Written by Maryam Ahrari, Emily Glabush & Núr Elmasri
Summer has come and gone in a flurry, and we are not only reflecting on our learnings but sustaining a trail of neighbourhood activities which have continued into the fall here in Victoria Hills, Kitchener. One event that contributed greatly to the energy and spirit of the summer was a Children’s Festival which drew together families from the neighbourhood, inviting them to engage in community-building activities.
Through a series of meetings, our team began to plan for the summer. These plans, seemingly set in stone, were organic in nature; they were constantly flowing and changing (in the best way) and we, in a mode of continuous reflection, made adjustments in conjunction with our goals and realities. There was no intermission. Our summer both began and ended on a high. New relationships were formed. Old relationships were strengthened.
With a desire in our hearts to bring the whole community together in a joyful way, the Children’s Class team began preparations for an outdoor Children’s Festival. One goal of the Festival was to invite more friends into the Children’s Class program. These classes, focusing on the spiritual education of children, are of vital importance for, “Children are the most precious treasure a community can possess[…] in them are the promise and guarantee of the future.” The date of the Festival was fast approaching and there was a great deal of work to be done. And so, between the coinciding preparations for the Children’s Festival and the neighbourhood Junior Youth Camp, the teachers began brainstorming activities, creating a budget, gathering materials, and contacting the necessary community institutions to organize logistical concerns. Working together hand-in-hand, teachers and animators were conducting visits and reaching out to new and old friends as well as distributing posters to families.
Our team learned that the intensity of planning, reflecting and acting together in this way led to meaningful outcomes: the first being the number of families who attended both the Children’s Festival and Children’s Camp; and the second being the growing capacities of the junior youth and youth to serve their community, especially the younger individuals for whom they could act as a direct example. With the close of a Youth Institute Camp focused on the study of Ruhi Book 1: Reflections on the Life of the Spirit, as well as the Junior Youth Camp, the junior youth and youth realized their next step was to actively enter the arena of service. Nearly 30 junior youth and youth were involved with visiting and inviting friends to the Festival, assisting with setup, and running booths.
The Festival took place in a public park and had multiple stations with various activities for people of all ages. Each of the four tables was dedicated to a specific activity or theme: henna, a suggestion from some of the Afghani youth and a reflection of the diversity of the neighbourhood with many immigrated friends from the Middle East and South Asia; a station dedicated to sharing stories and songs from the Children’s Classes as well as information on and registration forms for the upcoming Children’s Day Camp; face paint, since no festival seems complete without it; and, of course, refreshments. There was an additional station across the street from the Festival’s central location for individuals to play basketball at the school basketball court. In addition to these booths, one team member was able to acquire a large donation of gifts from the cosmetic retail company, Lush, that were given as gifts to everyone at the close of the Festival.
The design of the Festival, however, had a much nobler goal in mind: the coming together of a community made up of an array of people from different backgrounds. This coming-together was not characterized simply by engaging in fun activities, but rather in reflecting on how we can, as a whole, support and encourage each other in our endeavours to grow spiritually as individuals and as a community. Either invited directly by the team (including the 30-some junior youth and youth) or indirectly through word-of-mouth, the four hours of the Festival saw approximately 341 individuals.
This event also included the broader Bahá’í community of Kitchener-Waterloo. The conversation had extended not only to the Bahá’í institutions and agencies of the cluster which were directly consulting with and supporting the team, but the Bahá’í families who wanted to either attend or assist with the Festival. While children made new friends, their parents engaged with other families in conversations about the Children’s Class program and its nature. Members of the Local Spiritual Assembly as well as the Area Teaching Committee were also in attendance, assisting with the stations as well as talking to parents from the neighbourhood.
By engaging youth in both study and service at the outset of the summer, they were able to consciously think about their service to the community, and the steps they took then brought more friends of all ages together to nurture their latent capacities. This helped our team solidify a new understanding of how the institute process can be put into action as we witnessed youth moving through the institute courses and applying their knowledge in the field of service.
The summer activities allowed for the release of capacity and enthusiasm which made it possible to form additional classes in the neighbourhood this year. The classes are continuously strengthening, expanding, and learning. They offer a space which engages families, and teachers alike, encouraging each individual to think about how they can contribute to the welfare of society. Our learnings don’t end here. Festivals, camps, and classes for children continue to be a part of the life of the neighbourhood and are now accompanied by new reflections. Building off the efforts of the summer, in future we aim to invite larger groups of friends, plan for a greater variety of activities to include in Festivals and collaborate more actively with the city and relevant institutions. Our summer of love and joy could end in no way other than with hearts full of hope and excitement, looking “with eyes of faith into the future!”
 Universal House of Justice, Ridván, 2000
 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks