A years-long armed conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) has disrupted life across the country and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
In the midst of this crisis, the Baha’i National Spiritual Assembly has guided the Baha’is of the country in their efforts to contribute to social progress, most recently drawing on a network of people engaged in community-building activities to channel assistance where it is most needed.
Speaking with the News Service, Hélène Pathé, member of the National Spiritual Assembly, describes the context in which such initiatives are under way in parts of the country: “The country has faced serious challenges. There are places where people have been severely affected and have had to flee, abandoning their homes and losing their means of making a living. This is the condition in many regions.”
Despite these conditions, the Baha’is in these areas have helped to foster resilience and a vibrant community life that has endured through cycles of war. For decades, regular gatherings for prayer have been strengthening bonds of friendship, and Baha’i educational programs have been developing in children and youth a deep appreciation for the unity of all peoples, races, and religions.
During times of intense conflict, when entire populations have had to abandon their villages, teachers from community schools established with the support of a Baha’i-inspired organization have sought ways to re-establish programs in temporary locations, explains Mrs. Pathé.
As part of its efforts to further enhance its capacity for responding to crises, the National Spiritual Assembly formed an emergency committee in March. The members of the committee, including Mrs. Pathé, quickly got to work. Within a few weeks they had assembled a team and headed to identified areas to help in person.
Over three days, they drove hundreds of kilometers from Bangui, the capital, to the town of Bambari, stopping in four other towns along the way to provide essentials, such as medicine for water-borne illness, to people who had returned from taking refuge in forest areas. Travel to these communities has been permitted under government health restrictions owing to exceptions for humanitarian efforts.
The emergency committee has worked closely with Baha’i Local Spiritual Assemblies in coordinating the distribution of relief packages among village residents. “We had prepared as well as we could ahead of time with the information we could get,” says Mrs. Pathé, “but as soon as we arrived in a town, we sat down with the members of the Local Assembly, prayed together, and consulted about the needs, which they knew intimately.”
Young people have been at the forefront of these efforts, says Mrs. Pathé. “The youth were ready to spring into action as soon as the committee called on the community for support. They view this work as an extension of serving their neighborhoods: a contribution to the material and spiritual progress of society.
“They could see how this act of travelling for days to deliver a few necessities to people by hand was not just about addressing an immediate need. Meeting and speaking with people who had been cut off for so long also brought encouragement and helped build ties of unity as all saw that they are not alone in their challenges – like one family, there are others across the country who care for them and walk with them.”
Two months since its formation, the committee is already thinking about how to address long-term needs, including through projects for local food production.
With the experience it has gained, the committee is now expanding its efforts by contacting many more Baha’i Local Assemblies throughout the country.
“In these relief efforts, we often call to mind Abdu’l-Baha, who was always attentive to those in need and ever ready to respond,” says Mrs. Pathé. “He never hesitated to offer help. The National Spiritual Assembly hopes and wishes to do the same for the people of our country. What grieves us as a national body is that we can’t cover the whole country. Our efforts so far are only a small start, and we are learning little by little how to reach everyone.”