June 18, 2023 will mark 40 years since 10 Baha’i women were hanged in Shiraz. Their only ‘crime’ was their refusal to renounce their beliefs in a faith that promotes the principles of gender equality, unity, justice, and truthfulness. This collection highlights Baha’i Blog content relating to the ongoing persecution of Baha’is in Iran.
Nasim Mansuri, Hope Krummell, Jackson Jopling and Ron Lapitan agreed to tell me all about it. Here’s what they shared:
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little about yourselves?
I’m originally from Paraguay, but I’m now working near Boston (USA) as a freelance copywriter/editor and a manufacturing process manager. I’m also involved in Baha’i community efforts with junior youth! I’ve worked as a writer and editor for BahaiTeachings.org and Spring Green Films, and a movie and book reviewer for Hypable.com. In my free time, I like to write fiction and pet cats!
I’m from Fairfax, Virginia (USA). When I’m not at work at the Tahirih Justice Center, I’m animating three junior youth groups and teaching a children’s class. In my free time, I like to draw a webcomic called “A Baha’i Comic” on Webtoon, which is kind of like the YouTube for comics creators and is where people our junior youths’ age and younger go to post and read their comics (it was one of my junior youth who showed it to me.)
I’m from Cornwall, England and I currently live in Brazil with my wife and son. My wife and I came to Brazil to pioneer. We have three dogs and two cats. I am currently working as an English tutor and I love reading and writing stuff. I am the oldest facilitator.
I’m also originally from Paraguay; Nasim would come over sometimes and use her imagination to entertain me and my sisters as kids. Now, I live in Aurora, Colorado (USA) where my time is spent working, serving, studying and spending as much time with loved ones as possible, much like your average Baha’i! I really enjoy poetry and songwriting as a way to process human sentiments that are hard to express or understand.
Baha’i Blog: Could you please tell us a little about The Young Writers’ Endeavor?
The Young Writers’ Endeavor (YWE) is a Baha’i-inspired online workshop for writers between the ages of 12 and 18, from all around the world! Its goal is to familiarize youth with the structure and style of different genres, and help young writers approach writing from a Baha’i perspective through study of the Baha’i Writings.
YWE lasts a month annually, is facilitated virtually, and has a global reach. This last year, participants joined from 13 countries. Our format in 2021 was something like this: On Monday mornings, participants attended a workshop by one of our guest speakers. Each speaker specializes professionally in a specific medium, such as journalism, poetry, comics, or script-writing for theatre, and each week is centered on learning how to create a piece in that week’s medium. After the Monday workshop, participants had the week to craft their literary piece. We gave them assignments on Google Classroom which hone their skills in certain aspects of the medium (such as doing an interview for journalism week, or outlining character development for theatre week), then they submitted them, and facilitators gave feedback with enough time to incorporate into their final pieces. If they wanted tips from facilitators or just want to chat with other participants, everyone was also connected via a Discord which the facilitators monitored. On Sundays, participants attended a concluding Zoom call to show the group and the guest professional what they created and receive encouraging feedback. Then the next week started with a new medium to explore. Each year also had a theme which participants were asked to explore with their creations. Last year, to align with the One Year Plan, the theme was the Covenant and the Person of the Master.
One of the things that is cool about YWE is that it gets the participants to think about how spiritual principles work within the arts. Although we focus on the written or spoken word, we hope that they carry those ideas to all parts of their lives. It gets the participants (and the facilitators) to consider what art a spiritually inspired culture could create. We are constantly thinking of ways of improving, reinvigorating and innovating the YWE’s content. Another amazing thing about a lot of the participants is that English is not their first language and they still inspire and impress us constantly.
Baha’i Blog: What inspired you to create it?
I started writing from a young age, but it took me many years to start seeing how I could combine my identity as a writer with my identity as a Baha’i. It was hard to find friends with the same passion for both writing and spiritual concepts. And I think this happens to many youth — they write a lot, but lose passion for it over time because it becomes a very solitary hobby, and they don’t see where it can take them. This workshop is our way of creating a space where young writers (whether they are Baha’i or not) can make those connections with other young writers with the same ambition for the betterment of the world, and continue to develop and nurture those skills — wherever they might take them.
