Saturday, 8 July 2017

Helping those who want to help themselves

The recent Grenfell Tower disaster highlighted how a community can work together to help its members in time of need. The response by local people, and those further afield, to those who were suddenly left without food, clothing or shelter, was a positive example to us all.

I asked my daughter, Helena, to do a guest blog about BASED-UK, to explain a little about the Bahá’í  view of social and economic development:

"Social change is not a project that one group of people carries out for the benefit of another." This striking statement from the Universal House of Justice, the supreme body of the worldwide Bahá’í community, has set the direction of Bahá’í-inspired social and economic development.

Most development projects are borne out of a sincere desire to help our fellow man, to alleviate the suffering of others. Yet, whilst so much excellent work has been done, there is a recognition that we are a long way from achieving social justice. Therefore, the guiding principles of the development projects inspired by the Bahá’í teachings are that they must be created from a genuine need identified by the people themselves, and they must be for the benefit of all people of that region. Overarching principles include a firm belief in the oneness of humankind, and in the equality of men and women.

Bahá’ís and their friends living in an area who want to contribute to the material progress of their society can pursue many different lines of action, some of short duration, and there are many hundreds of these throughout the world. The ones which have developed into full programmes of activity, which can be scaled up and replicated, are often in the field of education. One such programme is the “Community Schools Programme” which is currently developing in 14 different countries across Africa. In each country a local development agency has emerged and now there is a continental effort to share learning and best practice across the region.

As these development agencies begin their work in a particular country there is a period of time for experimentation and growth. Funds raised within the country are sufficient to further the work. As the development agency grows more complex, there becomes a need for office staff, project coordinators and the increasing costs of running the programme itself. It is at this point that material resources from outside the country could be used.

Although the Bahá’í community does not adhere to divisions such as "North" and "South", "developed" and "under developed", there is a need for financial resources to flow from materially prosperous countries. To assist with this, the Bahá’í world community has a network of funding agencies who each take on the work of representing Bahá’í development agencies to potential donors in a particular country. One such example is BASED-UK (Bahá’í Agency for Social and Economic Development-UK). This is a registered charity in the UK which works with development organisations in other countries. BASED-UK represents these other organisations when it requests funding from government, grant-making charities, individuals and businesses.

To give an example of its work, BASED-UK is partnered with the Setsembiso Sebunye Foundation (SSF) in Swaziland. The SSF runs a school in the capital city of Mbabane and, having gained experience with this, is now running the Community Schools Programme. In this programme, the SSF approaches local villages to discuss with them the idea of setting up a pre-school. These are particularly popular and useful because formal schooling does not start until the children reach six or seven years old. If the idea is taken up by the village, the villagers are then responsible for setting up a committee to oversee the school operations, identifying a classroom (usually an existing space), and also identifying someone who could become trained as the class teacher.

The SSF assists with all of this process, and then provides the teacher training. Once the training is complete, the SSF also provides assistance with getting the pre-school properly established. Over the following years it follows the progress of the school, providing visits and ongoing teacher training. The basic costs of the school are met by modest fees from the parents of the children attending. The children who have been through pre-school are known for their good behaviour as well as their proficiency in reading and writing.

By the end of 2016 there were 21 such pre-schools in existence, serving 636 children. Plans for 2017 are to continue to support the existing pre-schools and to increase their number. The total budget for 2017 is £13,620. In BASED-UK's opinion this represents excellent value for money. 

Anyone moved to contribute towards this exciting process is warmly invited to do so by contacting baseduk@gmail.com or visiting www.baseduk.org

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A guest blog by Helena Hastie, trustee of BASED-UK