|In Bolivia, Bahá'ís operate or
sponsor several distinctive projects, such as the Dorothy Baker Environmental Studies
Center, which helped Primo Pacsi establish a pre-school in his remote village on the
altiplano. [See pages 12-13] In the lowlands of southeastern
Bolivia, a region known as the Chaco, Bahá'ís collaborate in a project to uplift and
empower a long-ignored population of impoverished farmers through an integrated program of
technical training, community organization, and the infusion of spiritual ideals.
Known simply as The Chaco Project, the effort draws on Bahá'í principles to
encourage a process of self-development. Although much of the training provided by the
project is technical--such as how to grow fungus-resistant citrus trees, plant
high-protein corn, or vaccinate livestock--a special effort is made to provide
supplementary training in community organization and grassroots decision-making
techniques, such as consultation.
The goal is to create a level of self-sufficiency, through
community awareness, that will reduce dependency on outside aid and advice.
A critical component of this approach is the introduction of
moral principles into the training programs offered by the project. "If people are
dishonest, training in bookkeeping will only allow them to practice their dishonesty more
effectively," said Garth Pollack, who directed the project from 1988 to 1990.
"So we talk about honesty, about service, and about the unity of the community in our
"Every man of discernment, while walking upon the earth, feeleth
indeed abashed, inasmuch as he is fully aware that the thing which is the source of his
prosperity, his wealth, his might, his exaltation, his advancement and power is, as
ordained by God, the very earth which is trodden beneath the feet of all men." --
A special focus of the project is the promotion of a new
ideal of leadership--an ideal that is based largely on Bahá'í concepts. "Our
approach is rooted in the notion that we are all part of one human family," said Ken
Roedell, the project's director. "We're trying to stimulate local people to arise as
servants of their own communities. This is our definition of a community leader: one who
serves, rather than one who is served."
A village-level health care
network in Africa
In Chad, Bahá'ís have established a primary
health care network that extends to some of that country's most remote villages. Based in
Sarh, the network is composed of indigenous villagers who have been trained in simple
primary health care techniques: how to give inoculations, basic first aid, how to stem
deadly infantile diarrhea, and what to do when malaria flares up.
"Judge thou fairly, I adjure thee by God.... If thou deniest Me,
by what proof canst thou vindicate the truth of that which thou dost possess" --
The project relies on the relatively large number of
Bahá'ís in the region; working through their local Spiritual Assemblies, they provide
the communications network and sense of commitment necessary to make the project work. The
Bahá'í village health workers themselves serve on a voluntary basis, having been
selected by their local communities. In addition to the basics of health care, the
training that they receive emphasizes service to humanity as a form of worship.
Consultation with the local Spiritual Assembly tends to
reinforce the volunteer's desire to serve and stimulates the community to improve health
conditions. As a result of this distinctive combination of factors, the drop-out rates
among Bahá'í community health workers in Chad and several other African countries are
very low in comparison with other community health programs.
"In some African countries, the drop-out rate in
government-run programs is anywhere from 40 to 70 percent," said Dr. Ethel Martens, a
Canadian health care specialist and a Bahá'í who has worked with some national and local
Bahá'í communities in Africa and Asia. "In Bahá'í projects, the comparable rate
over two years has been from two to five percent. In one project in Kenya, for example,
two out of 40 workers dropped out. In Zambia, one is inactive out of 19. One important
difference in Bahá'í projects has been the use of participatory, workshop-based training
"Do not busy yourselves with your own concerns, let your
thoughts be fixed upon that which will rehabilitate the fortunes of mankind and sanctify
the hearts and souls of men." -- Bahá'u'lláh
Bahá'u'lláh gave clear guidelines
about how to work for social change and advancement. He stressed especially the importance
of deeds over words. "Do not busy yourselves in your own
concerns; let your thoughts be fixed upon that which will rehabilitate the fortunes of
mankind and sanctify the hearts and souls of men," wrote Bahá'u'lláh.
"This can best be achieved through pure and holy deeds, through
a virtuous life and a goodly behavior."
When this idea of selfless service is combined with Bahá'í
social ideals and administrative principles, what emerges is a new model for social action
and development. That model includes the use of consultation to build community consensus
and unity, emphasizes self-reliance and self-sufficiency where possible, and urges a
holistic and "globally minded" approach in understanding a problem and its
In addition to addressing directly the major issues of our
day, such as the environment, education, and health, Bahá'í development efforts seek
above all else to revitalize the human spirit and to break down the barriers that limit
fruitful and harmonious cooperation among men and women, whatever their religious,
national, or racial background.