Baha'i News -- Baha'is in the East

Baha'is in the East

Anthea McGibbon, Staff Reporter

Shaneza offers final words to her students before the summer holidays.

IN THE midst of Rastafarians, Christians and Revivalists is a growing community of Baha'is in the East, who for years have made their presence felt, beginning with the arrival of the first Baha'i to Jamaica who lived in Portland. The community numbering just under 100 can be found mainly in Fairy Hill, Drapers, Port Antonio, St. Magaret's Bay, Hope Bay, Skeebo and Charles Town in Portland.

At Snow Hill one finds a 'vibrant community' of Baha'is, meeting at least once a week, and hosting devotions at Titchfield High School. In addition they have youth gatherings on Mondays and feasts every 19 days. They also recognise the 9 Holy Days on the Baha'i calendar. In keeping with their philosophy of encompassing all faiths, the community hosts monthly firesides (occasions for meditation and religious talks)

The original headquarters in Port Antonio was destroyed by Hurricane Gilbert, and due to migration the Baha'i membership has fluctuated over the years. Today, about 20-30 of the 70 persons that visit Snow Hill are regulars.

Cyprian Sajabi, born in Africa of Jamaican parentage, has been living in Jamaica for 15 years. He says the community at Snow Hill is the most active throughout Portland, and is typical, having no clergy.

The Baha'i Community of Port Antonio is headed by its local Spiritual Assembly, a team of 9 "Adult Baha'is", elected by the local community. This team, Cyprian explains, functions as leaders, and collectively, only at meetings. There is no individual leadership.

"After getting familiar with what the Baha'i faith is about, then one can sign the declaration card. An understanding of the Baha'i (teaching) faith and the belief in Baha'u'llah makes anyone of any age eligible to join the Baha'i faith," he says.

To become an adult leader, the individual must first have understanding of the faith, be over 21 years, and elected by the Baha'is of the community.

In the 15 years Cyprian has lived in Snow Hill, he says the level of community involvement is more systematic - better co-ordination, more planning.

Travelled teacher

There are no missionaries within the Baha'i Community, but each Baha'i has the option and is urged to take full advantage of becoming a travelled teacher. A travelled teacher is a Baha'i who travels locally or internationally to share Baha'i teachings, experience and in community service. At the time of the interview, there were one resident-travelled teacher, a short-term pioneer teacher, and two visiting travelled teachers. Don Providence, visiting from St. Vincent and David Precht from Chicago have since left Jamaica. Adam Toy from Canada is a resident-travelled teacher, and Shaneza Koodratalli from Guyana is the only short-term pioneer.

Shaneza, who for two years has been relentlessly working in Jamaica, remains committed to the four schools (Primary and All-Age) and the Women's Centre where she works mostly with children and young female adults. On a weekly basis Shaneza leaves out from 7:00 a.m. to do a full-day's work in areas such as Skeebo, Hope Bay, Black Hill, Charlestown, St. Magaret's Bay, Windsor Castle and as far as Boston sometimes returning at 6:00 p.m. At the primary and All-Age school level (3-13 years) Shaneza teaches Literacy, while at the Women's Centre she focuses on Counselling and Moral Education.

Shaneza's efforts recently bore fruit when 15 from a total of 25 in one of her classes passed in the GSAT. Students she said, as slow learners were almost written off by the teachers at the school. Shaneza like other Bahai members is involved in door-to-door teachings of the Baha'i faith as she is never allowed to do this in the places she work. The trained secretary says she has grown spiritually and become stronger in her faith from her Jamaican experience. She is also trained in Agricultural Mechanics.

Having worked in St. Vincent, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, St. Lucia and the Cayman Islands, Shaneza claims that Jamaica is more tedious because of decadence in morality and breaking down of the family unit. Educational-wise the residents have been very responsive. The desire to want to learn to attain higher level of spiritual growth.

According to Cyprian the residents of Portland are very receptive and open-minded. But Shaneza is more reserved in her response. It is not easy for the older persons, she says, because they have their old way of life, but the children's eagerness to learn and the purity of their hearts make them easier to learn. But she says with the school system the Baha'i faith is well known and respected.

There is not much interaction between the Baha'is and other religions, but Shaneza explains that they are encouraged to relate. And one way of achieving this is by inviting outsiders to their monthly firesides.


The first Baha'i was Dr. Malcolm King

The oldest living Baha'is are Mr. Herman Smith 74 and Mrs Leoni Carson Smith, 81. Both have been members for over 25 years. They live at St. Magaret's Bay.

Since 1999 there have been 100 new members declaring their belief in Baha'u'llah and his teaching

In two years a youth group has been established in Port Antonio

Since January there have been over 10 travelled teachers in Port Antonio.

- 10 adults have learnt to read

- The literacy programme, On the wings of Words Task Force, by Shaneza used has been approved by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is in Guyana.

©Copyright 2000, The Jamaica Gleaner

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