Festivities honor community service

March 1, 2004
Keithie Saunders (left) and Bruce Saunders (right) with recipients of the Blum's Community Service Award, 1993: (second from left) Abraham Bainasia, representing the Solomon Islands Development Trust, and (second from right) Onyx Oifuru.

HONIARA, Solomon Islands — Jubilee festivities here provided a fitting opportunity for the Baha'i community to reinstate a popular community service award.

The Baha'is announced the re-launch of the "Blum's Community Service Award" during celebrations held between 27 February and 1 March 2004 to mark the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the Baha'i Faith in these islands.

The Blum's award, which was suspended in 1999 due to ethnic conflicts in the country, is given to individuals for their outstanding services to the wider society.

Founded in 1993, the award pays homage to the memory of Alvin Blum (1912-1968) and his wife, Gertrude Blum (1910-1993).

Originally from the United States, they introduced the Baha'i Faith to the country on 1 March 1954 and subsequently won renown for their invaluable services to their adopted country.

The official function at the jubilee celebrations attracted some 500 participants from all over the country.

Guests included the Governor-General, the deputy Prime Minister, together with government ministers, ambassadors and high-commissioners from all diplomatic missions, a High Court judge, and many prominent members of the community. Participants also came from Australia and Papua New Guinea.

Events were held at the national Baha'i center in Honiara, and in Malaita, Gizo, and Hareapa. Guests in Kwaio and Langa Langa also celebrated the jubilee.

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Keithie Blum Saunders, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Blum, announced the re-launch of the award as part of the jubilee celebrations. The names of the recipients will be announced in September.

Mrs. Saunders, who lives in Honiara with her husband, Bruce, and other family members, gave an account of the life of her parents.

"My parents were real pioneers," said Mrs. Saunders, who was with them as a seven-year-old child when they first set foot in the Solomons.

"They came to an unknown land, used their skills to help the people develop; taught their teachings of love and peace, and lived their life as example to others."

For their services in establishing the Baha'i community in the Solomon Islands Mr. and Mrs. Blum received the accolade Knight of Baha'u'llah from the then head of the Faith, Shoghi Effendi.

Among their many contributions to the Solomon Islands was the opening of various businesses, such as a bakery, an ice cream shop, a laundry and dry cleaning business, a taxi service, a general store, and a hotel. Many of these services were new to the country.

Gertrude Blum helped to establish the National Council of Women and the Red Cross Society. For her active support of these organizations and her considerable community service, Mrs. Blum was named a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1989.

Alvin Blum had been a member of the United States medical corps in the Solomons during the Second World War. After his return to the Solomon Islands with his family nearly a decade later, he served as a member of the Honiara Town Council, a chairman of the Medical Board, and was one of the founders of the Chamber of Commerce and of the Scout Movement. He was a member of the Civil Aviation Committee and acted as the financial adviser to the Young Farmers Club.

Mr. and Mrs. Blum had served on the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Australia and New Zealand in the early 1950s.

In 1960 Mr. Blum was elected to the first Regional Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the South West Pacific Ocean. In 1963 he participated in the first election of the Universal House of Justice.

The guest of honor at the jubilee was Governor General Sir John Ini Lapli, who commended the Baha'i community for "endlessly and untiringly promoting unity, peace, and the brotherhood of mankind in the country over these 50 years of (the country's) life."

"We thank God for your good contribution in the development of the Solomon Islands," Sir John said.

"May you continue to be commendable partners, together with the Government, the churches and non-governmental organizations, in the building up of good character in the people of the Solomon Islands," he said.

"We are with you in your desire and mission to promote peace and unity in the Solomon Islands, and indeed the world."

The acting Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, Snyder Rini, also paid tribute to the Baha'is and thanked the community for the re-launch of the Blum's award.

"The Baha'i community has initiated interdenominational services on many occasions, as well as giving continual support to the Government by participating in projects like trade fairs, peace and reconciliation initiatives," Mr. Rini said.

Mr. Rini encouraged the Baha'is to continue their work, and he concluded his talk by quoting from a prayer from Baha'u'llah for the unity of mankind.

A member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the Solomon Islands, Whitlam Saeni, also read to the guests a message from that body to the people of the country.

Another distinguished guest at the jubilee was a member of the Continental Board of Counsellors for Australasia Jalal Mills of Papua New Guinea. Dr. Mills is a son of John and Ruhengiz Mills. Mr. Mills worked with Mr. Blum and was the first expatriate to become a Baha'i in the country. Both Mr. and Mrs. Mills were present for the jubilee celebrations.

Local Baha'i youth performed some of their songs from a recently released album, produced specially for the jubilee. Copies were presented to dignitaries and other guests at the event.

Participants also enjoyed an international dance spectacular.

A photo exhibition featured images of the history of the Baha'i community in the Solomons from the mid-1950s to the present day, including photographs of some of the early Baha'is. The first Solomon Islander to accept the Faith was Billy Gina.

Another early Baha'i was a traditional chief from the Are Are region of Malaita. Hamuel Hoahania was attracted by the racial equality practiced by the Blums -- they invited islanders like him into their home to dine with them -- not the usual practice by Europeans living there.

His conversion was the start of large-scale enrolment in the Baha'i Faith by residents of Malaita. Mr. Hoahania traveled widely in the country, carrying the teachings of the Baha'i Faith to many parts of the Solomon Islands.

In 1978, Mr. Hoahania, a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the Solomon Islands, was present at the election of the Universal House of Justice at the Baha'i World Centre. He passed away in 1986.

Jubilee participants visited the gravesite of Mr. and Mrs. Blum, where they offered prayers in their memory. Later, during an emotional five-hour session, longtime Baha'is shared inspiring stories with participants at the national center. The program ended with a feast for 500 people.

The media gave the jubilee extensive coverage. Both main national newspapers published articles (including the full text of the speech by Mrs. Saunders), and the national radio, SIBC (Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation), also broadcast reports.

Three thousand copies of a brochure about the Baha'i Faith were inserted into a nationally-circulating newspaper on March 1.

Two large banners about the jubilee were hung across the main street of Honiara for three weeks.

The first Local Spiritual Assembly in the Solomons was formed in 1957 and the first National Spiritual Assembly was elected in 1971. Today there are 38 Local Spiritual Assemblies. Baha'is all over the island are active in holding children's classes, prayer gatherings, and study circles.

Since 1996 the Virtues Project, a Baha'i-inspired initiative, has been successfully implemented throughout the country. The classes promote moral and spiritual development and assist individuals in nurturing and practicing virtues in everyday life. Some schools in Honiara and also in the countryside have been supportive in adopting this program.

The Solomon Islands has welcomed distinguished Baha'i guests on its shores during the past 50 years. The country was visited by Madame Ruhiyyih Rabbani and other Hands of the Cause, including Collis Featherstone, Rahmatullah Muhajir, Enoch Olinga, and John Robarts.