Updated: Apr 11, 2019
The Worldwide Bahá’í Community’s Approach to Social and Economic Development
Prepared by the Office of Social and Economic Development
Bahá’í endeavors in the field of health strive to assist local populations to develop the capacity to address a growing range of local health concerns. Initiatives in this area take diverse forms including the creation of hospitals, clinics, and Bahá’í medical associations, the organization of events such as medical camps and campaigns to raise awareness about habits and practices that promote health, the implementation of health-education programs in schools, and the development of programs to train community health workers who can help bridge the gap between health needs at the grassroots and medical services of government agencies. All Bahá’í efforts in the area of health envision the development of a culture in which the physical and spiritual well-being of the community becomes the concern of a growing number of its members, who are able to apply scientific knowledge and spiritual principles to an expanding range of local health issues. A few examples of initiatives that contribute to enhancing the health of communities are provided below.
The educational programs of the Bahá’í community often give rise to activities of fixed duration that contribute to the improvement of the health of community members at the grassroots. A group of junior youth in Canada, for instance, organized a community gathering on the topic of children’s nutrition with the help of a nutritionist. In a village in India, individuals conducting educational activities in their community became increasingly aware of the health-related needs of participants and their families. They undertook to collaborate with professionals to hold health camps and to conduct workshops to raise awareness about concepts and practices relevant to the health of families and communities. A number of older youth in Zambia participating in a program that helps train promoters of community well-being collaborated with community health workers to raise awareness in neighborhoods and villages about the prevention and treatment of typhoid, following an outbreak in the region. As a result, eight of the program’s participants were appointed to neighborhood health committees.
A number of sustained projects in the field of health are also conducted by individuals and groups inspired by the Bahá’í teachings. In the Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, many such efforts have been carried out since the 1980s, including the training of hundreds of community health workers and the establishment of dispensaries, clinics, and health centers. Today, several Bahá’í-inspired health clinics exist in the region, which place particular emphasis on improving the relationship between health workers and community members through, for instance, follow-up visits to patients in their homes to confirm their well-being and to discuss daily practices they can carry out to improve and maintain their health. In 2013, Fondation Graine d’Espoir (Seed of Hope Foundation) was established to provide advisory and technical support to some of the Bahá’í-inspired health initiatives in the region and to help strengthen their systems of administration in order to ensure their sustainability. Graine d’Espoir also creates spaces of reflection at the local level in which community members can discuss ways the Bahá’í-inspired clinics can better serve their needs. In a further effort to widen the access of the population to primary health care, the organization offers training to individuals to serve as health educators in their own localities. Youth raising awareness about illness prevention, Zambia; Health for Humanity, United States; Community meeting about nutrition, Canada; Fondation Graine d’Espoir, Democratic Republic of the Congo; Community health worker, Uganda; Youth doing a presentation about health, India.
The Bahá’í teachings place agriculture at the heart of community life, and urge that a special regard be paid to the advancement of this field. “The fundamental basis of the community,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states, “is agriculture, tillage of the soil. All must be producers.”
Inspired by these teachings, Bahá’ís have historically engaged in a diversity of activities to contribute to agricultural development. In both rural and urban settings, groups of individuals have collectively undertaken crop production or animal husbandry activities to improve food security and nutrition within their communities, as well as to generate income for participating families. One such example is in Tanna, Vanuatu, where a number of youth and adults started a piggery in order to contribute a new source of food and income to the community. They began by investigating how to raise pigs, and set up a suitable pen. As piglets were born, they were sold to members of the community so that more piggeries could be established. Another example is in Salt Lake City, United States, where a group of youth was considering the needs of the neighborhood and identified a lack of healthy, fresh, affordable food. Through consultation with other community members, the youth were able to secure a plot of land, necessary equipment, and seeds. With some advice from experienced individuals, they then established a vegetable garden, the harvest from which was made available for free to the members of the community.
In addition to these less formal undertakings, several Bahá’í-inspired schools and universities in Africa and Latin America have included agricultural sciences as a main component of their curricula in order to foster in young people a love for agriculture and to help in the dissemination of knowledge. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, the Bahá’í community has operated an agricultural school called Institut Technique Agricole Tshilaka for some three decades to raise up youth who can provide technical assistance to local farmers.
A number of Bahá’í-inspired organizations have also been engaged in a process of action-research in an effort to develop diverse, sustainable, high-yielding, and ecologically sound production systems that are appropriate for the realities faced by the small farm. Among these organizations is the Kimanya-Ngeyo Foundation for Science and Education in Uganda, which since 2013 has been carrying out agricultural experiments to generate knowledge in such areas as soil and water conservation, pest and disease management, and diversification of genetic resources. The research on “Diversified High-Efficiency Plots,” carried out with local farmers, benefits from their knowledge of traditional farming systems as well as the findings of modern science. The active participation of an increasing number of farmers in such a process of structured, scientific learning about agriculture, the organization hopes, will contribute over time to the advancement of the scientific and technological culture of farming populations in the region.