Timaru, New Zealand 1986
Looking back to 31 years ago when I lived in Timaru, and while searching through my boxes of papers and old articles and other worldly things that I have hoarded over the years, I found a Timaru Bahá’í newsletter (I was the editor at that time) dated October 1986. and our small Bahá’í community organized and co-sponsored a major conference on Peace. It might not seem very major by today’s standards but it was a mighty effort on the part of our community. It is wonderful to read back about our community life in those days, and this event surely pulled us all together.
Let me give an idea of the grand event that we co-sponsored. Prior to the event beginning, there were forty ads on radio and these were paid for by sponsors – mainly firms and other community organisations. In addition, they financed a three-quarter page slot in the Timaru Herald with supportive advertisements. There was a cake stall held at Northtown Mall, with peace related posters, and a Peace Seminar Stall at Stafford Mall. Extensive advertising in the Timaru Herald incorporated local Bahá’í artist, Dave Stewart’s, exciting and inventive “Peace It Together” logo. Furthermore, there were many exhaustive meetings by the steering committee, enthusiastic support from the Tangata Whenua, organised by a Kaumatua, Mr. Bruce Toa, and catering by Maatua Whangai along with tireless assistance from another local supporter, Mr Bryan Hannam, who looked after the technical and stage management side of things. There were heaps of encouragement and support from speakers and other Baha’i communities; these are just some of the factors and people that made the building up to the seminar itself an exciting one. Finally, there was a 15-minute Radio Caroline (named after Caroline Bay) interview with local Bahá’í’s, Danny Gresham and Tony Howie, on the Friday before the main event.
On the day of the event, the hall was decorated by 80 “peace” posters produced by the children of two local primary schools. Other local peace groups created and exhibited displays related to peace issues. The Bahá’í display looked particularly attractive and owed much to the loan of materials donated by the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Christchurch on behalf of it’s community.
The seminar was officially opened by Mr. Bruce Toa and members of the Tangata Whenua. The highlight of this was the presentation of three white feathers as a symbol of peace, to Mrs. Gae Cherry who had kindly agreed to speak in place of Sonia Davies – whose hectic round of conferences and meetings had finally caught up with her.
Plea for Peace
Bahá’ís Huda Melson and Afsaneh Howie, from Iraq and Iran, respectively, made a moving plea for peace between their countries by each chanting a prayer in their respective languages and then joining together for the song of the Martyrs. It was sensational and brought tears to people’s eyes because these two countries were against each other back then.
Maatua Whangai provided lunch and afternoon “Devonshire” tea with proceeds going towards their Marae fund. A potluck dinner was held in the evening; the efforts of Maatua Whangai were very much appreciated, especially by our stomachs.
140 attended the regional peace seminar. The sessions were inspiring.
Dr. Neil Cherry (Left)
Dr. Neil Cherry spoke of the world situation at that time, but stressed that this was only a negative picture if we gave up. He maintained that there is enough food in the world to feed everyone with 300 calories a day in grain alone.
Neil James Cherry (29 September 1946 – 24 May 2003) was a New Zealand environmental scientist.)Peace Award
On 3 December 2002 Neil was one of the recipients of the first eight Christchurch City Peace Awards given to local groups and individuals.
Peace Award Citation:
Dr. Neil James Cherry, ONZM (Officers of the New Zealand Order of Merit)
“Neil Cherry has been a tireless worker for peace and disarmament research and education for many years. In 1985 he founded the Canterbury Branch of Scientists Against Nuclear Arms and convened the group until 1996. He was an active member of the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists and ‘Beyond War’, the Aotearoa/New Zealand Peace Foundation, Students and Teachers Educating for Peace and the Riccarton Peace Group. He was a member of the local committees of the 1986 United Nations International Year of Peace and served as the scientific member of the Public Advisory Committee on Disarmament and Arms Control from 1989-1991. He was awarded the 1990 Commemorative Medal by the government for services to peace and disarmament research and education. He has also published articles about the dangers of nuclear power and nuclear winter, and the need for nuclear disarmament. (http://www.nzine.co.nz/features/neilcherry_lifestory_part15.html)
Dr. Ali Danesh, Psychiatrist
Dr Ali Danesh, member of the New Zealand Bahá’í community, then destroyed racism as a valid concept. It was now regarded as an anti-social problem and a product of man’s lower nature. He said there were 4 steps by which the higher or spiritual nature could dominate, tolerance, equality, unity, and altruism (the last being an unattainable idea to which we were always striving). His son, John Danesh, reminded the session that youth could achieve great things by helping to break down meaningless traditions that cause division. The disease of the world was disunity. For more information about this speaker: – http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10578118
Gae Cherry’s address concerned the conflict between sexes which she said was rooted in the system. Women wished to work with men, not for them, but their talents and needs had been ignored. The assumption that any relationship involved one member being up and the other down had to be dissolved and parity achieved. Through peer relationships between the sexes, she felt that peace could come.