Prelude: Early Background
I was born on 5th December 1951 in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, in the post-war era, of parents from different social backgrounds. My elder brother, Ian, was almost 4 years old and my two sisters, Heather and Juliet, were born subsequently, almost three years apart.
My father, Donald Arthur Theedam, was born in England and my mother, Catherine Deborah Slade, was born in India, under the English colonial system, as the second of two daughters, six years apart. She had a cousin/aunt, Ella Gerard, living in Shiraz, Persia who started a well-respected school for girls, which later had to be closed when the Shah was deposed. My first knowledge of her was when she attended my Bahá’í wedding during a visit to England in 1973, and my delight that she knew a number of well-respected Bahá’ís in Iran.
Before the war, my mother’s parents had bought a very old small village manor house for their retirement in Sotwell, south Oxfordshire, which was taken over by the government during the war and made into a row of three very small cottages to house families whose homes had been bombed.
My parents met during World War II. Due to their very different social backgrounds there were naturally some tensions and ‘disapproval’ by one set of in-laws for the other – but it was never stated or overt. Growing up, we had the benefit of different experiences and knowledge garnered from each set of grandparents. For my part, I believe this helped me to be more open with, and aware of, others. My parents never quarrelled in the home but talked things over in private. Spanking was soon ruled out of family rearing – and this I respected. I also welcomed expressions of appreciation from my father about my mother – I valued her nursing skills and great sense of empathy, and his willingness to help out in the house.
When I was a young child we attended Church of England (Anglican) services in Amersham. My father eventually dropped out, became a Theosophist and then explored various Eastern religious systems. I remember his advice to me not to look at people from the outside but to look for the inner person and never have prejudice against any group. I then recall the petty gossip and criticism that went on in church, whilst people waited for the minister to appear and start the service, in strong contrast to my mother’s example of devoutly kneeling and praying quietly with great sincerity. I recall Sunday school – which took place when the minister was delivering his sermon – but later having greater enjoyment as a member of the junior choir. After we moved house to the countryside (Hook End, near Checkendon, Berkshire) we started going to the nearest church and the minister would come weekly for a cup of tea and chat with mum. Then my father became ill and mother could not attend church, and the minister never once visited. She was most upset by this lack of concern and even when my father became better she used her prayer book at home and only attended church occasionally. I learnt from this the importance of sincerity and caring in maintaining contacts.
My parents chose a progressive co-educational boarding school in Yorkshire for my brother’s secondary school experience (Wennington), and I begged to attend also. When I barely missed getting into the local grammar school, my Wennington request was granted for five years, but it was not until I left after ‘O’ level exams that I learned my maternal grandmother had paid for us and could not continue after that time. I loved the diversity of subjects offered – from pottery and drama to music and woodwork.
My parents each wrote to me regularly while I was at Wennington and would visit at mid-term, driving the 100 miles or so and always arriving punctually, as classes closed at midday on Saturday. At some point my father sent me a copy of a poem he had written encouraging independence of mind and exploration of truth, which included the following thoughts: “A pioneer or a leader true, when exploring terrain new, goes where most men fear to tread, territory that most men dread” (and further) “Seek to give and not to ask…” Those words have stuck with me.
Meeting the Bahá’í Faith, and Preparation for Pioneering
When I left Wennington I had done sufficiently well in exams to do advanced level courses. My mother got me into the nearest grammar school in Henley-on-Thames (the one I had been rejected from at 11+) who were surprised I had obtained eight passes. It was during this first year that I met and became friends with Martin Dace and Trevor Finch – who also had an interest in philosophical ideas and spiritual understanding and we all became Bahá’ís around the same time.
In my second year a new girl entered school in the form below, and joined the judo class. I was immediately attracted to her radiant, friendly and open ways and we became close friends. Her name was Sandra Hardy. She had recently moved into the area from Switzerland, lived near the school, and we would sometimes go to her home at lunch time. Her mother, Mary (a US citizen), was always cheerful and welcoming, and would share interesting titbits she had learnt from the newspaper such as “Do you know, they have found out what the ‘manna from heaven’ was that sustained Moses and the Israelites in the desert?”…. (sand storms blasting nutritious lichen off rocks later floating to earth which was then made into an unleavened bread), so visiting became a source of learning as well as of acceptance into another family.
After the Christmas holidays Sandra (“Sam”) started talking about her friends Tawfig from Egypt and another whose name I do not recall from Nigeria, and curiosity spiked in me. I asked where she had met such interesting people, especially as she was new to the country. Sandra explained that she was a Bahá’í and had attended ‘Winter School’ and that is how she knew these friends. Of course I asked more questions, and later when visiting her home I was lent the book Release the Sun, written by William Sears. It explained the history of the faith but I was searching for meaningful teachings on living and on spiritual understanding. In the July she invited me to attend a Holy Day celebration for the Martyrdom of the Báb in the home of an older Persian couple in Reading (Berkshire). The event was very formal and sombre. Though the people were very kind, I was not especially impressed. I simply chalked it up to experience.
After the advanced level exams, the school had a policy of placing students in volunteer positions for the remainder of the school term and I decided on a year of service. I contacted CSV (Community Service Volunteers) and after being interviewed was placed as an assistant in a small Church of England Children’s Home in the village of Clent outside Birmingham (with a small stipend for necessary supplies and travel). There was one other assistant (a cheerful and capable young woman) and the House parents. There were about 25 children ranging in ages from four to fifteen years. Quite a few of them were of West Indian background. Every Sunday the children were readied and taken to church. One day the vicar had decided that he should prepare his congregation for the likelihood of the village becoming a commuter community with the expansion of Birmingham. He started his sermon well with quotations from Jesus on caring and compassion and having a welcoming attitude to newcomers, and introduced the idea that some new neighbours might have different backgrounds and complexions. All was well until he allowed his personal prejudices to come into play, as he then said “but we don’t want them marrying our sons and daughters, do we?” I was aghast. I had a young West Indian girl of fourteen and a half sitting next to me and she also went rigid. It was with great effort I withheld myself from jumping to my feet and yelling out in protest at him. Later, in other places, I came upon other prejudices shared by Christian Ministers. I was told by one that people of other Faiths were sincere but sincerely wrong, and another said they were agents of the devil… This, with other unseemly behaviours and attitudes displayed by a couple more, led me against ‘churchianity’ (rather than against Christ’s Teachings). In the meantime, I loved to go into old churches (when there was no service to distract me) to simply wander around absorbing the sense of sacred and communing in my own way with The Source of Good.
