Youth keep the faith as population diversifies

SPIRITUAL TREND: Mount Druitt Baha'i youth coordinator Damon Sheidai (centre) with local youth, including (right) Kerri Putahi and (third from right) Ivi Marsters. Picture: Isabella Lettini

SPIRITUAL TREND: Mount Druitt Baha'i youth coordinator Damon Sheidai (centre) with local youth, including (right) Kerri Putahi and (third from right) Ivi Marsters. Picture: Isabella Lettini

While Australians are increasingly turning their back on religion, some teenagers in Blacktown are bucking the trend.

The 2016 Census results revealed that just 15 per cent of people in Blacktown say they have no religion, compared to nearly 30 per cent nationally.

Christian denominations have dropped slightly in the area, now representing 56 per cent of people, while other faiths are on the rise.

Baha’i youth worker Damon Sheidai has reached about 500 young people in five years he’s been working in Mount Druitt.

Despite some of the conservative teachings of the 19th-century Persian religion, including abstinence from sex outside of marriage and alcohol, Mr Sheidai said the values appeal to young people.

He was raised in the faith but it was at 18 that he truly “fell in love with” the principles including gender equality, elimination of prejudice and universal education.

Mr Sheidai believes the values appeal to the innate goodness of young people in the Blacktown area.

“The youth have altruism, they have a natural sense of justice, the ability to identify negative forces in the world, and a love for service and helping the community and each other,” he said.

“The way they’re perceived is the opposite of how they truly are.”

Damon Sheidai was born and raised in Hornsby, but came to Mount Druitt as a teenager because he wanted to make a difference. "It's known as a negative place but I think it's a place of potential, with a lot of misguided talent and energy," he said. Picture: Isabella Lettini

Damon Sheidai was born and raised in Hornsby, but came to Mount Druitt as a teenager because he wanted to make a difference. "It's known as a negative place but I think it's a place of potential, with a lot of misguided talent and energy," he said. Picture: Isabella Lettini

Mr Sheidai’s faith in teenagers was tested when several members of his youth group stole his car and took it for a joyride.

Among them was Blackett teen Ivi Marsters, who handed himself into police the next day.

“Damon was not even angry,” he said.

“He believed it was meant to happen, because it gave us the perfect time to reflect on our choices and what road we want to take.”

The 15-year-old said his involvement with the Baha’i faith has made him want to help other people.

“Young people in this area don’t have hope, but it starts small and gradually builds,” Ivi said.

“We need guidance, we need spiritual education. There will be a big change if people look into themselves and want to bring the community together.”

He and Mount Druitt youth Kerri Putahi, 16, are among the group members who now aspire to become youth workers.

“People say our world is bad but you can change that with service. Little things can make a big difference,” Kerri said.

“We can all build and grow and improve ourselves with qualities like love, kindness, courage and motivation, and spread that to others.”

The difference the youth group has made in their lives is proof of the positive power of the Baha’i faith, according to Blacktown Spiritual Assembly secretary Vincent Takizadeh.

He’s encouraged to see more young people joining the program and giving back to their area.

“The purpose of the youth program is not to teach religious doctrine or dogma, it’s to enhance communities through the teachings of Baha’u’llah,” Mr Takizadeh said.

“The fundamentals of the Baha’i faith are about building communities, and building united effort within communities.”

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