What makes an intensive youth teaching project successful and effective? Training, empowerment, taking ownership, careful coordination—just to name a few. This past summer an innovative teaching effort was carried out in Southern California. Named Project Yaran in honor of the 7 Bahá’í leaders imprisoned in Iran, it is an inspiring harmony of systematic planning and on-the-ground learning. The organizers first studied and learned from the experience of an established, similar effort: Project Badi in Florida. Early on in the effort the youth participants were empowered to become the protagonists of Project Yaran. Careful coordination with the participating clusters ensured that the activities of the teaching teams would directly support the efforts and progress of those clusters, and that the local friends would carry on the teaching and consolidation work of their young visitors. This report is immensely rich in insights and practical learning.
The Regional Training Institute in southern California collaborated with the Regional Bahá’í Council and the Institution of the Learned to bring together a summer youth project based on the experience and learning obtained from Project Badi in Florida. Under the guidance of Counselor Farzin Aghdasi, a consulting and planning task force consisting of the Regional Council’s Deputy Secretary, the Southern California Regional Institute Coordinator and an Auxiliary Board member was formed. The goal of the project was to raise up a capable group of youth from clusters across Southern California to be teachers of the Cause through a 3-week intensive program that included both training and practice. . . .
Preparation involved learning from the experience of Project Badi. The materials used in the field in Project Badi were studied, and the planning task force consulted with the Project Badi coordinator. Weekly conference calls allowed the task force to launch the project in less than two months. Several key elements were identified:
It would be a 3-week summer youth initiative, comprised of a 1-week intensive training that included a hands-on teaching component, followed by 2 weeks of deployment into 8 priority clusters,, followed by a 2-day collective reflection on lessons learned.
The 8 priority clusters were identified by the Regional Teaching Office, and were all clusters scheduled to reach the A-stage of development by April 2010.
Prior weekend training of team coordinators. This ensured that all teaching team coordinators had either completed the tutor training, completed the animator training, and/or had prior direct teaching experience.
The 1-week intensive training was held at a site outside the urban area to minimize daily distractions. The training was primarily conducted by the team coordinators.
Participants were in the age range of 15 to 23 years.
The training program included emphasis on the arts, training and skill-building in the core activities, character refinement, and practice in sharing the fundamental verities of the Cause through a conversation such as that outlined in Ruhi Book 6. This was practiced in the field in a nearby A-stage cluster with ongoing direct teaching in a receptive neighborhood, which was critical to the participants’ practical learning.
The 47 participants were divided into 8 teams, each of which had at least one Spanish-speaking member. Each team coordinator contacted local core team members in the cluster where they would be working and communicated with them before and during the training week. The planning task force also communicated with the 8 clusters—and the region as a whole—through a series of progressive letters that helped maintain focus on the project’s goals and activities.
During the 2-week “deployment” phase, the team coordinator would work with local human resources to accompany and empower the local friends. The goal was to ensure the local friends could, both during this deployment phase and beyond, could follow up with the community of interest and new believers through direct teaching in receptive neighborhoods, children’s classes, junior youth groups, firesides, etc.
Host homes in the 8 clusters housed and fed the visiting youth teams.
Statistical Summary of Achievements
17 children’s classes established, with a collective total of approximately 307 students.
5 junior youth groups established, with a collective total of approximately 44 participants.
57 local believers in these clusters are following up to sustain the above 22 core activities.
197 home visits made, with an equal number of prayers shared.
72 devotional gatherings held.
56 firesides held.
139 direct presentations about the Faith made
9 Book 1 study circles started.
Reflections of the participants
An essential ingredient in motivating the 47 youth to decide to participate in Project Yaran was Word-of-mouth awareness-raising carried out by a select few youth. These specific youth also become team coordinators.
Youth who were savvy with social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace helped participants sign up online to participate.
Early on in the project, the team coordinators were empowered to take on responsibility for the success of the effort. Interpersonal challenges were consulted upon and resolved in a spirit of love and wisdom. These youth often met on their own after hours and gained unity of vision through these consultations, ultimately becoming a cohesive and enthusiastic set of protagonists.
Critical to the success of the 1-week training was to hold it outside the urban area. This allowed for the participants to be away from the day-to-day distractions of home concerns, friends, schoolwork, etc. This also helped develop deep friendships within and among the teams.
Another critical component of the training week was to hold multiple sessions to practice Anna’s conversation, followed by several sessions of direct teaching home visits. This helped empower participants for the deployment phase.
Most clusters responded very well to the prospect of a 2-week intensive teaching project. Detailed communication—preferably in a face-to-face meeting—with core team agencies in these clusters regarding exactly what is needed from them and what preparations should be completed before the youth teams arrive proved to be crucial.
Prior to the training week, the youth team coordinators and core teams should visit the receptive neighborhoods in the participating clusters to better understand the present needs of those neighborhoods. This also helps with coordination and relationship-building.
Prior hands-on experience in teaching children’s classes will greatly enhance the effectiveness of the youth teams.
It is important for the core team and human resources in the participating clusters to have a good understanding of the concept of a “reading circle” [an approach first used in Project Badi] that is introduced into the children’s classes in receptive neighborhoods.
The Regional Training Institute Coordinator for Southern California had the opportunity to participate in a training of Project Badi team coordinators carried out in the South Central region. This allowed the Project Yaran planning task force to adapt the elements of Project Badi to the Southern California setting.
It was good for the planning task force members to be present and available throughout the entire project for support and to respond to emergencies. Administrators were also always present to consult with team coordinators about changes to the teams to better match members’ experience, language skills, special needs, etc.
Youth needed to learn how to pace themselves to avoid fatigue and exhaustion.
During the deployment phase, it was more effective for youth to be assigned to a cluster other than their home cluster.
At the end of every day, it was crucial for team coordinators to spend the evening reflecting and consulting with all the cluster participants about the experiences of that day.
The local youth in the participating clusters should be encouraged and accompanied, ideally being a part of the teaching teams in the field, as well as the evening training and consultation.
Upon completion of the project, the youth should be introduced to their home clusters as valuable resources who could serve as teaching team members, assist other youth in the cluster to establish core activities, assist with firesides, support direct teaching and assist with the institute process. The participating youth should strive to take their skills back home to their clusters and work with the core agencies there to build capacity in other youth.
A key element of Project Yaran’s success was the quick learning and implementation by the team coordinators and participating youth. This effort will no doubt undergo further revision, such as more systematic coordination with local core teams and local youth. Project Yaran should not be seen or remembered as an event, but as a tool that can be replicated from cycle to cycle.
The reflection sessions among the team coordinators and the project task force have been ongoing to ensure continued follow-up with the participating youth.