The basic teachings of Baha’u’llah call upon all humanity to foster a united world:
Our greatest efforts must be directed towards detachment from the things of the world; we must strive to become more spiritual, more luminous, to follow the counsel of the Divine Teaching, to serve the cause of unity and true equality, to be merciful, to reflect the love of the Highest on all men, so that the light of the Spirit shall be apparent in all our deeds, to the end that all humanity shall be united, the stormy sea thereof calmed, and all rough waves disappear from off the surface of life’s ocean henceforth unruffled and peaceful. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 87.
Baha’is believe in the oneness of God, religion and humanity; freedom from prejudice; harmony of science and religion; independent investigation of truth; equal opportunities for women and men; and universal education:
Baha’u’llah has announced that inasmuch as ignorance and lack of education are barriers of separation among mankind, all must receive training and instruction. Through this provision the lack of mutual understanding will be remedied and the unity of mankind furthered and advanced. Universal education is a universal law. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 300.
As I taught the island nation of Vanuatu’s first climate change and disaster risk reduction course (CCDRR), those central principles were implicit in the course, and sometimes, very explicit.
After one session in which we looked at the length of time the Earth has been in existence and the environmental havoc wreaked by humanity in its brief period on the planet, students were visibly affected. They asked me: “So why are you teaching this course? What is your motivation?”
That question led to a separate session (after class) on the Baha’i Faith. I was also able to involve several students in the activities of the local Baha’i community.
Assessment of progress in each of the seven sections of the course was made under five criteria—oral communication, field research, reflection on learning, completion of workbook activities, and a short summative test. Feedback was provided on a continuous, often daily, basis. The focus was on empowering the students to take charge of their own learning, and gain the capacity to share their knowledge and skills with others. As such, it was essentially a practical, hands-on course designed to equip the students to help their own communities.
Throughout the program, I was assisted by Ms. Jill Hinge, a local trainer at the Vanuatu Institute of Technology. When it is next offered at VIT during 2018, it is likely that Jill will be in charge!
Three students were unable to complete the course, but 28 successfully and joyfully graduated in August of 2017 in the presence of Vanuatu’s Minister of Climate Change, the Director of Education Services and other dignitaries. It was a proud moment. After the course finished, I went with one of my students to the remote island of Mota in the Banks, and saw firsthand how he could interact with the people in his community and share many of the concepts that he had learned during the course. This was the icing on the cake!
One CCDRR student said “This course has equipped me to be an agent of change in my community. It helps me to understand about climate change and other topics so that I can explain them. It also gives me courage to talk in a large crowd of people, so it helps me to make my community more resilient.”
Another student said “My community lacks knowledge about the impacts of climate change and doesn’t know how to overcome the effects of natural hazards and climate. So what I have learned will help the community to adapt and do mitigation measures.”
After graduation, those who had been seconded from the Departments of Forestry and Agriculture and the National Disaster Management Office returned to their former employment. Some have resumed their studies. Most, however, are either waiting for suitable employment opportunities with national or provincial governments or NGOs, or else have decided to simply return to their islands to share their knowledge and skills in their own communities. All are anxiously anticipating the creation and delivery of a higher level certificate course in resilience (climate change and disaster risk reduction) on which I am now working.
The writing and delivery of this course had many challenges, but in watching the gradual empowerment and growing confidence of the learners, I would say that this whole experience has been the most exciting and fulfilling chapter in my entire teaching career.