Shida with her husband Behzad and son Sipho

Shida with her husband Behzad and son Sipho

I was born in Tehran, Iran, in September 1956, to a Bahá’í family. From my mother’s side both parents were second generation Bábís and later Bahá’ís. My grandmother was the granddaughter of Ibn-i-Asdaq and my grandfather’s father was martyred during the time of the Báb. My grandfather was raised by Ibn-i-Asdaq in Mashhad and they lived in Babieh house. Later he married my grandmother, and my mother records they lived in that house. They were always persecuted and assaulted by neighbours for being Bahá’ís and living in the Babieh house. When my mother was nine, they pioneered to Ashkhabad in Russia, but after the Russian Revolution were banished back to Iran and to Mashhad. My grandfather was the secretary of the Local Spiritual Assembly of Ashkhabad, and was imprisoned before he and his family were sent back to Iran. My father’s side of the family were from Yazd and when my father was born they pioneered to Ashkhabad. After the revolution my father went to Germany and became a dentist, and only returned to Iran in his forties.

My parents married late in life and when I was one year old my father passed away. My mother, who was a banker, continued to raise me single-handed, and sacrificed her whole life for me. In 1963 she went to the Bahá’í World Congress in London, and was inspired to pioneer during the 9 year plan. She returned to Iran and took early retirement, and we pioneered to Rimini in Italy when I was 7. Before we went to our pioneering post we went on Pilgrimage in November 1964. That was the most amazing experience of my life. At that time there were only 9 pilgrims from the East and 9 from the West. We were the guests of the Universal House of Justice, and stayed in the rooms at the old pilgrim house. Each day a member of the House of Justice dined with us. We were also honoured to be with a resident Hand of the Cause, either Mr. Furútan or Mr. Faizi, on alternate days. The pilgrims were given the key to the Shrine of the Báb to go and pray any time during the day or night. We also stayed in Bahji for two nights. As young as I was, those days are vivid in my memory as I write.

Our pioneering in Italy was also a great experience. I was so happy in those days, and have great memories of Bahá’í summer schools and children’s classes. In the late 1960s we had to return to Iran as my mother’s health was poor and she needed her medical insurance in Iran. Again, she decided to go home-front pioneering so we went to Shemiran, a village north of Tehran. Those were such happy teenage years for me and I have great memories of many friends who were later martyred. In the first year of the 5 year plan the Universal House of Justice sent Hand of the Cause Mr. Furútan to encourage and urge the friends to pioneer. I had just finished high school and was in my first year at university. I was drawn to Mr. Furútan’s talks like a magnet. He was urging the friends to pioneer. He used to say “If not for the faith at least for your own safety you must leave Iran”. He even said to us “There will be a time when you won’t even have time to pack your suitcases!”. I was so moved that this time I insisted that we pioneer. My mother was frail and wished for me to finish university before leaving Iran but I quit university, and asked her to accompany me to the pioneering committee. They considered our situation and told us that the country of Jordan needed 5 pioneers, that it had a good university and, if needed, was not too far from Iran in case my mother needed to travel back and forth, so in 1976 we pioneered to Jordan and helped form an LSA in one of the villages (I was not yet 21).

After a couple of years I decided to continue my studies in the UK, and arrived in February 1978. I started in Birmingham and later went to Kent. I attended the Youth Conference in Nottingham in 1978, and went travel-teaching with a group of youth in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. It was such a great trip and left wonderful memories. My mother joined me in the UK in September that year and we lived in Bromley for a few months. There was a meeting with Rúhíyyih Khánum in London at which she called upon friends to help form LSAs around the country. My mother, who by this time was almost blind, arose to offer her services. She was called to the stage and Khánum congratulated her. We pioneered to Sevenoaks, Kent, in April to form the LSA ; my mother passed away on 25th June 1979. I was so proud to have had such a dedicated and devoted mother, and over the years I realised how so many blessings were showered upon us because of obedience to the institutions. I qualified as a Medical Laboratory Scientist and worked at the Kent and Sussex Hospital. I became part of the Bahá’í family in Sevenoaks where all the friends truly looked after me, and showered me with love; people such as Evelyn Jerrard, Marjorie King, Vivienne Poland, Marian Rallings, Marjorie Ward, and Lois and Philip Hainsworth.