I had a friend in CSV who had been placed as an assistant in a Home and School for Blind Children in a nearby town. I visited a couple of times when I had a day off. The atmosphere there was in stark contrast – open, welcoming, cheerful, relaxed, loving and nurturing. Although I had my challenges, by the time I left the Children’s Home, I had learnt valuable lessons in recognising the capacity of children, the value of order yet flexibility in providing a nurturing environment, and when helping the children with their homework it made me realize how much I enjoyed helping them to learn and so I applied for teacher training college and was accepted to do Environmental Studies and Education at Sheffield (at Totley-Thornbridge College of Education which later became a part of Sheffield University). On my return home my mother ensured I had a job – as a ward orderly in Peppard Chest Hospital where she worked as staff nurse – for the few months before starting college.
Meanwhile, I soon re-engaged my friendship with Sandra Hardy and I regularly attended Friday evening firesides at the family house. There were between 10-15 mostly young people attending at the time, which over the next few months grew to an average of 20 and, with a speaker, up to 40. We always started with a round of prayers. Sometimes Mary prepared a couple of short quotations to discuss – usually something that on the surface seemed to have divergent meanings. For example, one that exhorted friendliness to all peoples versus one that stated we should eschew all association with the unrighteous. She had our minds engaged and exploring to get to the truth in each. At other times one of the youth or a visiting speaker came with a prepared presentation. Afterwards there was always social time with light refreshments, and most of the conversations focused on Bahá’í topics. There was a library in the corner to refer to and books that could be borrowed. I invited my sister Heather to go too as we did quite a lot together at the time.
Mary Hardy had also established an evening of prayer for the believers – to pray for new contacts, for confirmations, and for growth of the community. Sometimes they would say the ‘Remover of Difficulties’ prayer 500 times or have a whole night’s vigil taking turns to rest. One day one of the newly declared Bahá’í youth, with great enthusiasm bounced up to me and joyfully told me how she had been praying for my confirmation. I was taken aback. My initial feeling was that someone had stepped into my personal space and I felt affronted. I was not accustomed to anything but prayers for the sick and the generality of mankind, and the Lord’s Prayer. Otherwise, for me, prayer was a personal communion for greater understanding and improvement. Although I did not stop attending the firesides – after all they were interesting, I enjoyed debating issues and it was a good place to socialise – I think I ‘pulled back’ a little from making a decision about becoming a Bahá’í.
Then, the Town Hall in Henley was booked and a public showing of a Bahá’í film was advertised with an introduction by Phillip ‘Pip’ Hinton. I think the film was called ‘A New Wind Blowing’, showing some Bahá’í youth in America at a summer school. Afterwards people were invited back to the Hardys’ home for refreshment and further discussions, and I and my sister Heather naturally went along. Most of the discussions were focused on trying to convince not-yet Bahá’ís of the truth of this Revelation, though in the most kindly fashion. The teachings I accepted as valid and necessary for the advancement of unity and civilisation in the world but at that point I had not accepted the authority of Bahá’u’lláh as God’s Holy Manifestation for this age – I had been brought up with the mantra of moderation in all things. Although I had given up drinking alcohol before I heard about the Faith, I needed to recognise that Bahá’u’lláh had the authority from God to bring rules and laws to mankind for its own good, which included the total avoidance of alcohol. In addition, I had never developed a clear understanding of Jesus as a Holy Manifestation in that sense but was conscious that He was a very great and spiritual person. Someone suggested a walk down town to the river and four of us went – for more private and focused discussions as it turned out. In the end I could not find any reason not to accept Bahá’u’lláh as God’s latest Manifestation and on our return to the house I signed my declaration card. I was given a prayer book and a copy of the booklet The Pattern of Bahá’í Life – both very useful to my ongoing development of understanding and love for the Faith’s teachings.
My sister was not ready to declare her faith in Bahá’u’lláh, and as it was late we left to drive home (about eight miles away.) After readying myself for bed I felt so charged up I could not lie down and sleep. I sat at the top of the stairs and felt elated yet at the same time as if I were being emptied; tears were flowing down my face. It was a somewhat bewildering experience. My mother got up and was all concern at my sitting there with tears streaming down and wanted to know what had happened. I told her nothing bad and no-one had done anything to me; I had joined the Bahá’í Faith, I was happy but was having a strange experience I could not explain. Being truly concerned parents, both my mother and father came to a couple of firesides and bought some books including Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh so they could truly ascertain whether I had fallen in with some ‘cult’ or not. In the end they were left with an appreciation of the faith, a respect for its teachings, and a comfort that I was involved in something good; this was July 1971. A few weeks later I received a welcome letter with a small prayer book and Bahá’í calendar from the National Spiritual Assembly.
College, a new Bahá’í Community, Learning about Teaching and Bahá’í Administration, and Getting Married
In September 1971 I travelled to Sheffield to go to college. I decided it was a new beginning and made it known that I was named Hazel (my second name). Soon after arrival I looked in the phone book for “Bahá’í” to contact the local community. I got through to Ruth Bradley (a teacher) who was the secretary of the Bahá’í Assembly, who gave me a lift across town to the Wednesday evening ‘firesides’ at the home of Dr. Iraj and Pazhou Zamiri. I was then invited to attend the Nineteen Day Feast which was at that time hosted in rotation by the steadfast core group of believers – Ruth and her son Jim, the Zamiri family, Una Coward (an elderly lady of great spiritual radiance), and Aideen McConkey. Soon Philip Croft and Tarab Ma’navi (Tarabangiz Samandari-Ma’navi)* also hosted the Nineteen Day Feasts.
*Tarab, granddaughter of Hand of the Cause of God Tarazu’llah Samandari pioneered to Turkey in 1955 and then came to Sheffield, England with her teenage sons (Taraz, Samandar and Sina) to ensure they got an education, and asked me to assist them in learning English. At the time I thought it strange that her husband was not with her, but remained at his business in Turkey. Many years later when reading through ‘The Bahá’í World In Memorium 1992-1997’ I learnt that he had been liaising with the Universal House of Justice and the Turkish authorities for the protection of the Faith. Then after the 1980 Iranian revolution, he was very instrumental in helping Iranian Bahá’í refugees to gain international refugee status so they could be sent to welcoming countries in various parts of the world.
