500,000 people visit Baha'i exhibit at the Hanover Expo 2000

5 November 2000

HANOVER, Germany — An estimated 500,000 people visited the Baha'i pavilion at the Hanover Expo 2000 from its opening in June 2000 to its closing last month.

The 170 square-meter Baha'i exhibit, hosted by the Baha'i International Community and the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Germany, featured development projects in Colombia, Kenya and Eastern Europe that illustrate the importance of grassroots capacity-building, the advancement of women, and moral and spiritual values in the process of social and economic development.

The exhibit was designed to resemble a lotus flower, with 3-meter-high acrylic glass "petals" in a semi-circular arrangement around a central space for reflection and contemplation. It was located opposite the entrance of the "Global House" -- an area designated as a forum and meeting place for organizations and policy-makers interested in sustainable development and the Agenda 21 process.

Over the past months, several of the Baha'i development projects have been the subject of in-depth presentations in the Seminar Room of the Global House. On 9 September Shamil Fattakhov, a Russian TV journalist, presented "Stop and Act," a form of interactive theatre that he developed into a successful television program in Russia. The program features short sketches that present the audience with a conflict and a moral dilemma. As the conflict is about to erupt into violence, the presenter calls out "Stop!" and begins a discussion with the audience on the ways of resolving the situation. Through the collective exploration of the relevant moral principles, the audience arrives at a solution, which is then acted out.

The program has been adapted to many audiences and media, including radio, theatre and schools, throughout Eastern Europe. Under the sponsorship of the Royamount Process, which was initiated by the European Union to "promote stability and good neighborliness" among the nations of Southeastern Europe, the show has been offered to governments in the region as a creative approach to conflict resolution and moral education.

September 9 was also a "Global House Day," organized jointly by all the exhibitors in the hall, which attracted 11,000 visitors to the Baha'i pavilion alone. Ranzie Mensah, a Baha'i artist from Ghana and a princess of the Fanti tribe, gave a stunning musical performance as part of an on-going cultural program presented by the Baha'is in the Global House's One World Cafe. In the evening the Baha'i International Community hosted a reception for the commissioners of the Expo's national pavilions and other exhibitors and dignitaries to mark the release of the German translation of "Who is Writing the Future," a reflection on the 20th century and humanity's prospects for the future issued by the Baha'i International Community.

Another seminar on 29 September focused on the role of traditional women's groups as catalysts for grassroots development and the power of combining self-directed village initiatives with the support of development organizations. These principles were illustrated through the Kalimani and Matinyani Women's Projects in Kenya's semi-arid Kitui District, which were selected as a "Worldwide Expo 2000 Project." The women in these villages consulted together, set realistic goals for village development, and enlisted the support of outside development organizations. They have managed a number of projects, including dam construction, a health center, a mango-drying scheme using solar energy, and a rug-weaving project to generate income.

The presenter was Geraldine Robarts, a Baha'i artist living in Kenya who has supported the women of Kalimani and Matinyani with training in the arts. Ms. Robarts was also the designer of 20 outsize sails, each up to 15 meters high, that decorated the Hanover Expo's Africa Pavilion. Artists from all over Africa had been invited to submit their design for the pavilion in an open competition.

The third development project highlighted in the Baha'i Pavilion was the University for Integral Development, established in Colombia by FUNDAEC, a Baha'i-inspired development agency that was also named a "Worldwide Expo 2000 Project." The University has a network of 40,000 students in Colombia's rural areas who receive systematic training through a distance learning system in the areas of agriculture, education, appropriate technology, economic enterprise and institutional development.

Drawing on the tools and insights of both science and religion, the University strives to impart a twofold moral purpose: to take charge of one's own intellectual and spiritual growth, and to make significant contributions to the transformation of society.

More than 250 Baha'i volunteers from around Europe received specialized training to staff the exhibit and answer questions from the public during the Expo's five months of operation.

More information about Baha'i participation in the Hanover Expo is available on-line at www.bahai-expo2000.de.