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The Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program—a movement taking shape globally—inspires young people between the ages of 11-15 to work together towards building a better world.
Every week my husband and I host a Junior Youth group in our home. Recently, one of the members of our group spoke out about her growing frustration with pollution, and how humans treat the environment. She shared how the carelessness of others was hurting the planet, and how she was losing hope in humanity to save it.
We saw this as the perfect opportunity to talk about how we can all become protagonists for change. It also allowed us to put into action a spiritual theme we had been learning about: confirmation.
In the context of our group’s studies, the word “confirmation” means that when we put in effort and use our talents for the betterment of humankind, God confirms us and helps us in what we do. It does not mean that life will be easy. Things will not always go our way, and we will be presented with many difficulties in the world—in particular, injustice. However, the Baha'i teachings explain that God will always confirm us in our actions, particularly when we are united in our efforts to do away with injustice.
In the case of our Junior Youth group, the injustice she was experiencing—pollution—challenged us to explore the Baha'i teachings for solutions. The two following quotations were provided in the text we were studying, so we decided to try and understand them in the context of pollution:
In this passage, Baha’u’llah counseled us to take pride in loving our “fellow-creatures,” which includes the Earth, the trees, the animals and the seas, not just our fellow man. Our group spoke about how we need to care for and protect our Earth, so that it can care for and protect us.
In the next passage from the Baha'i writings we studied, Baha’u’llah instructed us to prefer others before ourselves:
Charity is pleasing and praiseworthy in the sight of God and is regarded as a prince among goodly deeds. ... Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself. - Baha'u'llah, Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 71.
We discussed what it would look like to prefer others before ourselves, and why it was important as we reflected on our environment. One youth shared that if we each put others before ourselves, we would want what is best for everyone including clean air, clean water, and unpolluted land. We would think first about how our actions impact others and the environment, because each individual and entity would be regarded as valuable.
Then we talked about some of the different types of pollution, including air pollution, light pollution, littering, noise pollution, soil contamination, and water pollution. The pollution that repeatedly came up in our conversations seemed to be the one most avoidable and easy to address—plastic pollution. Because of affordability and durability, plastic production has risen dramatically. Today, 380 million tons of plastic are produced worldwide each year, 75% of which ends up in landfills, waterways, oceans and in the bellies of harmless wildlife.
As newly informed environmental protagonists, our Junior Youth began to discuss ways they wanted to reduce their use of plastic, and how they were going to accompany their friends and family to do the same. Below are a list of a few examples the Junior Youth came up with:
- Stop using straws
- Use reusable grocery bags and containers when shopping or dining out
- Buy products and food in biodegradable packaging
- Purchase fresh foods (frozen/packaged food usually comes in plastic containers)
- Make your own cleaning products with natural ingredients
As protagonists we took it one step further by learning how to make something that could be used in place of soft plastic, which seemed to be the most problematic. Because of Baha’u’llah’s injunction to care for others before ourselves, we wanted to make sure that our friends and family could benefit as well. So in the lead-up to April 22—Earth Day—we created sustainable wax food storage wraps to give and sell to our friends, family, teachers, classmates and community members.
The Junior Youth in our group have been confirmed throughout this process, because they know they are striving to contribute to a more just and sustainable world. Proceeds from the sale of the wax food wraps will go to attending Junior Youth Camps where they can learn more about becoming protagonists for change, and to fund future projects such as these to support the health of our community and environment.
The wraps are made of 100% cotton fabric and organic beeswax. They can be used in place of soft plastics like freezer bags and plastic wrap, and can be used up to 75 times. Because they’re made of 100% organic materials they are safe to use on food and can be composted back into the Earth. We watched the helpful video below to learn how to make them, and we encourage you to do the same!
Today—Monday, April 22—the world celebrates Earth Day! In this annual worldwide event, people around the world demonstrate their support for environmental protection. So what will you or your Junior Youth group be doing today, and every day, to contribute to environmental protection and conservation?