Ruth Bradley encouraged me to join her in volunteer work on Saturdays assisting young immigrant children, most of whom were of West Indian extraction, with maths and reading. Classes were held on Saturday mornings at one of the neighbourhood community centres. I enjoyed this experience and on sharing information on the project with one of my college lecturers, received some maths equipment to help in the work.
In early January 1972 just before the college semester began, a group of us Bahá’í youth, five in number, decided to support a public teaching event planned to occur in Doncaster when someone thought to call for directions, and found out it had been postponed. At a momentary loss for what to do, we stopped at a pub near the moors where we received comments and queries on how we could be having so much fun without drinking alcohol. We then decided to visit Una Coward. There, in her small one-room bed-sit apartment, she shared with us some of her personal history. Then, pulling out an old suitcase from under the bed she showed us archives and anecdotes of Bahá’í history and explained that the Guardian had said keeping archives was very important.
She taught us the value of home-visits, of maintaining contact and support, and of praying for such friends, and she encouraged us to visit ‘inactive’ friends.
After our visit to Una, one of the girls in our group, Liz, suggested we go to a dance at one of the university halls, that a friend of hers had been ‘begging’ her to attend, and we agreed. Taraz Ma’navi was our driver. At the dance, Taraz hailed a fellow university student he knew – whose name I do not recall but who was with another student, Denis – and these two young men joined our group. We danced in turns. At some point Denis invited me to the bar to get a drink. When I asked for water (I was after all thirsty) he looked at me in surprise. Then, perhaps as we were standing in a little more light, he noticed the Bahá’í badge I was wearing, and asked me what ‘Bahá’í’ meant. Having been prepared to assist with a teaching endeavour from early in the day I was more than ready to share. Denis appeared interested and we found a couple of chairs at the side to sit and discuss more, and spent most of the rest of the evening talking about the Bahá’í Faith.
At some point Taraz came over and said he was getting a migraine and so we had to leave, especially as my college residence was on the further side of town. Denis then offered to drive me back to my residence in time for curfew, to allow me more time to stay. I gave him an intense look, wondering whether I could trust him. I decided ‘yes’ and we stayed and chatted and danced some more. When we got to my hall of residence, Denis asked when he could see me again. My aim was to teach him more about the Faith, and his aim was … ? Anyway, I told him that on Sunday it was World Religion Day and the Bahá’ís had arranged an interfaith presentation session followed by informal discussions and refreshments at Sheffield Town Hall, and he was more than welcome to attend.
I did not know if Denis would turn up but he did, and I was impressed that he had come in a smart corduroy jacket and tie, thereby demonstrating respect for religion. The Bahá’í youth were busy serving the refreshments and generally chatting with people, allowing the adult Bahá’ís to sit at the tables and sustain conversations with the mainly adult participants attending. As things were wrapping up, one of the youth, Liz, invited us (the Bahá’í youth) over to her apartment for coffee and we asked Denis to join us. When I went to the kitchen to help Liz make the coffee, she asked me how long I had known Denis. When I told her two days, she was amazed, as she said we seemed so comfortable together as if we had known each other a long time. After this, Denis was part of our group. As our relationship was developing, I did not want him ever to feel that I had manipulated his confirmation, but that he had indeed independently investigated truth for himself. After the first month we rarely discussed the Faith in depth together. I simply invited him to activities and suggested books he could read. We attended weekly firesides at the Zamiris’ home and also the occasional study/deepening weekends at the Zamiris’ or Ruth Bradley’s home, often facilitated by the Auxiliary Board member for the area. It was at one of these deepening events, on 2nd July 1972, that Denis Charles Anderson declared his faith in Bahá’u’lláh. My first inkling of this development was when one of the Bahá’ís asked me to co-sign a prayer book that was being gifted to Denis on this auspicious occasion!
Meanwhile, Denis, who had graduated with first class honours in electrical engineering from the University of the West Indies in Trinidad, and with a scholarship had completed his Masters degree in UK (Leeds & Sheffield) had been pursuing a doctorate. He says that meeting me and the Bahá’í Faith gave him focus on much broader issues affecting the development and peace of humanity which he was also very interested in, and he felt it more important to dedicate his life to these and so gave up his post-graduate university studies and immersed himself in study of the Faith. He began work in an engineering company testing materials.
Earlier that year, in April, Denis visited my parents’ home and learnt that my first name was Doreen! Then, in August, I was invited to meet his parents and younger sisters who were coming over from Guyana on leave to Scotland to stay with his grandparents, in Gullane, near Edinburgh. One evening whilst in Scotland, we decided to get married – both suggesting the same thing at the same time. Of course it was to be a Bahá’í wedding, but we had to wait a year till his parents could return to the UK. Tarab Ma’navi made my wedding dress, a non-traditional long white cotton dress with a gold flower border print. We made our own invitation cards, and the Bahá’í ceremony took place at my parents’ home near Reading. As we were both resident in Sheffield, their Spiritual Assembly ensured Bahá’í law was observed, and Dr. Iraj Zamiri officiated. The required civil ceremony took place in the small dark Registry office at Henley-on-Thames. Seeing how dark and dreary the room was, I offered and was allowed to take in a large vase of sweet peas from my mothers’ garden, which I placed on one of the filing cabinets. After the registrar had legally married us, he commented that all the couples he had dealt with over those few days were very appreciative of the flowers. My mother sent a brief report of our wedding to the local newspapers. On reading the paper the following weekend we discovered that another Bahá’í couple, Dr Khosrov Taheri and Catherine Sheppard, had been married on the same day, 18th August 1973.
After our wedding, we spent two more years in Sheffield, one to complete my college education, and a mandatory probationary year in teaching service to get my full teaching certificate. I was placed as a Form 1 remedial teacher at Abbeydale Grange Secondary School. Rita Croft, also a Bahá’í, was a teacher in that department also. There I learnt a lot about patience, understanding, home visits, preparation, flexibility, and working as a team with other members of the remedial department. Meanwhile Denis did a year’s post-graduate teaching diploma and served as a mathematics teacher in Roxborough. We both had the privilege of serving on the Spiritual Assembly of Sheffield.
The Local Spiritual Assembly was always planning teaching activities, empowering its members, and encouraging the community to teach and be involved in interfaith activities. Besides a weekly community fireside, we were each encouraged to hold our own, and musical ones for youth were arranged thanks to Phil and Rita Croft. We were also involved in or arranged interfaith activities. One day, in my first year in Sheffield, the Local Assembly asked me to serve as the Bahá’í representative at a large interfaith service in a large church in the centre of town. The Assembly had chosen the reading. I felt inadequate but determined to try my best. I knew I could not do it alone and spent the early part of the day and the period waiting for the service to begin, in prayer.
