Some 1,700 people gathered in Ghana’s capital, Accra, for the regional conference called by the Universal House of Justice. About 950 participants were from Ghana itself, joined by 156 Baha’is from Benin, 140 from Burkina Faso, four from Cape Verde, three from Guinea Bissau, 106 from Niger, 137 from Nigeria and about 200 from Togo.
Attending as representatives of the Universal House of Justice were Mr. Stephen Birkland and Mrs. Rachael Ndegwa, members of the International Teaching Centre. Also in attendance were continental counselors Dr. Maziar Djoneidi, Mr. Zowé Tiba Nganyadé, and Mrs. Agatha Gaisie-Nketsiah.
The conference was held at the Great Hall at the University of Ghana, Legon, which sits atop the highest point in Accra and overlooks the city. Workshops took place in tents that had been set up on the grounds. Conference participants were lodged in hotels in surrounding neighborhoods.
People had arrived throughout the day on Friday. Many came in large buses; scores of people would alight at once, to be greeted by volunteers from the local community who were acting as ushers. For most, the travel took at least a day, with the friends from Niger and northern parts of Nigeria spending two or three days on the road.
“Superb! Inspiring! Energizing! I have nothing else to say.”
Zibambe Nilaba, 55 - Niger
The trip was arduous for some, but they kept their spirits high by singing, drumming, and dancing on the buses. Older friends told stories of travel-teaching experiences and of spirited gatherings in times past. The group from Nigeria placed large banners with the words “Baha’is of Nigeria” on their buses.
The first day
Mr. Birkland gave the opening address, recounting the stories of two men who were exemplary servants of the Baha’i Faith despite their feelings of inadequacy. The key was their desire to do whatever was needed. Mr. Birkland, emphasizing the importance of focus, shared a personal story of the disorienting and dizzying impact of taking one’s eyes off the horizon, thereby becoming distracted and failing to reach one’s destination. But with your eyes on the horizon, focus and clarity are achieved and things become possible.
The message from the Universal House of Justice to the conference was read, and participants divided into workshops to study and reflect upon both this letter and the 20 October 2008 letter to the Baha’is of the world.
Mrs. Ndegwa addressed the gathering and stressed that the world is in turmoil and many people are hungering for the “bread of life.” She said that Baha’u’llah has given the salve for the world’s wounds.
Throughout Saturday, representatives of National Assemblies and individuals spoke of their experiences and the progress they have made. Each of the countries reported that their communities were growing as a result of participation in the sequence of courses and the other core activities, and by their undertaking of programs of growth.
In Niger, the Bahá’ís in one of the clusters launched a program of growth 20 months ago; the program is now in its eighth cycle, and the community has grown from 100 to 300 Bahá’ís with the number of study circles doubling to 30.
The involvement of young people has been a key element in growth. In Benin, for example, all the educational activities and devotional meetings, the representative reported, are being run by young people.
A number of individuals shared their stories of initiative and participation in the programs of growth and the core activities. In the Niamey cluster in Niger, one participant reported, Bahá’ís organized an intensive program for junior youth animators at the end of which everyone developed a detailed plan of action. One week after the training session, three groups had already formed, and there are now a total of 10 groups with 102 participants.
“I am a new Baha’i and had only ever met the Baha’is in my own community. This has been a pleasant surprise and inspiration to recognize that there are many Baha’is spread across the continent and beyond.”
John Pray - Ghana
Another report told of how in Ghana, seven years ago, a family started a children’s class at their home, with the son and nephew’s football team. Made up of neighborhood children, the class has grown to 80 children in three different levels (4-6, 7-8, and 9-11). Further, as the original group of children grew up, a junior youth group naturally formed. The parents and neighbors have become increasingly involved through weekly devotional meetings. In one instance an interested neighbor came to find why children were always coming into the home. He learned of the Faith, became a Baha’i and has subsequently become a children’s class teacher. A family with 8 children, 6 of whom were in either the children or junior youth class, have also joined the Bahá’í community.
As the program started late on Saturday, there was no time to complete the cultural program the same evening. However a youth and child team from Ghana led the participants in singing well known Baha’i songs. And to close the night out, a group of Nigerian friends, adorned in beautiful costumes, enlivened the crowd with drums, songs and dancing. Mrs. Ndegwa and some of the other participants joined in after an inspiring day of recounting accomplishments and gaining a better understanding of the elements of the Five Year Plan.
The second day
At the start of the second day, one participant remarked that after reflecting on the first day’s messages, she could not sleep and was eager to come back to consider plans with others from her cluster.
Starting the session, Mrs. Nketsiah, a continental counselor, reviewed the successes that each country reported. As she went country by country, she also reminded the friends of the charge given to each of them by the Universal House of Justice and encouraged them with the chorus of “you can do it!”
The remainder of the cultural program happened on Sunday afternoon. During a lull after lunch, many of the participants spontaneously started coming up to the stage, eager to share their talents, songs, dances and skits. A number of presentations from Benin, Ghana, Niger and Burkina Faso energized the audience. A skit prepared by young people from one of the clusters in Ghana, showcased their understanding of the institute process, the essence of each of the core activities, while masterfully interweaving relevant quotations.
John Pray, Ghana: “I am a new Baha’i and had only ever met the Baha’is in my own community. This has been a pleasant surprise and inspiration to recognize that there are many Baha’is spread across the continent and beyond.”
Absatou Ali Ada, Niger: “Although I am not a Baha’i I have accompanied my husband whenever there has been a large gathering of Baha’is. I love the Faith and encourage our children to learn the teachings.”
Balthazar Da Silva, 32, Guinea Bissau: "Coming here, I thought I'd never arrive. I missed one flight, and to be able to arrive in time for the conference had to go from Guinea Bissau to Dakar, Dakar to Bamako, Bamako to Abidjan, Abidjan to Ethiopia, Ethiopia to Lagos, Lagos to Accra. But it was all worth it!"
Zibambe Nilaba, 55, Niger: “Superb! Inspiring! Energizing! I have nothing else to say.”
Hoda Nadafi, Cote D’Ivoire: “Before we had no systematic way to consolidate. Now there is no need to think too much about that – we know what to do.”
Christine Asare, Ghana: “(The conference) made me realize the urgency of the plan laid out for us by the Universal House of Justice.”
Adboulahi Ousseini Rabi, 20, Niger: “Meeting all the Baha’is from all over took away the tiredness and frustration of the journey. From our numbers I can see that the intensive programs of growth really work.”
Chahine Rassekh, Mali: “The local populations have arisen and the Faith is in their hearts.”
Balthazar Da Silva of Guinea Bissau presents the plans of his community.
People came from eight countries in West Africa.
Mr. Ladzaka and Mr. Okoh were among the 950 Baha'is from Ghana who attended.
Yoofi Nketsiah (left) and Nana Yaw, both of Ghana, lend their artistic talents.
This group is from Niger.
Drummers from Nigeria add to the spirit.
This group is also from Nigeria.
As in the other conferences, participants were both young and old.
Mrs. Assam was among the 137 people who traveled from Nigeria.
Attendance totaled some 1,700 people.
People came from Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Niger, Nigeria, and Togo.
The conference in Accra was the last of nine conferences to take place on the continent of Africa.
The gathering took place at the University of Ghana, Legon.