Month: July 2012

The Difference Between American JYG and the Rest of the World

I have a bad habit of only taking pictures of dogs and not of the kids who come to the core activities.  At least I have really cute puppies.

One thing that I have found interesting is how hard it is to have junior youth groups in the United States.  We hear glorious stories around the world about how the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program has taken off and these young ones have taken off and are arising to serve.  Yet in the United States, we are not seeing the same growth.  At times I have wondered if it is the animators who work with these youth.  Are we the ones incapable of really striking a chord with them? Are we misdirecting their energies so that they do not want to be part of this world-wide movement of change?

I heard a story once from the Southwestern Regional Assistant for Junior Youth Groups about a man from Africa (I think it was Cameroon or some other country in the West). He apparently had groups of 50 or more kids where he was from.  He came to the US and was eager to serve, especially when he heard that groups here were only about 10.  After a few groups meetings he said that he had never managed groups so difficult to manage.

What about our American society makes kids more disruptive and unwilling to grow up and take on more responsibility? It reminds me of this article my friend Amanda shared on her facebook.  Why are American Kids So Spoiled?

Today we had 6 girls over for Junior Youth Group, and of course Amelia was here to help.  When Kevin came home from work today he asked her how it went.  She said “it was interesting…” and I replied they were good today.  Amelia said “Wow, really? They were so crazy!”

Of course, I have seen groups of children in China.  They are so much better behave than groups of kids here.  But why is that?

In our group today once we were all gathered we had an interesting conversation about how certain people in the neighborhood see the Baha’is.  One girl mentioned that there was a woman in the neighborhood who is Chinese and Christian named Miss Big Bird. I checked with the girls that they weren’t making fun of her and that was her actual name.  They said that she has classes at their home every week where they sing songs and learn about virtues for the kids.  Apparently one of the junior youth told her that the  “Baha’i classes are more fun.”  Lupita, the one who was talking about Miss Big Bird, went on to say how many things were bothered by the other woman.  I should point out Lupita is a JY but she has assisted with children’s classes before.

I didn’t want to create disunity with others serving in the neighborhood, and I didn’t want Lupita thinking that the services we are trying to do are different.  I tried to change the subject to focus on our own qualities and how we can improve ourselves using everything we know.  I also wanted to point out that the classes were for everyone no matter what they believe, and we happen to be Baha’i but people who are not are welcome to learn with us.

We know that when the Baha’is are making an impact, people will rise up against what we are doing.  I’ve heard only a few stories of individuals in the neighborhood saying things against us.  It seems that these kids so far are happy to be with us and do not pay attention to what others say about the activities.  I pray for their strength and steadfastness against peer pressure and the pressures of the society around them.

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Somedays I just forget to take pictures….

Kevin had an all-hands meeting at his work today.  I don’t know the details of it, but it sounds as if half the company is being let go.  The CEO said at the rate that they’re going, the company will run out of money by December 2013.  Everyone who is staying needs to come up with new product ideas to help get sales higher.  Kevin was supposed to come to JYG at Santa Inez today, but he didn’t think it would be a good idea to leave right after such a harsh announcement.  He will probably need to start working on side projects more now.

I had a great day with some Junior Youth in the neighborhood.  Aaron came and we took three girls and a a boy over to our house.  We read from Breezes of Confirmation and talked about what a world would look like when we prefer others before ourselves.  I think I want to plan an activity for next week that will involve students to come up with how they should respond in certain situations if 1) they prefer themselves over others, 2)they treat each other equally and 3) they prefer others over themselves.

There was also an art project that I saw from some friends on facebook in a neighborhood called Summit in Pasadena.  It involved making a paper-mache globe and writing on it:

Ye were created to show love to one another…”
(Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 138)

Little events in the daily life of the neighborhood make it so enjoyable to live and work here.  We took the junior youth to the local grocery store to treat the group in honor of a member’s birthday, and there I came across four children from my children’s class.  Three of them related and one there separately.  They were so excited to see me and I offered to buy everyone a little treat at the store.  This consisted of either ice cream or hot cheetos (which I have very sad feelings hout).  I think the people at La Hacienda were confused as to why all these kids were surrounding the cash register, but it was such a nice moment.

I’ll leave you with the one picture that I took from today.  It is of Nike, a dog from my doggy daycare business.

Nike

Monday Hangout Day

Though I yearn for the day the junior youth can plan and execute a service project on their own, I have to admit we are not there.  There was a lot of preparation on our part to make sure that it was a success.  And even though we tried to prepare, it was quite evident that the success of it was based on the help from the Blessed Beauty.  Certain things just worked out really well, though we did not plan for it.

