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bullet.gif (837 bytes) The Bahá'ís
bullet.gif (837 bytes) Unity in Diversity
bullet.gif (837 bytes) Bahá'u'lláh
bullet1.gif (837 bytes) Social and Moral
bullet1.gif (837 bytes) Spiritual Beliefs of
the Bahá'í Faith
bullet1.gif (837 bytes) A System for
Global Governance
bullet1.gif (837 bytes) A Century of
Growth and
bullet1.gif (837 bytes) New Approaches
to Old Problems
bullet1.gif (837 bytes) Towards the New
World Order

The Chaco Project

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 classes."

"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." -- Bahá'u'lláh

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" -- Bahá'u'lláh

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 methods."

"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 roots.

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.

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"Excerpted from The Bahá'ís, a publication of the Bahá'í International Community."

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Photo from page 66
The Chaco Project in Bolivia seeks to encourage self-development by providing training not only in new agricultural techniques, but also in community decision-making. Andrés Fernández, left and Rufino Tejerina have both taken workshops sponsored by the project. They are standing before a small structure built out of bamboo and banana leaves which is designed to shade citrus seedlings from the sun--a technique taught by the project.

Photo from page 68
Bahá'í communities operate a number of low-power radio stations, such as the one pictured at right in Ecuador, which strive to serve regions that have long been ignored by commercial radio. These stations broadcast a wide variety of music, cultural, educational and community-service programs. Stations frequently provide on-the-air agricultural or health tips, for example. At the present time, there are seven Bahá'í radio stations: five in Latin America, one in North America, and one in Africa. The five stations in Latin America all broadcast extensively in indigenous languages, a feature which serves to help maintain the cultural identity of a particular region.

Photo from page 68
A Bahá'í-sponsored training class for village-level health care workers in Chad, Africa.







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