Over the British Columbia Day long weekend, from 3 to 5 August, the varsity gymnasium at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, was taken over by more than 750 youth from Yukon, British Columbia, Alaska and Alberta, who were participating in a conference aimed at increasing the momentum of a community-building process under way in localities across their regions.
This was the last of three conferences held in Canada; the previous ones were held in Montreal and Toronto, and were part of a series of 114 conferences being held worldwide between July and October.
The aim of the conferences is to increase the capacity of the youth to work together for the betterment of society and to advance their understanding of concepts involved in service through study of materials prepared by the Universal House of Justice, the international governing council of the Baha’i community.
The conference began with prayers set to music, and chanting accompanied by a First Nations hand drum and in Mandarin. These took place against a backdrop of First Nations art depicting a bird and two whales drawn on green and blue banners designed by an Aboriginal youth from the Tlingit Nation near Carcross, Yukon.
Reflecting on the mood of the conference, one participant commented, “The environment we are trying to create here is joyful and serious at the same time. Understanding is one of the greatest sources of joy.”
Hushmand Fatheazam, one of the first members of the Universal House of Justice, who served on that body between 1963 and 2003, also shared some uplifting words with the youth on the second day of the conference.
The sessions were full of laughter, silent reflection, and intimate moments in which youth exchanged personal experiences and thoughts. The sound of drums, guitars, singing and laughter filled the halls during meals and breaks. Groups gathered in circles indoors and out for their breakout sessions, during which they studied the materials and reflected on themes such as true friendship, false choices, sacrifice, and mutual support.
The idea of mutual support resonated strongly with the youth, as did the growing understanding that their service is part of a collective movement rather than an individual initiative.
“It’s not that we haven’t been trying to serve in this neighbourhood before,” said one of the youth from Port Coquitlam, “It’s just that now we’re working as a collective and everything is moving so quickly, and it’s amazing how we’re able to keep up with it.”
A youth from Alaska also shared his insights after watching sections of a video titled Frontiers of Learning, which explores processes of community development taking place in thousands of localities worldwide. Four case studies are presented from four continents: the northern part of the Bolivar region in Colombia; the city of Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo; the city of Toronto, Canada; and the town of Bihar Sharif and surrounding areas in Bihar State, India. “Before you were expected to do things by yourself but that movie hit me; not only is it the integrated life but the unified community that will keep the fire going.”
The level of energy increased as the conference continued and the arts were increasingly used throughout the sessions as groups presented skits, raps, songs, chants, poetry, and posters in response to the themes of positive and negative social forces. One group used a ukulele and a djembe drum to accompany their songs and asked the youth to join in, while other presentations incorporated the entire audience in moving around the gym.
Throughout the conference, the youth reflected on the idea that this was the time for them to act and prepare themselves for a life of meaningful service. With this in mind, they made plans to share what they had learned at the conference with others in their localities, and to further the community-building efforts already under way. They also made plans to reach out to others who may be interested in joining them in their efforts.
“Every single human being can contribute,” said one youth from Vancouver, “and the next weeks and months will give us the chance to invite them to do so as we continue our efforts.”