Baháʼí Communities in London offer Tutoring for Young People
With school closures last year young students were forced to navigate home schooling alongside parents. As such, a new need for educational support became clear to some communities in London. In response to this, neighbourhood teams focused on working alongside their networks to fulfil this need by offering tutoring.
In Woodberry, Hackney, a team of mentors realised that their groups of 12–15-year-olds, otherwise known as junior youth, were struggling to complete their homework tasks. With the weight of a global pandemic, both the mentors and parents became concerned about their academic achievement. The neighbourhood team, conscious of the importance of responding to the needs within their community, created a weekly Sunday morning space to support the young people with their homework, allowing them to address their questions.
The space has evolved to welcome older youth to support the junior youth. In one instance, a 16-year-old youth who was struggling with his writing skills approached their mentor for support. In turn, a chain of tutoring emerged, where the mentors supported the youth, who then tutored the younger junior youth.
Groups also continued to study texts in the junior youth programme, which aims to empower youth to transform themselves and their communities.
This group have been studying a text called ‘Habits of an Orderly Mind’. The lessons within this book have helped these junior youth to structure their work, arranging schedules that allow them to also create a coherent balance within their lives, where they are able to support their friends and neighbours, as well as advance their schoolwork.
Alongside these sessions, the mentors regularly visited the parents of the youth, talking about the aspirations that their children have, how to nurture these, and the qualities they need to develop to achieve them. As a result, the relationships among the families and the mentors have gone from strength to strength. The outcome has been twofold; the youth have built their capacity to support the participants of their group with a greater sense of connection, and those that didn’t feel they were giving back to their community.
On the other side of London, in the South East borough of Lewisham, another team of friends serving in New Cross began a similar process. In order to nurture the spiritual character of the community, the team have been striving to respond to the needs of their young people shoulder-to-shoulder, to be more involved in the life of society.
One mentor said: “As a team in the neighbourhood, we were considering the importance of supporting and advancing communities both spiritually and materially. We wanted to better understand what this could look like in our neighbourhood. We realised the importance of reading our social realities in order to put spiritual concepts into practice. We realised that we’re not going to be able to do this if we have no understanding of education, which is central to young people’s lives. We ourselves have experienced the struggling educational system that is unable to fully support the educational needs of children. So we asked: what experience do we have? How can we help our community and support the junior youth and their older and younger siblings?”
After reflecting on these needs, the team pooled their knowledge and began tutoring the young people, especially those who were beginning their GCSEs. Recognising that there was a particular need for literacy skills, the team reached out to a number of organisations in the local area and secured a number of books for the participants of the groups. As a result, the members of the group were able to improve their literacy skills through engaging with creative writing outside of an academic framework.
One participant said: “It was really hard to focus in online school, so the tutoring has helped create a more focused space. I feel like I’ve really advanced my understanding.”
Online schooling was at first an isolating and daunting experience for the youth, and for the parents a new worry. Parents spoke of their desire for their sons and daughters to attend university in the near future, but were unsure of how to support them in light of home-schooling struggles. With the tutoring, and the bonds of trust cultivated over years of community building activities, the parents in the neighbourhood have come to further appreciate the role of the community in helping to raise young people. While the neighbourhood team are learning more about bridging the gaps left by the education system, the ongoing pandemic continues to add a further strain on the system.
Both the Woodberry and Hackney teams are part of a wider process of community building, inspired by the teachings of the Baha’i Faith, across the UK and world over, which has, for a quarter of a century sought to raise capacity in all people to be of service to their society. Teams working in neighbourhood settings strive to work alongside local friends to respond to the social and spiritual needs of their communities.