Baha’is observe International Day for Eradication of Poverty

October 26, 2008

UNITED NATIONS, United States — Asked to open a United Nations meeting on poverty, Kevin Locke recited an “eagle” prayer in his native Lakota Sioux dialect.

“The eagle is a symbol of the ascendant nature of the human spirit, of the innate capacity of the human spirit to rise to nobility,” explained Mr. Locke at a UN roundtable to mark the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. The event was held 17 October.

“The eagle is compelled to fly upward,” he said. “The eagle sees the light of the new day and in its joy calls out, ‘I am the first to fly with the new day.’”

And then, referring to global efforts to eliminate poverty, Mr. Locke said, “We are all striving to escape the darkness.”

His contribution to the UN roundtable was one of a number of efforts that Baha’is around the world undertook in support of the poverty-awareness day, established by the UN in 1993.

-- In Uganda, the Baha’i community organized two events, a press conference to present a statement on poverty eradication and a special service at the Baha’i House of Worship in Kampala. Also, a Baha’i representative participated in a nationally televised program about poverty.

-- In Australia, Baha’is co-sponsored a panel discussion titled “Eradicating Poverty: Educating Girls.” Representatives from government and academia offered comments, as did two young girls aged 7 and 11. UNIFEM Australia (the UN Fund for Women) was co-sponsor of the event, which was also supported by AusAID, the Australian government’s aid agency.

-- In Germany, a “poverty tool kit” was created for use by local Baha’i communities in observing the day. The kit contained a PowerPoint presentation, documents offering Baha’i perspectives on poverty eradication, and selections from the Baha’i holy writings on the importance of eliminating extremes of wealth and poverty.

-- In Argentina, Baha’is in Buenos Aires planned an extensive program featuring devotions, a talk on “the spiritual solution to the economic problems,” and several artistic presentations, including a play about two young people from different social and economic backgrounds.

Other events featuring Baha’i participation were planned in El Salvador, Kenya, Mauritius, and the United States.

Mr. Locke, a Baha’i who is well-known as a Native American flutist and hoop dancer, was invited by the Baha’i International Community to the UN roundtable in part because he is from the Standing Rock Reservation in South Dakota, one of the poorest areas of the United States.

Tahirih Naylor, a representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations, also addressed the roundtable, which was titled “Turning rhetoric into action -- building effective partnership to combat poverty and exclusion.” The event brought together more than two dozen government representatives, UN officials, activists, and representatives of nongovernmental organizations.

Ms. Naylor spoke as chair of the NGO Committee for Social Development, stressing the importance of bringing new voices into the discussion on how to end poverty.

“We have to see this as a learning process,” she said. “Some say we already know all this…. But to really engage in looking at what true participation is, we have to listen and to have an attitude of learning as we approach the development of these programs and policies.”

Baha’i communities around the world in recent years have instituted both short- and long-term development projects, ranging from grassroots activities in villages to integrated agencies serving a wide range of needs in a given region.

“(Poverty Eradication) Day is an opportunity to recognize existing efforts, renew commitments, and set new goals,” said Ms. Naylor. “Baha’i communities around the world seek to contribute their perspectives and lessons learned in their work at the local and national levels towards this aim in their commemorations.”