When it was my turn, I recall going to stand before the microphone, and then I was somehow in my seat again. I have no memory of the presentation. It was a point in my life when I really learnt the power of prayer and the possibility of allowing the Holy Spirit to use us as vehicles. Afterwards, during the social period, many people came up to ask how I had learnt to pray and read like that because it had truly touched their heart and soul. I did not know. Since then I have intermittently felt this intensely close sense of spiritual connection. Perhaps it shows for me that it takes a sense of need and effort, or maybe particular circumstances to inspire, though looking at the example of ‘Abdul-Bahá it can become a natural part of our lives, demonstrating that we are all able to ‘…intone… the verses of God … as intoned by them who have drawn nigh unto Him, that the sweetness of thy melody may kindle thine own soul, and attract the hearts of all …’.
In Sheffield we had picnics in the park where we informally approached others about the Faith. We held a street survey about what people knew about other religions in general and introduced the public to some basic principles and Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, encouraging interest to discuss and explore further the precepts. We held a talent night interspersed with various presentations on the Faith at a small local playhouse giving out brochures and invitations along many streets in the neighbourhood. We took part in local fairs during the summer with manned booth displays. We also did tree-planting exercises and ensured well-known visiting Bahá’ís were introduced to leaders of thought, as well as arranging public presentations. One visitor was Richard St. Barbe-Baker who had founded the ‘Men of the Trees’ organisation. He had been a friend of Shoghi Effendi’s and had assisted with nurturing back to health a number of trees at the House of the Báb in Iran, and at other Bahá’í Holy places. Richard’s visit was prolonged when he suffered an acute attack of appendicitis. I had lent him a white-covered Bahá’í prayer book with gold lettering which he kept at his bedside in the hospital. At the time I had considered it a most precious item. Sometime during one night it disappeared and I learnt detachment, hope and reliance on Divine will that the new owner would find joy and meaning from the prayers therein.
One day, I was very surprised to receive a letter from the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United Kingdom appointing me as a member of the area teaching committee for Yorkshire with Victor Priem, a potter, and Lois Hainsworth. Later, Shirin Fozdar was added. My first reaction was to wonder how the august body of the NSA knew of my existence. The committee encouraged teaching and supported communities in their endeavours. Members also served as speakers at public talks arranged in libraries and other places. I recall the first time I was asked to prepare a talk – on the equality of men and women – to be presented at a library. I did so much research and found there was so much in the Bahá’í Writings on the subject that I made my presentation very comprehensive – too heavy as it turned out. I have since learnt the wisdom, and strive to follow, the example of ’Abdu’l-Bahá in speaking briefly yet clearly on a few pertinent well put together points in logical sequence. On that occasion I was so nervous, it being my first public speaking engagement, that although there were maybe only fifteen to twenty people present, my knees were literally knocking constantly as I stood behind the podium: I was so grateful for that structure which hid them.
Preparation and First Year of Pioneering
In 1973 at the National Teaching Conference held in Scarborough, we learnt there was an international pioneer goal for two to arise and live in Trinidad and Tobago. Denis and I immediately offered our services as there was a sense of connection already established. Denis had spent part of his upbringing in Trinidad, and still had resident status and one sister (Pat) living there, so we journeyed to Trinidad the next summer (1974), and to Denis’ parents’ home in Guyana, using all our savings but with teaching jobs to go back to in Sheffield and Roxborough. The trip gave me an introduction to climate, life-styles and family, allowed Denis to explore employment opportunities, and for both of us to visit local Baha’is. At the airport, coming down from the plane to the tarmac in Trinidad, I was confronted by the heat, humidity and aromas, and fascinated by the trails of various types of ants almost everywhere. The diversity of flora and fauna, as well as the diversity in population, was wonderful and intriguing. I recall the wonder of seeing fireflies for the first time and large land snails the size of my fist, as well as blue crabs and many brightly coloured birds. In Guyana, I was amazed at the craftwork, the wide open streets of Georgetown and the very cold cola-coloured rivers and creeks running through white sands miles from the coast. We had an amazing visit to the wonderful Kaiteur Falls in an old transport plane, with its permanently open entrance/exit under the tail, slatted wooden park bench seats bolted to the floor, and bolts popping up and down in the wings as it took off!
On our return to England we again informed the National Assembly of our intention to pioneer and our expected departure date. At the National Office we were informed that, as well as teaching others about the Faith, it was very likely that we would be asked to serve in administrative capacities, as the Trinidad Bahá’í administration needed to be better established, and administrative capacity developed.
In Trinidad, our first home was with in-laws of Denis’ sister, in Vistabella (Denis’ sister having moved to Canada). We were keen to get involved in Bahá’í activities. There were no Baha’is in this community, but there was an Iranian nurse, Nikou (née Raouffian), married to a Trinidadian oilfield worker and national table-tennis champion, Mansingh Amarsingh, and their two young daughters, Bahiyyih and Diba, living nearby in Marabella. Nikou avidly worked on children’s classes when not at work or devoted to her children and house chores, and was a member of the National Spiritual Assembly. Also, not too far away was the home of Dr. Harry Collymore and his English wife Dorothy (not then a Bahá’í) in Palmyra Village. Dr. Collymore, a bone specialist, had only that year enrolled in the Faith after meeting Shamsi Sedaghat who had come to him with a broken arm and taught him the Faith as he treated her. A month after declaring his faith in Bahá’u’lláh, Harry was elected to the National Spiritual Assembly and served on it thereafter for most of the rest of his life. During that first year we were in Trinidad, there were times when the National Assembly could not meet due to lack of a quorum. Shamsi Sedaghat, a qualified Iranian midwife from Ishqabad, owned a small maternity clinic in Couva in the Central area. She was a very disciplined, committed and determined lady who worked hard in public relations for the Faith, and chaired the National Spiritual Assembly as well as teaching in the local community and children’s classes. After retirement she left Trinidad to look after her mother who was in USA, and finally returned to Ishqabad, Turkmenistan, as a pioneer, where she still lives today (2014).
