Written by Carmelia Taheri & Emma Persaud
Stepping into London’s Kipps Lane neighbourhood in the evenings, any onlooker can see youth coaching volleyball, children running around in the park accompanied by their parents, and junior youth playing basketball with their animators. With approximately 30 thousand inhabitants, it’s a lively and vibrant community.
The first community-building activities started in Kipps in 2007, but the work intensified in 2017 when pioneers moved to the neighbourhood. Since then, two cohorts of youth have advanced through the junior youth program and the institute, and there are currently 23 youth engaged in the courses of the institute. The team has been learning deeply about how to accompany youth and junior youth in all aspects and areas of their lives- whether that be school, service, finding work, finances, or personal issues.
As young people increasingly dedicate their time to service, they are learning to organize their time in the face of many obligations, such as school and work. This process can cause a tremendous amount of stress, and at times, challenges within the family, which can result in long absences from the field of service. The Kipps Lane team has been learning about what truly drives spirit in the neighbourhood and how to work within the culture of the community. They’ve been asking themselves: What might an expansive notion of true friendship look like in this context?
The team has noticed that it is the bonds of true friendship that have formed among the members of this cohort during their time in the junior youth program, and their study of the main sequence, that has allowed them not only to retain its members but also to grow.
These deep connections extend to the junior youth as well, who witness how close the relationships of the youth are in a variety of contexts: through both their ongoing study together, as well as the many ways they have fun and spend time together socially. When planning intensive campaigns to study together, the tutors regularly weave in other activities such as overnight weekend trips to nearby communities, day trips to beaches in the area and other gatherings including junior youth camps and children’s festivals.
A major obstacle for youth and junior youth in the neighbourhood has been homework. As a result, the team of friends has been making a consistent effort, especially during the pandemic, to reach out and hold everyone accountable through a homework help program that is held every day.
The need to hold a job has also sometimes become a barrier to service; many youth have to support their families, who are living under the poverty line. Through the bonds of true friendship that have been formed, the team not only understands this reality, but sees it as one that can be thoughtfully integrated into the plans of the neighbourhood. For example, efforts are made to have conversations that help youth think through various options in terms of the type of job they take, considering aspects such as flexible schedules and appropriate shifts, so they can continue to participate in the development of their neighbourhood. This approach has brought the work of the activities into the heart of daily life and its teachings are directly influencing this generation’s choices, bringing to mind the words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:
“True friends are even as skilled physicians, and the Teachings of God are as healing balm, a medicine for the conscience of man. They clear the head, so that a man can breathe them in and delight in their sweet fragrance. They waken those who sleep. They bring awareness to the unheeding, and a portion to the outcast, and to the hopeless, hope.”
These strengthened bonds of friendship have developed a shared understanding that the team will always accompany each other and stay connected no matter what – even during a pandemic that has led to untold struggles of understanding, engagement and hope. Regardless of someone’s pattern of attendance, all those connected in the neighbourhood are friends and the team strives to show this through its actions. Friendship isn’t something that is there one day and gone the next, the Kipps Lane friends studied alongside their junior youth in the text Learning about Excellence, we should always work to strengthen the friendships we have, even and perhaps especially in the face of challenges.
 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 23