Bahai News - Baha'is of Vanuatu celebrate fifth annual Bertha Dobbins Day
Baha'is of Vanuatu celebrate fifth annual Bertha Dobbins
PORT VILA, Vanuatu, 25 October 2000 (BWNS) -- In recognition of their
contributions toward the creation of a culture of peace and the promotion
of religious tolerance, five grassroots level leaders were recognized by
the Baha'i community of Vanuatu in its annual Bertha Dobbins Day
In ceremonies on 17 October 2000 at the National Baha'i Center in Port
Vila, a local chief, several local ministers and a local community
leader were presented awards for their "grassroots leadership" before an
audience of some 200 people. Those recognized were:
-- Mr William Sumbwe, from Malo, who has helped several local families
to consult together and resolve problems
-- Chief Peter Poilapa, of Mele village, who has worked tirelessly to
solve disputes between families and villages on the island of Efate
-- Pastor Dorothy Regenvanu, the only practicing woman pastor in the
Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu, who "through her patience and respect
for others of different beliefs" has exemplified a "culture of peace."
Also recognized were a group of trainee pastors and their teachers from
the island of Santo, who have decided to promote better understanding
between different religious groups by visiting them and joining them in
The occasion marked the 47th anniversary of the arrival in Vanuatu of
Bertha Dobbins, who founded a well-known elementary school and played a
key role in the establishment of the Baha'i community of Vanuatu.
Mrs. Dobbins was a 58-year-old elementary school teacher in Medindie,
South Australia, when she responded to a call for volunteers to travel
abroad to help spread the Baha'i teachings. She set sail for the New
Hebrides, as Vanuatu was then known, arriving in Port Vila in October
1953. As the first Baha'i there, she founded an elementary school, "Nur
School," in 1955 and taught there until 1971. She remained in the New
Hebrides until 1977, when she was 82 and the local Baha'i community
elected its first National Spiritual Assembly, the national level
governing body for Baha'i communities.
In memory of her services to the people of Vanuatu, the Baha'i community
here gives a series of awards each year in her name to people and
organizations in the country who have rendered significant service to
This year, the event was hosted by the Baha'i community of Mele village,
who designed the program, constructed a temporary shelter to house the
guests, and issued hundreds of invitations. They prepared of large
quantities of island food and an exhibit depicting the life of Bertha
Dobbins and the early days of the Faith in Vanuatu.
After a brief welcome by the Master of Ceremonies, Saki Poilapa, and
prayers in English, French and Bislama, Chief Willie Bongmatour,
representing the chiefs of Vanuatu, expressed his gratitude to the
Baha'is for recognising the role of the chiefs in fostering peace at a
local level. Merelyn Tahi spoke of the advancement of women as a key
element of peace-making. Payman Rowhani-Farid, representing the Baha'i
community of Vanuatu, said that the peace process begins with
individuals and families, and that the education of children is
particularly important. Baha'i youth gave choral renderings of prayers
and sacred scriptures between the presentations.
The Awards were presented by Peter Kaltoli, the one of the first Baha'is
in Vanuatu, and Charles Pierce, the Secretary of the National Spiritual
Assembly of the Baha'is of Vanuatu.
Mrs. Dobbins was one of the Baha'is who, beginning in the early 1950s,
responded to a call to settle in areas where no Baha'is had lived before.
As a result of their efforts, more than 100 countries and territories were
opened to the Faith within the span of a few years.
Following further musical selections and the closing prayers, a feast was
set out for the guests in the Nur Institute Building, which formerly housed
the Nur School, and the youth and children from the Baha'i communities on
Efate performed a continuous stream of songs, dances and sketches.
The event received coverage on Radio Vanuatu and the national television
©Copyright 2000, Baha'i World News Service
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