Today I got back to normal life.  Bought groceries, made a real meal for dinner, worked on my company website and played with the kids in the neighborhood.

One activity that one of the kids is really fond of Chess.  We have gotten a few boys to learn the game, and so far the girls have shied away from it.  I happen to be learning along side them, so we are pretty evenly matched witch is good.  This boy who came over today is the most considerate chess player I have ever met besides Kevin.  He lets me know when I’m making a bad mood, and it tells me he’s sorry when he gets one of my pieces.

Day at the Beach

As a reward for those who took part in the service project, and as some exercise and relaxation, we took the junior youth to the dog beach at Half Moon Bay.

The kids loved watching Eli swimming in the ocean.  Luckily there were fewer kids today, but also fewer adults to help out.  We brought 12 to the beach and had a picnic lunch.  Eli was so tired at the end of the day he fell asleep in the car ride home.

Eli tired after swimming at the beach

Afterwards we came home and watched The Avengers and Kevin and I fell asleep early.  What an exhausting weekend.  I hope that these experiences help the process of building community and unity with everyone.  It is such a small subsection, but maybe in a few years these youth will be working with several times what we are able to do now.

If Life Gives You Lemons… Sell Them!

Today was the day of our service project.  Unfortunately it was so crazy that I didn’t get any pictures of the actual project as it was occurring.  We had about 30 junior youth from the neighborhood come out to help plant some lavender and evergreen bushes.  The other groups of kids divided into different areas of the neighborhood and sold lemonade, jamaica and lemon-bars.  We raised about $76! Which covered the costs of the plants and new soil for the ground.  Pictures of the gardening project will be added to a later post.

It was a very interesting experience.  First of all, we had 3 adults helping – not including Kevin and myself.  It probably would have been good to have 1 more, but those extra 3 were very important to the success of it.  They helped make sure that the JY were constantly engaged with their work and helped them get what they needed.  Kevin was in charge of the gardening portion, and it was some heavy lifting for him, let alone the junior youth.  After 2 hours, they were only able to put in two plants.  Hopefully the soil was changed over enough so that the plants will live forever.  Past gardening projects had poorer results, though they were able to actually plant more at the time.

Most of my time was spent going from group to group making sure everything they needed was there, whether it was more ice or more lemon bars.  We ended up moving everyone away from one area because there was no one walking by where they were.  At one point I had to go to the store to buy more soil.  At the end everyone came back for lunch and to relax.  Several of the boys hosed themselves down because they were so sweaty.

Later in the evening, a friend who used to serve with us in this area but has since moved to China came back to visit.  Armando now works as a 4th grade teacher in a Baha’i inspired school in Macau.  Though people mostly speak Cantonese there, he has elected to study Mandarin since has wants to some day move to mainland China.  He practiced his Chinese with her and we learned about some of the efforts in Macau.

JYG and The Fruits of the Garden

This weekend there will be a mini-servie project in the neighborhood.  For the last several weeks we have been prepping for it.  We have gone through a few different streets asking for people’s lemons.  We have made that lemon juice into lemonade and lemon bars.  This morning some of the junior youth girls came over to help make the lemon bars.

Afterwards I went over to the Santa Inez apartments just to help build my friendships with the kids there.  There was a new boy there who spends most of his time with his father in Hayward, but visits his mother here in San Mateo.  I spent some time talking with his grandmother, and she expressed her concern that he spent time with people who were good influences.  We planned to go to my house to play with the dogs, and he wanted to come, but usually his mother told him to stay behind (to be careful who he spends his time with).  This time I talked to her and she said he could come along if she went as well.   So the mother, grandmother, little brother and Alex all came along to play with the dogs – plus the other kids from the JYG.  It was really fun, and it was very refreshing to see a mother who wants to ensure that her children are around good influences.

 

At the same time as all this, we’re hosting a new dog at Chez-Trotter!  His name is Dizzy and he is a Bichon.  This family is paying us to watch him, but really he is such a treat to have around I feel blessed to get to watch him.

 

We also harvested our first fruit from the vegetable garden the junior youth helped plant.  It was huge and very watery.  Photographic evidence.  Tomorrow is the junior youth group service project!

Amelia is here!

When I study abroad in China, I met the most loving family there.  They were Chinese Nationals, but had lived in Canada and the US for several years.  The mother, Lijun, took me into her home and let me spend weekends there.  This helped me adjust to life in China.  It was so nice having a comfortable home there with a loving family around me.