I went on my second pilgrimage in July 1982 which was yet another wonderful experience. I remained in Sevenoaks until July 1983 when I married my husband Behzad Sinaei who had been living in Edinburgh since August 1976. At the time, he was the caretaker of the Edinburgh Bahá’í Centre, which is where we were married. Lois Hainsworth made my wedding dress. Behzad and I decided to pioneer, and although we both worked in Edinburgh we moved to Livingstone, West Lothian. We were very successful in engaging with Interfaith groups and with Amnesty International, especially after Behzad’s cousin Dr Farhad Asdaghi, who was a member of the third secretly-elected NSA in Iran, was martyred. This allowed us to make many friends for the Faith, two faithful friends being Jim and Helen Mein. Jim was a minister in the local church and invited us there to talk on the Bahá’í faith. To this day Helen and Jim remain our good friends and have twice visited us at our home in Swaziland.

In December 1987 Behzad and I went on pilgrimage together and prayed to be guided on how to serve Baha’u’llah to the best of our abilities. In 1989 our friend Mojdeh Kuhbor, whom we knew from Scotland and was serving at the Bahá’í pre-school in Swaziland, encouraged us to pioneer there. She focussed on me in particular as there was a need for service at the Bahá’í schools, so in April 1989 Behzad went out there to look for work, and in the August I resigned from my job at Western General Hospital in Edinburgh to join him in Swaziland. I started my work first as the administrator of the Bahá’í Pre-school at the National Centre, then was also involved in pre-school teacher training. The following year the first Grade of the Bahá’í Primary School opened, and each year a grade was added. Teachers like Debbie Conkerton served on the project and later in 1992 Clare Mortimore arrived to serve as one of the teachers. Today there are 3 streams of both Bahá’í Primary and High School in Swaziland. In October 1992 a tragic aircraft accident took the life of two beautiful souls, Jennifer and Brian Baylis, devoted servants of Bahá’u’lláh engaged in valuable service in Swaziland. I have tried to stay in touch with their son Merrigan and recently sent him all the documents relating to his parents, which at the time we collected from their friends from all around the world. In October 1993 we were blessed to adopt a Swazi child whom we called Sipho Sana. Sipho is the Swazi name for gift and Sana means praising God, so we praised God for the gift! We then pioneered to a rural area and were successful with core activities. In August 1997 we went for a three-day pilgrimage with our three- year old son and visited friends in the UK and Ireland. In 1998 I bought the Swazi Montessori International Preschool. It had been started by a Bahá’í, Sarah Jordan Shadravan; she and her husband left for Cambodia. Our son Sipho had been at this school for two years and I had become very interested in the Montessori Method of teaching, so I did a correspondence course with London Montessori Centre, and qualified. I have been running the school since July 1998 and this year we celebrated 20 years of the Montessori Method of Education in Swaziland. The Minister of Education was one of the guest speakers. The school has gained a good reputation and is the top school in the country, with a long waiting list. A Montessori Primary School has also been open since 2010 due to parents’ efforts and wishes for their children to continue with the system, but I have not taken responsibility for that school.

Shida with children of the International Montessori school of Mbabane

Shida with children of the International Montessori school of Mbabane

Our pioneering life continues. We moved to another area, Ezulwini, and formed the LSA there. I have been honoured to have served on the National Spiritual Assembly since 2013. We continue to support the work of the faith through core activities and by encouraging local believers, and we pray that our service be accepted in His path.

_____________________

Shida Sinaei

Swaziland, October 2015

My first pilgrimage in 1964 - the youngest and the only child. We found out after we got married that Behzad’s parents were on the same group!

My first pilgrimage in 1964 – the youngest and the only child. We found out after we got married that Behzad’s parents were on the same group!

Shida with Hand of the Cause Mr Faizi in 1964

Shida with Hand of the Cause Mr Faizi in 1964

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