I think our vision of what the workshop can be has definitely been refined by having many new facilitators join the effort. I remember having many brainstorming meetings with Nasim at the beginning, trying to figure out what to make the first year look like. It has evolved a lot since then. Trial and error, consultation and drawing from the guidance have led that process.
I was invited to join after it had already been going for a few years — we’re always looking for new teammates who are passionate about literature and working with youth! What inspires me to be a part of it is seeing the brilliance of our youth. It’s not like school, where participants only do as much as they need to pass, and where they only ask questions like, “Will we have to know this for the test?” When they ask questions, it is out of a sincere desire to grow and learn. And when they create things, they put the best of themselves into it for the sake of excellence. One girl in my team (each facilitator is assigned a team to accompany in the Discord) asked how to write a compelling intro, so we had a long conversation about effective hooks. Then she asked how to overcome her fear of sharing her writing with others, so our group had a conversation about courage. On Sundays when they share their work, they take true joy in seeing the beautiful things their friends created, and learn to take joy in their own creations. There is a lot of applause and laughter. It’s like getting to take a peek into the Baha’i education of the future, where the task of learning is combined with truly believing in what you’re doing, that you’re here to grow in your power of expression, which can be used for the betterment of the world; and because of that, education is a joy, not drudgery.
Baha’i Blog: What is some of the feedback you’ve heard from previous participants? How has the initiative been received?
I’ve heard participants comment during the workshop that they felt themselves growing in confidence (like that awesome girl from my Discord team who asked for tips on how to not be afraid when presenting one’s work. She ended up developing into a radiant presenter.) I’ve heard from participants after the workshop that they found it to be a really loving and thoughtful experience, where the facilitators really paid attention to who their participants were as individuals.
Feedback for participants and their parents has also been positive and constructive. The participants have enjoyed the world embracing vision and the sense of fellowship that they have gained through the events. A lot of participants remain friends despite the great distances between a lot of them.
It’s very fulfilling to see those friendships develop, especially between youth who may not have friends in their region with whom to have meaningful discussions about art or spirituality. And it’s so much fun to see all the profound conversations they have translate into art — whether it’s an article explaining a concept like the Covenant or a comic featuring dragons! Together, we are starting to expand and nurture our concept of “Baha’i literature” and the many diverse forms it can take. And we’ve been able to support some of the young writers and their families as they pursue publication, both on Baha’i platforms and in contests or assignments in the wider community.
Throughout the years I’ve seen the facilitators develop sweet bonds with the participants that fortunately extend throughout the year, outside of the workshop as well. For example, a few participants have reached out to different facilitators for advice related to writing they had been doing in their personal time; also some reached out seeking encouragement about other academic matters. It was beautiful to see some participant-led devotionals and art “clubs” start after the workshop too. Both met on a regular basis for a big portion of the pandemic. These were hosted by 13 and 14 year olds who were thoughtfully planning out and executing beautiful meetings which they had invited their friends, many of which were made in YWE. I’d say those are some precious and unexpected fruits of the workshop. Seeing the junior youth and youth return every year has been the most confirming about how they have felt about the workshop.
Baha’i Blog: How can people get involved?
This year, ahead of our usual workshop in the summer, we will be hosting The Family Fast Festival, a virtual event on February 26 and March 12! You can register here for the youth sessions or parents’ session. And if you’re interested in collaborating with us, please reach out to us at [email protected]! We’re always looking for new people to join our team, whether it’s as a facilitator or by contributing their art or skills in any way they wish!
In her innermost heart, Sonjel is a stay-at-home parent and a bookworm with a maxed out library card but professionally she is a museologist with a background in English Literature. She currently lives on Prince Edward Island, an isle in the shape of a smile on the eastern Canadian coast. Sonjel is a writer who loves to listen to jazz when she's driving at night.