Fast-forward six years, and Lijun’s oldest daughter is coming to university in North America.  She starts at an art school in September, and she is here in California for the next month.  She came with us to Feast tonight and also helped out with the children’s class this afternoon.

Amelia is really focused on developing human resources to help advance the Cause of Baha’u’llah.  She has taken many of the Ruhi sequence and has practice with teaching Children’s Classes and Animating Junior Youth Groups back in China.  Of course the experience of each core activity is unique whereever you are, it is the same process the world over.  When she starts school in Toronto, I really think she’ll learn a lot about community development there.  Toronto is one of the fastest growing centers of Junior Youth Groups in North America.

In the children’s class today we learned about having hope.
“Be thou ever hopeful, for the bounties of God never cease to flow upon man.” – `Abdu’l-Bahá
We  colored, played outside and had a dance contest.  This group really likes to dance!

Santa Inez Apartments

About a year ago, some people who were serving with us in San Mateo spoke to an apartment manager of a large complex in our neighborhood.  The junior youth spiritual Empowerment Program was explained to her, as well as the entire vision of working with children through adults in a community advancing movement that everyone can be part of.  She was very interested, but for some reason everyone was too busy to put it to action.

A lot of the friends who spoke to her before no longer serve as much in San Mateo, so when she got in touch with us and told us a group of junior youth was ready to start getting together, Kevin and I -and Sarv and Aaron, got ourselves together for this group.

It’s a really really fantastic group of young people.  They range in ages from 10-14.

 

The group has met 4 times now, and this is the first week we are meeting multiple times.  It is such a wonderful group of junior youth.  Especially when it comes to the reading exercises.  They are precocious and too advanced for Breezes academically.  However, they are able to delve into the topics discussed in a very sophisticated manner.  In the chapter about talents, everyone had insight into how talents shape their spare-time but then how their spare-time must then shape their talents.

We made a craft project out of our talent list that they will hang up in their room to remind them of different acttivities they enjoy.  When bored or when they need a reminder of how great they are when they put their mind  to it.

Observance of the Martyrdom of the Báb

Yesterday was the Observance of the Martyrdom of the Báb.  A day in which Baha’is are encouraged to abstain from work and spend the day in prayerful meditation and commemoration.  In light of this I said the Tablet of Visitation 5 times in morning because that was the number for the Báb.  I also hosted a small observance for the community in our backyard where we read from The Dawnbreakers the story of His martyrdom, read the Tablet of Visitation again and read some prayers for teaching.

I think that light of this special spirituality flooding our home, I had a very special moment with some of the Junior Youth girls.  They came over because they were bored, so I put them to work to make signs for the lemonade sale coming up this weekend.

While they were coloring, one of them remarked that she felt bad she had never prayed for the passing of her grandmother.  We started talking about people we know who have passed away, and that it is important to say prayers for them so that they can spiritually progress. Then we each read a unique prayer for the departed from the prayerbooks.  Each of us talked about who we were praying for so that we could each focus our thoughts on that individual.

It was such a wonderful moment.  It was one of the first times I saw junior youth take ownership of prayers on their own.  I believe the Concourse on High was with us then as well and it was such a beautiful moment.

 

Impromptu Barbecue

Today for children’s class we had a barbecue and were able to get rid of a lot of leftovers from the 4th of July.  We had 20 kids over, ages 4-14.

Today, like the 4th, was very challenging.  I see many characteristics in these children that are dear and wonderful, and I see the progress of humanity in them.  I also see things that are very concerning.

One issue is with my dear Lupita.  She is 3 years old and has three older siblings, plus lives around a large cohort of other children.  With me she is the most lovely little girl ever.  But then with others, I constantly hear that she showing her middle finger at the other children or saying bad words to them.  She obviously learns this from the other kids, and I don’t get mad at her.  But how can we teach her if she is being bombarded with this all the time?

Another issue is the fact that the kids are basically greedy.  They complain about the lack of their favorite brand of soda or that there isn’t enough juice.  The older boys horde everything for themselves and leave the little kids with nothing.  Kevin and I would like to teach them about being thankful in practice, and not just in the children’s class.  Yet when there are 20 over at once, it is difficult to reflect on their behavior and then I am just more eager for them to leave then to have that conversation.

These are habits we have been seeing for a long time, so I pray for the wisdom on how to teach better habits when it comes up right away.

These are just some thoughts and working with children…