Patricia, Hamilton, Ontario

Patricia serves on the McQueston neighbourhood planning committee, and she is a member of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction. In recognition of her services to her community, she was awarded a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012.

“I became a Bahá’í when I was 35 years old. I was going through some personal struggles when I read the Bahá’í writings for the first time; they answered so many questions for me.

“The Bahá’í Faith said that this life is part of our journey to develop more and more. We are like the baby in the womb – that child has to develop all of its capacities before he or she is born into this world, and similarly, we have to develop spiritual capacities before we are born into the next world. I often look back at my life and feel grateful that my belief in God helped me become the person I am now.

“I live in Hamilton, Ontario, in a friendly and vibrant community. Many people in the neighbourhood where I live are involved in community-building activities. One of the areas that we focus on is poverty reduction as there are many in our neighbourhood who struggle with poverty. I have also experienced poverty at various points in my life.

“My understanding of poverty is that it’s the pits.

“There has to be the ability to assist the people living in poverty to gain self-worth and purpose. They are put down and demeaned so often that they give up and don’t want to try any more. What’s the point if you are only going to be demeaned? We can help to build self-esteem and confidence and build their voice to be heard and to do things for themselves.

“In my service with my neighbourhood planning committee, we use an asset-based community development model. It builds on the capacity of the people. We identify what our needs are, and our partners help us to achieve our goals.

“To me, poverty is not only about scarce resources. Spiritual poverty can go hand in hand with economic poverty, and it needs to be equally addressed.

“It wasn’t me who suggested starting a devotional gathering in our neighbourhood. It was a neighbour. We have such a diverse neighbourhood and many people didn’t know each other. So, we started a devotional gathering, and they have been running now for seven years. We have prayers every Monday. It’s had a major impact – it has spiritualized the neighbourhood.

“Then, two other Bahá’ís moved into the neighbourhoood, and we started a children’s class for the spiritual education of the neighbourhood children. We had only one child for a year. And now, about 18 children attend the class. Nowadays, there are three groups in the same location. The parents are positive about the class and encourage their children to attend. Once, a parent asked us to talk to their children about fighting. The parents recognize that these activities have a positive influence on the children. I was really pleased at that.

“I think the significance of these activities is that the young people are learning values and skills that can help them in their everyday lives, and finding those teachable moments when they happen is really important. I’m seeing other neighbours are now facilitating activities for young people, and I’m really thrilled by that.

“We may not see direct results in the short term, but in the long term there are profound changes. We are so used to instant gratification, but it is all about process, and these things take time.”