Volume 6 - Issue 03
MARCH - 2008
“Youth! There is nothing like youth. The middle-aged are mortgaged to Life. The old are in Life's lumber-room. But youth is the Lord of Life. Youth has a kingdom waiting for it…”
- Oscar Wilde
Every story begins with hope. This one was inspired by an event that took place a few weeks ago in a town called Luton, located approximately 30 miles north of London in the county of Bedfordshire, United Kingdom. It was a Conference of the youth, for the youth and by the youth.
And the heartening aspect of this conference was that the Sathya Sai Human Values Network (SSHVN) was invited to participate and enrich the proceedings. Why was the conference held? What is SSHVN? And more importantly, how did they contribute to this community programme?
The Story Behind the Conference
The Youth Conference in Luton had a background. But first, let’s get familiar with this large town of Luton in the South of England. Over many years, Luton has developed rapidly into an industrial town and has its own international airport. Its straw hat making industry dominated the town from the 19th century as did its car manufacturing industry in the 20th century.
Known for its vibrant multicultural community, approximately 30% of its 186,000 people are from black and minority ethnic communities. And meeting the needs of such diverse communities has been the focus of many organisations, such as the Luton Council of Faiths (LCOF).
This voluntary body of people from different beliefs and cultures plays an active role in improving understanding and respect among the many religious and culturally diverse communities in the town. They work through educational institutes, legal and community organizations, and also support many community welfare initiatives. A recent example is ‘Faith Woodlands’ which aims to promote better societal health by engaging in activities that help to reduce social exclusion of older people, women and young people.
Three years ago, in September 2004, the town received unwarranted and downbeat media attention, thanks to a BBC News programme, which stated: “Luton voted Britain's worst town”, Civic leaders immediately rallied round to defend the town. Cllr David Franks, Luton-born and bred, and leader of the Liberal Democrats at that time, indicated that one of the measures of a community’s general level of happiness is how often people volunteer for community service and that Luton has a huge number of voluntary groups.
Similarly, other individuals spoke out. James Ridgeon said, “I am Luton through and through…We are very multi cultural here and we spread the word of peace and happiness…” Another Lutonian, Ashraf, asserted, “ Luton is a lovely place to be. There are people from all around the world in this small humble town. Luton is so lucky to be so colourful of life.”
From then on, the Luton Council of Faiths has been more active in organising activities that promote harmony and camaraderie in the community. Their most recent initiative, in December 2007, was a Youth Conference entitled “Speak Out” with the aim of giving young people the opportunity to convey their concerns, beliefs and values and how these affect their lives as citizens of Luton and the UK. And to participate in this conference, the LCOF invited the Sathya Sai Human Values Network (SSHVN).
The SSHVN (www.sshvn.org) is a non-profit making web-based international initiative, which has a programme of ongoing development of reaching out to the global community through the universal message of Human Values. The ethos of the Network is to share knowledge and enhance our understanding of human values, based on the Sathya Sai Human Values Program.
Apart from the SSHVN, there were other Organisations too who participated in “Speak Out” like the Ann Frank Trust, the Islamic Cultural Society, St Mary’s Church, Connexions, Luton Police, Luton Safer Partnership and Grassroots. The objective was to enable greater understanding between the youths, their families, social workers, law enforcement officers, teachers and any systems or persons that the youths are involved in.
Presentations at Luton Town Hall
The presentations were based on four topics. The first three were ‘Global and Local’ (addressing global issues and their local effects), ‘Different but United’ (exploring similarities and differences among young people and empowering them), ‘Inspiration and Identity’ (understanding citizenship and the sense of belonging to community). The fourth theme was ‘Views and Values’, and the presentation on this pertinent topic was done by the SSHVN Team. They sought to raise awareness of human values and highlight the importance of integrity in the daily lives of young people so that there is a consensus on shared human values. All the youth participants of the conference were required to attend all four sessions to understand and appreciate common issues arising from various related themes.
Baba says, “The age span of 16-30 is crucial, for that is the period when life adds sweetness to itself, when talent, skills, and attitudes are accumulated, sublimated, and sanctified. If the tonic of unselfish service is administered to the mind during this period, life’s mission is fulfilled – the process of sublimation and sanctification will be hastened by this tonic…”
The SSHVN utilised this unique opportunity to convince and instil in the young minds the powerful positive effects of Human values. And they went about it in a careful and systematic way.
Putting the Pieces Together
The SSHVN Team, consisting of four youth members led by Dr. Daksha Trivedi, drew up a plan for the presentation. Together, they developed a working model, coordinated by Ms Hetal Moraraji (Youth project coordinator) and the supporting team of youths (Hiten Morarji, Revashnee Naidoo, Prasanth Mistry).
Their approach was approved by LCOF and then began the preparation. The message to be conveyed, they decided, should not only reflect current Government initiatives for better communities but should also have an impact on the personal lives of the youth which would provide them an impetus for integrating human values in future initiatives.
After several weeks, they finally evolved an appropriate presentation model. Ms. Yasmin Akhtar, the project lead from LCOF said, “I am very encouraged and enthusiastic to know more about how Human Values will be addressed in this very important debate and how to engage the youth.”
What the Youths and Trainers Say
Hetal Morarji, Youth project coordinator of the SSHVN team, says, “It’s easy to talk about Love, Peace, Right Conduct, Non-violence and Truth, but the hard part is practising them in our lives. We wanted the youths to become more aware of the Human Values particularly when making important decisions about their lives. Keeping things simple would be the key. To be able to show the impact values can have on our lives we had to get back to basics...” Hiten Morarji, youth member of the team recalls, “This was quite a daunting task, trying to deliver a message of Human Values to fellow youths in a way that they can easily relate to.”