Soon after we arrived in Trinidad, we phoned the National Bahá’í Centre. In those days the trunk lines were overloaded and there were a lot of crossed lines. It would take quite a few attempts before getting through to the number you wanted. We asked the National Secretary, Joel Caverly, a pioneer from the US (and a secondary school music teacher), how we could help. His initial advice was to take our time to get to know the country and settle in as we would soon have more than enough to do, but we were ‘champing at the bit’ and eager to be involved. Joel’s wife Edna was also a pioneer from US, and theirs had been the first Bahá’í wedding in Trinidad. The Auxiliary Board member, Lawrence Coward, welcomed us and said “I hope you will bury your bones in this country” i.e. that we would be there for the long term. Soon afterwards we received a very friendly orientation visit from Counsellors Donald Witzel and Peter McLaren from Venezuela. Despite the English / Spanish language barrier, Trinidad and Tobago, being only 6 miles away at its nearest point, had come under the responsibility of the National Assembly of Venezuela for many years before its own NSA was first formed in 1971.
I believe the first Bahá’í meeting we attended was a Nineteen Day Feast at the home of Hardeen Changoor (a cane cutter and a member of the National Spiritual Assembly) and his wife in Perseverence, Couva. Their eight children all attended a regular children’s class with Shamsi. As a young pioneer full of zeal and enthusiasm to teach, I became the one taught. I was amazed at how many prayers these children knew by heart and could recite so well. Most touching for me was little Moonilal who respectfully stood, crossed his little arms, raised his head with eyes closed and with such radiance on his face as he intoned so beautifully the whole of the Tablet of Ahmad without faltering. He was just 6 years old. At that time I did not know any Bahá’í prayers by heart and was very humbled, and at the same time in awe at the capacity and potential of little children. This family has been steadfast over the years to the third generation. Another steadfast family over the years has been the Mohammed family of Palmyra Village near San Fernando, of the same community as Dr Harry Collymore, who also came within the embrace of Shamsi Sedaghat’s endeavours, and with whom we developed strong ties. A third family of steadfast members from those early days has been the Burris family of Tobago.
While we were still living in San Fernando, the National Assembly encouraged us to assist a youth home-front pioneer, Sunraev Frazer (from Four Roads, Diego Martin, in northwest Trinidad) in settling into the village of Pluck-Timital (in South Trinidad), where there had been a lot of enrolments and activities organised through the efforts of a previous international pioneer couple who had left some years before. We were also to work with other youth across the nation. In Timital we started visiting the registered Baha’is with Sunraev. At one house, the girl who came out to meet us was cautious and suspicious, later telling us she wondered if we were police. When we said we were Bahá’ís and had been given a list of the Bahá’ís in the village to visit, her face literally shone as if a bright light bulb had been lit. She told us she had not seen any other Bahá’í from outside the village for 6 years. Later I wondered, had I been in that position would I have retained such joy and faith? We then walked on to ask for directions to other people and were told “They’re all in the wedding. Go there!” We felt embarrassed to go as we were simply wearing jeans and t-shirts, and everyone else was dressed up. However, we were urged on and indeed were given a very warm welcome; it was the time for everyone to eat and we were told our arrival was a blessing to the couple. It was a Hindu wedding, and everyone sat on benches around long, makeshift tables. It was my first experience eating curry and roti with my hands, using cut pieces of washed banana leaves as disposable plates – certainly a very environmentally-friendly as well as economic option .
The little house that Sunraev chose to live in was derelict, with debris all over the place, roof leaking and had many ‘country cockroaches’ twice the size of urban ones with a kind of shield on their back and there was no electricity in that village then. Lighting was by ‘flambeau’. Kerosene was placed in a glass bottle and a wick of old cloth was stuffed in the neck and lit when needed. We helped Sunraev clean up the place a bit. I think he stayed there for about a year, helping the Baha’is of the village to hold meetings and to understand more of the Faith. Unfortunately, some years later, he slipped into depression and committed suicide.
Before we left for Trinidad, Denis had applied for a job as a university lecturer in electrical engineering but had heard nothing more. He obtained work with the oil company Shlumberger which meant that he had to work long hours off-shore, and was based in Port of Spain. The National Assembly kindly permitted us to stay temporarily in a small rather ramshackle room with a cracked toilet and an adjoining shower, at the back of the National Bahá’í Centre in Woodbrook, Port of Spain. After about two months, we found a small one room apartment with an en-suite bathroom, in Maraval. Unfortunately the place was near to bins outside eating places. As rooms were not air-conditioned then, all buildings had ventilation blocks/spaces in the walls, and every night when we put on the light to go to the bathroom we would see around eight large cockroaches (about 2 inches long, not counting their antennae) on the walls. On occasion a cockroach might crawl over the bed. During the day I used to go out and I walked everywhere – even into the town centre and back – to the amazement of the local people who would take a route taxi. I had the time then, and I was accustomed to walking, but was reminded of the phrase “mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun”! On returning to the apartment I would place my key in the lock and, even in bright daylight, peep around the door, half expecting to see a four-foot cockroach on the bed – mind games! Needless to say, we were glad when we moved again.
Whilst still in Maraval, near Port of Spain, we bought a second-hand bright yellow Renault car, and continued to visit Timital and other contacts in the South of the island, from Port of Spain. Actually, when we first arrived in T&T I had watched the way people drive and told Denis I would not be able to drive there since they drive as they walk – simply see a space and move into it – but necessity won over my fears. In November Denis received an invitation to start work at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine campus, Trinidad from January. We moved to St. Augustine and chose a little house in Noel Trace, rather than having the university arrange accommodation for us and take a larger chunk out of Denis’ salary. Much later, Denis left university to become a manager in the telephone company, where he worked till he took early retirement sometime after a heart attack, which he thankfully survived after emergency angioplasty.
When we moved to St. Augustine, I could drop Denis to work and have the car to move around with. We had no phone in those days. Both of us were asked to serve as assistants to the Auxiliary Board member, and to revisit Bahá’ís in Las Lomas #2, Arouca, Brazil Village & Arima, as well as to teach and develop a community in the area in which we lived (St. Augustine & Curepe). The Auxiliary Board member had initially hoped we would live in Las Lomas #2, because a home-front pioneer, Gloreen Richards, had recently left and was migrating to Canada. However, after looking at possible accommodation and the distance from Denis’ work at the university, we decided against it, but we continued to visit weekly and established a children’s class and youth group, held periodic ‘public meetings’ for expansion, and tried to help the Las Lomas Assembly to meet and to understand their role.
