the Proclamation on Ageing. It states: “in recognition of humanity’s demographic coming of age and the promise it holds for maturing attitudes and capabilities in social, economic, cultural and spiritual undertakings, not least for global peace and development in the next century”.

Sounds familiar, sort of, if you’re a Baha’i (like me). Well, read this:

“The principle of human oneness strikes a chord in the deepest reaches of the human spirit. It is not yet another way of talking about the ideal of brotherhood or solidarity. Nor is it some vague hope or slogan. It reflects, rather, an eternal spiritual, moral and physical reality that has been brought into focus by humanity’s collective coming of age in the twentieth century. Its emergence is more visible now because, for the first time in history, it has become possible for all of the peoples of the world to perceive their interdependence and to become conscious of their wholeness.

That quotation is from 2001 from the Baha’i International Community. Here is another one, this time from The World Order of Baha’u’llah by Shoghi Effendi:

The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, whose supreme mission is none other but the achievement of this organic and spiritual unity of the whole body of nations, should, if we be faithful to its implications, be regarded as signalizing through its advent the coming of age of the entire human race. It should be viewed not merely as yet another spiritual revival in the ever-changing fortunes of mankind, not only as a further stage in a chain of progressive Revelations, nor even as the culmination of one of a series of recurrent prophetic cycles, but rather as marking the last and highest stage in the stupendous evolution of man’s collective life on this planet. The emergence of a world community, the consciousness of world citizenship, the founding of a world civilization and culture — all of which must synchronize with the initial stages in the unfoldment of the Golden Age of the Bahá’í Era — should, by their very nature, be regarded, as far as this planetary life is concerned, as the furthermost limits in the organization of human society, though man, as an individual, will, nay must indeed as a result of such a consummation, continue indefinitely to progress and develop.”

Going back to the UN……

1999 was the International Year of Older Persons and its theme was ‘Towards a Society for All Ages’.

Old man and grandson (5K)

The UN’s website says: This ‘society for all ages’ is a society where “…every individual, each with rights and responsibilities, has an active role to play”. By integrating ‘age’ into a ‘sciety for all’, the approach becomes multigenerational and holistic, whereby “generations invest in one another and share the fruits of that investment, guided by the twin principles of reciprocity and equity”.

And that UN statement reminds me of this one:

Youth also take part in the life of the Bahá’í community as a whole and promote a society in which all generations elderly, middle-aged, youth, children are fully integrated and make up an organic whole. By refusing to carry over the antagonisms and mistrust between the generations which perplex and bedevil modern society, they will again demonstrate the healing and life-giving nature of their religion.

The above statement was written in a letter on 10 June 1966 from the Universal House of Justice to the youth in every land. You can find it on p. 96 in Wellspring of Guidance, Messages 1963-1968.

I’ve highlighted the sentence I really like and I don’t mind considering myself a youth in this respect!

Just a final thought. The UN Principles adopted in 1999 focus on independence, participation, care, self-fulfillment and dignity of older people. I’m sure we all want those principles applied in our own lives when we grow old. Please let’s remember that when we interact with those older than ourselves.