Mr. Pradip Trivedi, SSHVN Trainer, says, “It is our responsibility to encourage, enable and empower the youth to take the lead in such important initiatives. They have tremendous energy…greater awareness of current thinking and attitudes towards local and national concerns. To see them blossom through challenging tasks is rewarding.” And Prashant Mistry, one of the youth of the SSHVN team, reminiscing about the preparation days, says, “We had to be absolutely confident of what we were presenting so as to capture and hold the youth’s attention.”
The Conference and SSHVN’s “Exploring Views and Values”
Young bright faces from diverse communities filled the council chambers of the Luton Town Hall on the morning of December 1, 2007. The welcome address by the LCOF Committee set the scene for ‘Speak Out’ which reinforced the need to listen attentively to the concerns of those that one day would become great leaders in their own right. The conference was attended by around 80 youths who participated by rotating between the four topic sessions, so as to ensure full involvement by small focussed groups.
The SSHVN Youth team conveyed a cogent exposition of a Human Values message. The Group discussion was initiated with opening questions like “What are Values? What do we understand about Values? Whose Values? Do they have a place in our lives? What use are Human Values? etc.”
And then the Pandora’s Box was revealed which had all the social ills (challenges) that have beset modern youth, but at the same time leaving hope within (opportunities). The youth team brought to the fore the high prevalence of anti-social behaviour in the community and to explain it better, took the example of bullying. And they did this innovatively through a short role play.
They also had a DVD which illustrated the turmoil faced by the victim in fighting back against a bully, the distress faced by his parents, and the resultant depression which led to the bully dying. This raised a debate regarding the desperation the family faced in trying to help their son and questioning the use of weapons.
To understand deeply why bullies and victims behave the way they do, a reflective process of self-audit was presented by the two youths, A and B, identifying how they felt when they were in character, the reasons for their behaviour, and ways they can change to become more content with themselves and to respect each other.
Human Values: A Mosaic
Moral crisis is not destiny, they emphasised. The reality reflected by the worrying statistics available in the media only reinforced the need for a change amongst the attitudes of the youths. They explored the feelings of the bully and the victim who desired to change from reactive or thoughtless tendencies, to proactive or thoughtful qualities.
Key emerging issues highlighted a number of ‘risk’ factors which present many challenges: family crisis and dysfunction, low self worth and self esteem, violent tendencies, unhealthy environment and poor performance. Against these, ‘protective’ factors such as strong family bonds, healthy standards and examples set by parents, teachers, professionals, heads of institutions and community leaders, community service, social and life skills training, and a strong sense of spiritual beliefs, provided opportunities to develop interventions through a human values approach targeted to the needs of individuals. They were awakened to the fact that values are not commodities for sale or disposal, neither are they academic subjects.
These virtues were, in fact, inside everyone. Through the analogy of a ‘dirty’ flower, they explained, how when once the layers of anger, pain, suffering and hatred (the dirt that we have accumulated) are removed one by one, the fragrance of character can be revealed (a beautiful flower) in every individual.
Youth Participants’ Views
The whole day’s programme, which had impressive presentations from the other groups along with SSHVN, had a deep impact in the youth participants. One of them said, “Values make us who we are; they are something you hold close to yourself. They make us more closely connected with life, and give us our personal goals.”
Another expressed, “Family values are important, and these can include religious values. Bringing up children with values and knowing right from wrong is important. Values are taught by parents; they shape our culture and give us morals and standards to follow…”
By the end of the presentation, the whole group had reached the consensus that all problems affecting our society can be addressed by values-based choices and using discrimination to reach decisions that help reduce tension in a volatile situation.
The Project Coordinator, Hiten Morarji said, “For me, this was an exciting opportunity… Not only did we succeed in delivering a message but we also learnt how we can practice Human Values more. It is a simple and effective concept, and this project was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.”
The session concluded with the community youth reflecting on the beautiful message:
If there is righteousness in the heart,
One of the reasons for the success of the programme was that the message to the youth was conveyed by the youth. And the Human Values approach opened up the possibility that problems are a solution in disguise and therefore not always beyond resolution. The Youth realised that personal transformation was the key and an individual change in attitude and interests automatically feeds into all external initiatives.
The people of Luton were glad learning about the proceedings of the conference. The event was reported in the Luton News on 19 December, 2007. And Councillor Lawrence Patterson, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, said, “The event was a great success and the young people came up with really good examples of discrimination, equality and justice issues. Hopefully, there will be more events like this so that young people can play a real part in their community and have an impact on decisions that affect them.”
Ms. Yasmin Akhtar from the Luton Council of Faiths, stated: “I was pleasantly surprised with the excellent Human Values presentation. It was well received by the participants. The Human Values programme has an important role in the betterment of the multicultural society of Luton.”
As for the Team Members of SSHVN, for each one it was a memorable and insightful experience. If Mr. Prashant Mistry said, “It is a great feeling to be able to give back to the community and be able to help other youths”, Ms. Revashnee Naidoo, another team member, opined, “From the planning stages to the final day and even now, I have been greatly encouraged. This was also a really good opportunity for me, as I learnt things that I can take back to my own school.”
Bhagavan Baba says, “Virtue is the salt of life and Love is the highest virtue. Develop love by sharing it.” All the values have love as its basis and the loving endeavour of the youth to share these precious virtues with the members of their community is a pointer to what the youth can do in their own surroundings to make this world a better place.
- The SSHVN Team
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Vol 6 Issue 03 - MARCH 2008
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