The National Assembly then appointed us members of a National Youth Committee. Our first mandate was to arrange a National Youth Camp and get as many youth mobilised as possible from around the country. We selected two adjacent houses on the beach in Mayaro on the Atlantic east coast – one for girls and one for boys, got a list of the registered Bahá’í youth from the Bahá’í Centre and spent evenings and weekends visiting and encouraging attendance from across the country. We also arranged a bus and meeting point to take participants from Port of Spain, loaded chairs into private cars and made a number of journeys from the National Bahá’í Centre. Chaperones were arranged for each house, extra mattresses, cooking, and a programme to include allotment of chores, sports, etc. We also included a play on consultation and Local Spiritual Assemblies that we found in one of the volumes of Bahá’í World. Hazel Lovelace of Alaska visited the Youth Camp whilst on a Caribbean travel-teaching trip, members of the National Assembly came to visit to provide support, and two youngsters from Surinam also attended.
The National Assembly then assigned us to the East Area Teaching Committee with Ruth and John Dabie of Las Lomas #2. Our role was to go out and teach, deepen and encourage registered Baha’is, hold meetings, and ensure Local Spiritual Assemblies were elected according to Bahá’í principles at Ridván.
We had the 9 days of Ridván to see about helping communities to elect their Assemblies at the time, which was a good thing as in our area we had to go to a number of communities (maybe 15+) to visit, to deepen the friends on the Local Spiritual Assembly, encourage and assist them to invite members and hold the meeting, get tie votes broken, and receive the results to send or take to the National Bahá’í Centre. Almost every weekend, we took a packed lunch (a cooked meal was preferred by locals) and went out into communities from morning till night to do home-visits and to share the Message of Bahá’u’lláh.
At that time it was easy to go into a village, set up a meeting place, invite people to come one hour before and the place would be packed – there being very few television sets then. We had prayers, a short talk, a film-strip presentation and much singing. Many enrolled. Our problem then was in follow-up. We produced a small teaching / deepening booklet, song sheets and prayer sheets. People loved the prayers, songs and the principles of the Faith, but for the most part did not become self-reliant in terms of taking initiative for continued learning or holding activities, though a few ‘key’ individuals began to take responsibilities. I was fortunate to have the use of the car during the week, so most week days I was free to go home-visiting and teaching in the villages, as well as be in our team efforts at weekends.
Soon we were also asked to be responsible for importing and distributing Bahá’í books and associated materials. Often we received shipments which we took home to sort out and mark with their prices – our living room floor was covered! Production and distribution of the news bulletin was our next assignment. This had to be typed onto wax skins, and a special red liquid that set quickly was used to correct mistakes and could be typed over, but never as new. As many as 3,000 copies were then run off on a Roneo-Gestetner machine rotated by hand. Then the printed pages were collated and stapled by hand, and folded. Addressing was done by typing out and then running off sheets with names and addresses of Bahá’ís which then had to be cut out and stuck onto the newsletters. At least we could take the stapled and folded newsletters to the Post Office for franking rather than stick on stamps. However, before we learnt of that option we took the boxes of collated newsletters to the home of the Dabie family in Las Lomas, or sometimes another Bahá’í family, and the whole family helped in assembly-line fashion to get them ready for stamp-sticking and posting.
Ridván 1976 came and our first National Convention. Denis was elected as a member of the National Spiritual Assembly and served diligently for the next thirty-seven years, up to the year 2013, when, recognising that he was slowing down he decided to retire at Ridván to allow younger people to take up the mantle. He had served as recording secretary, then treasurer for many years, and was very diligent in the areas of creating and maintaining databases for membership and later to track advancement in institute courses. He also was involved with property and legal matters, and in helping maintain alignment of focus with the guidance of the Universal House of Justice. He had been privileged to enjoy each International Bahá’í Convention in Haifa, Israel during this period. I served on the National Assembly for a two year period when my portfolio was properties, and then again for six years up to 2013 during which time I was privileged to serve as its recording secretary, then secretary. During the last year I was the only foreign-born member of the NSA. Though in earlier years most of the members elected had been pioneers from overseas, in 2014 all members elected were born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago.
In 2005, Denis was invited to serve on the Caribbean Board of Deputy Trustees for Huqúq’u’llah, and is presently its secretary. Prior to this he served a number of years as a representative for Huqúq’u’llah in Trinidad and was instrumental in developing some educational programmes. In addition, as many elected Local Spiritual Assemblies were not fully functioning, he served many years as an assistant to the National Treasurer to assist in enabling individuals wishing to donate to the national and other funds.
In 1976 I was appointed to the National Teaching Committee with Peter Coward, Junior Nicholas and Hardeen Changoor, all dedicated Bahá’ís willing to serve but consultation was for me challenging as it was hard to elicit ideas. A year or two later the National Teaching Committee was made up of five members, each a member of his or her respective area teaching committee with one also on the National Spiritual Assembly. Consultation improved, especially as there was now a direct link for sharing information on activities and possibilities in each area, and guidance from the National Assembly could be reinforced.
I later had the privilege of serving two years as the national coordinator for the institute programme in this country, and assisted in setting up and training cluster coordinators.
Our children were all born in Trinidad and remain here: Kathryn (born 1978) has served on the area teaching committee, the Local Spiritual Assembly, as a children’s class teacher, designed the national Bahá’í website and served on the Bahá’í Distribution Service. Carolyn (born 1980) is a teacher and served as children’s class teacher and then as Auxiliary Board member until motherhood occupied her time. She married Daren Johnson in 2003 and they have three children (Deja, Siela and Alejandro). Daren, an active Bahá’í in teaching and an animator in the junior youth programme, has served on the National Spiritual Assembly and attended International Convention in 2013. Our son Bryan (born 1985) married in 2013 and at this time serves mainly in maintenance at a Bahá’í Centre near Sangre Grande and on visits to the Temple Land which is on the mountainside overlooking Arouca in north Trinidad. (He now has a son, Daemon)
When our children arrived they came with us into the field of action. I recall placing Kathryn at 3 months in a grocery box lined with blankets, on the floor in the footwell of the car where I could keep an eye on her, when continuing my schedule of home visits. Baby seats were not available in Trinidad then. She was a calm baby and travelled very well. She came to all committee meetings with me too. However, two years later when Carolyn came along, being a much more active child who hated being confined, my visits to the villages began to diminish. The children’s needs had to be my priority. Still they came to all major activities with us. When Carolyn was 2+ years and ready to go to nursery school, I was ready to go out in the field again, but then found myself pregnant. This pregnancy naturally aborted at around four months. Once over the trauma I adopted the Calvary Hill community, on the hill above Arima, as my ‘baby’ to nurture, little realizing at the time that we would eventually, some years later, move to Arima, by which time Calvary Hill had been absorbed into the town.
