Across Australia young people are participating in an endeavour that strives to give them a voice in today’s society. Through the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program, these junior youth groups are enhancing their power of expression, sharpening their spiritual perception, analysing the constructive and destructive forces of society and changing their surroundings through the service projects.
Media for Transformation: An Initiative Inspired by the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program in Vancouver, Canada
Since here at Baha’i Blog, we’re passionate about the subject of media as a means for affecting positive change, we were keen to hear from the team behind this project. Here’s what one team member shared on behalf of everyone involved:
Baha’i Blog: What is Media for Transformation?
Media for Transformation is a social action initiative inspired by the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program. The project recognizes the powerful influence of media in society and is motivated to create positive content that contributes to the moral and spiritual empowerment and development of youth aged 11-14.
Baha’i Blog: Could you please tell us a little about the team behind Media for Transformation?
Media for Transformation is made up of a group of animators and friends working closely with the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program, in the Vancouver region, British Columbia, Canada. We meet every three months (once a cycle) to learn about how music and lyrics can support, reinforce and enhance certain concepts that junior youth are exploring in their groups. Each session is comprised of about 15 animators (some new and others returning) who bring a variety of experiences and capacities to the group. Some are more musically inclined, while others bring their experience from the field of service into the storytelling and narrative development process. What unites us is our sincere desire to create media that speaks to and nurtures the higher nature of junior youth.
Baha’i Blog: So how did it come about?
There were multiple conditions that allowed this initiative to evolve as a natural outgrowth of the community building process in our cluster. Some included animators visiting other clusters that were learning about similar initiatives, others were animators building their own capacity for songwriting and music production. We believe that the main condition however was the strength and quality of the junior youth program in our cluster: the strength of relationships between animators, junior youth and their families; the ability for animators to relate elevated themes and concepts to the reality of the junior youth; the strength of our Baha’i Institutions to support our long term vision and provide us with a facility and resources; and also the commitment of animators to be part of a long term learning process that supports and enhances the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program in our cluster. These were all major contributing factors.
The conditions felt right in 2018 when a group of friends working closely with the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program, decided to initiate a long-term learning process that was centred around how the influence of the junior youth program is extended and advanced through the creation of songs that reflect the profound concepts found in the junior youth study materials.
The following words of the Universal House of Justice has offered us great guidance and inspiration:
“As this centripetal movement of populations accelerates across the globe, some elements in every culture, not in accord with the teachings of the Faith, will gradually fall away, while others will be reinforced. By the same token, new elements of culture will evolve over time as people hailing from every human group, inspired by the Revelation of Baha’u’llah, give expression to patterns of thought and action engendered by His teachings, in part through artistic and literary works. It is with such considerations in mind that we welcome the decision of the Ruhi Institute, in formulating its courses, to leave for the friends to address locally issues related to artistic activity. What we ask at this stage, then, when energies are to be invested in the extension of children’s classes and junior youth groups, is that the multiplication of supplementary items for this purpose be allowed to occur naturally, as an outgrowth of the process of community building gathering momentum in villages and neighbourhoods. We long to see, for instance, the emergence of captivating songs from every part of the world, in every language, that will impress upon the consciousness of the young the profound concepts enshrined in the Baha’i teachings. Yet such an efflorescence of creative thought will fail to materialize, should the friends fall, however inadvertently, into patterns prevalent in the world that give license to those with financial resources to impose their cultural perspective on others, inundating them with materials and products aggressively promoted.” December 12, 2011
Baha’i Blog: What does the creative process look like?
The initial vision of Media for Transformation included gathering a group of animators every three months, for two consecutive weekends. The process is in three stages.
The first stage is the text study which takes place on the first weekend and is comprised of an in-depth study of one of the junior youth texts. We’d reflect on how our junior youth relate to concepts in the texts and this would inform the themes that we would focus on in our songwriting.
The second stage is the songwriting which takes place the following weekend. We get together for an entire two and a half days in a seminar setting. We start by outlining the purpose of the project, reflect on qualities of detachment, consultation and the power of the arts in spreading the teachings of Baha’u’llah. Then we break up into smaller groups, reflect on the text, concepts we want to focus on, the reality of the junior youth and what they’re experiencing/listening to, and form narratives and songs based around that. We also invite junior youth to visit us, hear our songs, and give us feedback. This aspect of the process is crucial on so many levels. It gives the junior youth an opportunity to develop their power of discernment, power of expression and articulate ideas. It gives animators the opportunity to hear first-hand how the junior youth relate to the content and in essence, how the content can best serve the junior youth and the program as a whole.
The third stage is the production and dissemination of the songs. The production takes shape with minimal resources and the help of experienced sound engineers and musicians. The songs are then produced, mixed, and mastered by one of our animators/sound engineers and then uploaded to various streaming platforms, where junior youth and animators can access the content. We also provide a series of comprehension questions to assist animators in integrating the songs into their junior youth groups.
Baha’i Blog: What have you learned in the process of creating this initiative?
Where do we start?! We’ve consistently met every 3 months, and have completed 5 music seminars to date. We’ve studied five junior youth texts, and produced 3 original songs in each seminar. We’ve been able to engage over 35 animators from the region in the creative process and it’s safe to say that we’re in a constant mode of reflection, planning, and action.
We feel that each seminar has given fruit to a stronger unity of vision, collaborative work ethic and tighter transitions between stages in the process. We have this saying that the seminar is not complete until each group is ready to record – this allows for members to work with fluidity between other groups and offer support in order to get all the songs to where they need to be. Each seminar the songs are written faster as our capacity to write develops, our lyrics have gotten more deep, vibrant, and melodies more complex and reflective of what the junior youth want to hear. The quality of our recording process has improved as we finish the writing process sooner and spend more time rehearsing our parts before getting in front of the mic. We feel, that as a whole, we’ve been able to strengthen our ability to translate the profound concepts in the junior youth program in a really relatable and accessible way. We’re telling real-life, inspiring stories that reflect the lives of junior youth, through uplifting songs and melodies.
An ongoing object of learning for the team at Media for Transformation, is how the songs can reach the junior youth more effectively and contribute to an advance in culture. This manifests in an awareness surrounding our own media consumption and an alignment of our values with the media that we consume and produce.
Baha’i Blog: How do you hope it will be used?
We’re actively learning about this now. We’re at a point where we want to learn from animators in the region, how these songs could best serve the junior youth program and the lives of the junior youth themselves.
Baha’i Blog: What encouragement would you offer for people inspired by the JYSEP materials and want to express themselves creatively?
Start small. Look at the skills, talents and capacities around you and your junior youth group, and start from there. It’s been helpful for us to have a long term vision, plan and commitment to this learning process. It will definitely evolve as we grow and learn, but it’s exciting to work amongst a team of friends who are passionate about the relationship between the junior youth program and music. Find yourself a team that you can grow and learn and work alongside. The arts and media are such a profound way of widening our reach as Baha’is and engaging friends of all walks of life and experiences, in the community building process.
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.