In Calvary Hill there were a number of stalwart Bahá’ís. One of Amerindian descent Mr. Francis Tobas with his wife of Amerindian and African descent, Theodora, held most of the prayer meetings and Feasts in their well-kept wooden home, ensuring invitation to others around them. Both were very sincere and wonderfully warm hearted. He loved to read the Holy Writings and studied them well, and gave me many insights into Amerindian history of the area and traditions, and we shared an interest in the natural environment. She showed me how the Amerindians wove ‘Timette’ (a reed) into trays and basketry, making varying shades of brown to black through soaking for different periods of time. Francis died many years later from diabetic complications – gangrene in his leg. He chose to die at home, in dignity, with his wife’s loving care rather than have another amputation and suffer the treatment he had unfortunately experienced in the public hospital previously. Dr. Erfan (a pioneer from UK), who was living not too far away and I visited to make sure Francis and his wife understood all the implications of his decision. He had a niece who said she would take care of funeral expenses. Then she asked him, to please her, to baptise in the church she went to. He did and told us that this did not change his strong faith in Bahá’u’lláh, but to ensure funeral expenses were covered. When he died, to ensure Bahá’í rites were followed, Theodora got a message to a Bahá’í in Arima (Verdin Coward), who hurriedly got transport to come to our home (which was then not too many miles away in D’Abadie) to give me the news – most people did not have phones in those days. Fortunately I was home. By the time we got to the house, the niece had made funeral arrangements. Theodora insisted we should have Bahá’í prayers in the home before the body went to the church funeral and this was arranged.
On that day, when we arrived a little before the appointed time, many neighbours (Bahá’ís and non-Bahá’ís) and family were present. The small living room in their wooden house had been cleared of its normal furniture and benches placed for seating, but it was standing room only for the most part. We were surprised to see a minister of religion there. As we were about to begin, he jumped up, cleared his throat, and in a loud voice announced that now was the time for home prayers, and he went on and on. We quietly let him continue. He even talked of the devil in our midst and looked directly at those of us who had entered together. When he ran out of things to say, he asked everyone to leave and come to the church immediately. Only then did we state that we had been invited to say prayers for the soul of this dear friend, and Theodora confirmed this. When the Minister objected, it was the neighbours who called back at him saying Francis had been a Bahá’í ten years, “prayers is prayers, and there is only one God who hears them all”. The Minister had not anticipated this. He was accustomed to being in charge. We quietly invited him to stay, but he fled as quickly as he could threatening not to give the funeral service if they did not come ‘now’. It was so sad to see his fear. We gently started singing “Blessed is the spot…” and those who knew it joined in. Then we went into the programme arranged, and from the feedback of those present it was much appreciated.
When I first made my commitment to Bahá’u’lláh and His Revelation, I had no idea what services I would have to render – and marriages and funerals were far from my thoughts – but it is very necessary for active believers to perform these services on behalf of the National Assembly where no elected Local Spiritual Assembly exists, or where elected Assembly members are just beginning to meet with as yet little understanding of their role. Another Amerindian and active Bahá’í from Calvary Hill who died had a catholic funeral in Arima. She was then buried with Bahá’í rites in the catholic cemetery. The priest was very understanding and as well as allowing us to say the Bahá’í prayers at the grave site allowed us to say a eulogy for her in the church service too. The grave site was not the most dignified situation. It was raining and muddy with uneven ground as the grave diggers had done their job. One had to close ones eyes to shreds of fabric and false teeth grinning from the earth, and focus on the reason for being there.
Another rainy day Bahá’í funeral I had to attend to was that of Cynthia Cato, who had died of sclerosis of the liver. As she was a Bahá’í and therefore did not drink alcohol, the doctors surmised that her problems were caused by her great love of and copious intake of very ‘hot’ pepper sauce on her food. There was a full Bahá’í funeral service in Sangre Grande at the funeral home, and then a cavalcade south through a number of villages to Biche. What was significant about that day was a hurricane warning and schools had closed early. Denis had had to make arrangements to pick up the children from school. The sky was strangely dark and there was constant light rain, which did not help the interment, but singing (in the rain) helped get us through.
My experiences as a willing and committed Bahá’í have I feel assisted me in gaining much broader understandings of life than might otherwise have happened – not just for myself but so I can help explain to others or provide insights relevant to social and governmental issues. My literacy has been enhanced through study of the Holy Word and the guidance from the Universal House of Justice, and application certainly helped me to grow as a person (though there is much to be improved on!). On a number of occasions, I was privileged to be invited to serve as an NGO representative, or the Bahá’í representative, at functions and public consultations or meetings with government ministers for various reasons, or in activities arranged by the Inter-Religious Organisation of Trinidad and Tobago, which required preparatory research and study.
On one occasion Lawrence Coward and I went to meet the Chief Education Officer (Ken Seepersad) as the National Assembly had heard that the Caribbean Examinations Council had invited inputs on a Religious Education syllabus for ‘O’ level students which had a section for options to study an individual religion at greater depth. We were given an interview but were told that there was a deadline three days later for the inputs to be sent to Jamaica. There was no mention of the Bahá’í Faith in the original document. I took a copy home and worked almost all night on it, providing a rationale for inclusion, and details of an option module on the Bahá’í Faith in line with the existing framework. We had a computer but no internet then. Dr. Farabi at the university had Fax facilities, so the next day it was faxed to the National Assembly of the Bahá’ís in Jamaica for their review and suggestions. Fortunately their response was quick and it was returned with their suggestions the following day, and with the suggested amendments we had a good document to submit to the Ministry of Education in the time required. The Chief Education Officer appeared surprised that it had been done, and worthily, and became a friend of the Faith.
Around that time, with the support and encouragement of the National Spiritual Assembly, and the Inter-Religious Organisation of Trinidad and Tobago, and of course inspired by the Message of unity of religion in Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation, I embarked on research of the Holy Texts to compile a small book to teach values using an inter-religious approach. Quotations from four major religions in Trinidad and Tobago are used for each topic to reinforce the worthy line of the national anthem ‘Here every creed and race finds an equal place.’ This little book was inspired by an outcry in the newspapers for the need for values education to build good character, but teachers in government schools complained they would not be able to select the Quran, or Bhagavad Gita, or the Bible, as the religion-based denominational schools could, since there would be an outcry from parents of the ‘other’ religions.
When the book was complete, Lawrence Coward decided he would act as my publisher and arranged to launch it, sponsored by the insurance company he worked for, at the Hilton Hotel. Several government ministers and representatives of the Inter-Religious Organisation attended to voice their support. Dissemination of the book to schools took place but it was not taken up in a big way. However, small quantities have been re-printed over the years, and there is a growing sense of need for inter-religious studies, and it will probably find its space soon, judging by recent comments.
At the time the little book was published, there was still very much a public sense of tolerating from a distance the existence of the ‘other’ but not to let it touch ‘mine’, and of teachers not realising the unity among religious teachings. Attitudes are changing slowly, in part because new national holidays have been made for significant religious festivals/days for Muslim and Hindu religions, as well as for Shouter Baptists, and schools and work places have celebrated them too (as well as the traditional Christian ones carried over from colonial days). However, there are still those who demonstrate a fear of ‘other’ religions, and consider that the prayers of different religions go to different gods, or the purity of their souls will be contaminated if they listen to the prayers of another religion.
In 2010, the National Commission for UNESCO held a symposium on Comparative Religion and I was fortunate to be one of three Bahá’ís invited to attend. I was then invited to some sessions of a working group, to tweak the subject further. One of the concerns was the name. To ‘compare’ indicated a sense of rating one against the next. It came to me to suggest the term ‘inter-religious studies’ but it was rejected. However the seed was apparently sown, as in November 2013 an invitation came to go to the UNESCO offices for a meeting of tertiary level educators whereupon I saw the name had indeed changed to ‘inter-religious studies’ – the power of speech and suggestion may indeed not be seen immediately. A pilot workshop for teacher-educators and guidance counsellors was planned for March 2014, and interest in my little book voiced and copies shared out. I am happy if this serves to disseminate the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh to wider audiences, but much understanding on the role of Baha’u’llah and His Teachings – in society’s changing attitudes is still required.
Over the years I have worked for periods of one to three years in nursery, primary and tertiary institutions. I served as acting Principal in a private primary school and was employed by an NGO involved with an educational project to villagers in the northeast on Environmental Awareness and Nature Tour Guiding. I was then invited to train and be employed as a tutor for a series of school workshops over a year called “Peace, Love & Understanding in Schools” (the PLUS programme) organized by the Coalition Against Domestic Violence – to help teachers understand that there are team approaches and other approaches to assist in problem-solving, rather than beating children. These experiences coupled with my teaching certificate enabled me to enter the M. Ed degree programme offered by Sheffield University, in Trinidad, without having a first degree. I succeeded with the help of Bahá’u’lláh. I had asked Him to help me if through this I could assist the growth of the Faith further. He did. Innumerable are the occasions when a relevant Bahá’í book and quote came to hand when I was writing on a topic, or a word would come to my mind that I had never come across before, but on checking in the dictionary would prove it was exactly what I needed. Divine confirmations indeed!
In January 2012, I received a phone call asking me if I would be interested in serving on a committee concerning moral values, and if so to present myself two days later at the Minister of Tertiary Education’s office. Many high level persons in education were there from the Chairman of one university to the retired Chief Education Officer of the Ministry of Education, Ken Seepersad (aforementioned) to professors in another university and retired school principals and Ministers of religion. The reason I was selected to go it appears was my little book. After the Minister had delivered his outline of expectation – to revise an existing Life Skills Curriculum by infusing it with spiritual values and citizenship education, to update content and get rid of outmoded ideas, he asked us all to serve as a form of national service for an initial 2-year period. Three times during this introduction he mentioned he was so glad that the Bahá’ís were included! He then invited us to introduce ourselves (generally our academic standing and service) and say what we thought about the project. He then asked me to serve as the chairperson of the committee. I hesitated but Ken Seepersad whispered from across the table ‘Take it. Take it’ and I said to myself ‘Bahá’u’lláh what have you got me into now – I shall try my best’.
In the social period afterwards a number of people came up to me to assure support, to ask me who I was (an unknown in their eyes) and if I knew who the Bahá’í was. It was really quite amusing. Ken Seepersad had apparently been receiving copies of the international Bahá’í magazine “One Country” for many years and had seemingly shown articles to the Minister where Bahá’ís at the United Nations were often selected to serve as chairs of committees because of their just and non-partisan approach.
The journey has been an interesting one with many bureaucratic setbacks. As we came to the end of our initial period of office as a Cabinet appointed Committee, the new Life Skills Unit to manage the programme was in the process of being staffed. We had managed to do the necessary revisions to the curriculum and associated workbook, infuse virtues in every unit of study, include the concept of the oneness of humanity instead of exploring ‘racial strengths and differences,’ etc, hold orientation sessions for some stakeholders, and install a training session for student support staff in one university. We were then asked to serve as an Advisory Committee for a further year. Through it all, my experience on Bahá’í institutions and consultation has helped me tremendously.
One outcome of the training session for student support staff at the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) was that I met a spiritually receptive lady whom I told about the Ruhi training programmes. She was immediately interested. We agreed on a start date and she invited her sister and two other friends – all enjoying the study of the first course, with a couple of youth who spent a term in a junior youth group held in parallel. Another outcome was to be able to present the junior youth programme as a possible volunteer project for UTT’s student volunteer service centre.
Life is full of interesting twists and turns, and is never boring. Meanwhile we have grandchildren who provide us with great delight. Our own community in Arima is presently small and needs an influx of new believers. However, thanks must go to one of our youth, Stephen Maurice, who started the junior youth group at our home in August. Then in September a young woman tapped my shoulder in the grocery store and said: ‘Aunty Doreen! Do you remember me?’ She was in a youth group we had held about 19 years ago and then was involved in the Bahá’ídance workshop, which had given her joyful and meaningful experiences. Now married with three children, she has built a large room to the side of her home and started a pre-school, and was arranging different activities in the evenings (including dance & drama, Indian dance, and karate) in an effort to build and raise up her neighbourhood.
The upshot of this is that during 2013-14 I went on Friday mornings to hold a spiritual and moral empowerment class, and have a good time with these little ones, and there is opportunity to start a study circle for the dance-drama group one evening. Then there are opportunities to meet government officials and diplomats concerning human rights abuses, membership databases to maintain and statistics to produce, Huqúqu’llah seminars to arrange, and so on.
We are so blessed! We pray for continued health and strength, but know we have to accompany and try to train others to gain confidence, as fast as possible, as we do not have the energy we had and are slowing down.
Trinidad, March 2015