In the midmost heart of the Indian Ocean, 43 young men and women embarked on the first leg of a 3,000-kilometre journey that would take them from Seychelles to Madagascar. During their transit in Mauritius they were joined by 79 of their peers from this country and Rodrigues. As parents and families escorted their youth to the airport, they were filled with a singular joy at seeing the path of service their youth had chosen for themselves. Nearly 600 beaming faces gathered from the islands of Madagascar, Mauritius, Réunion, Rodrigues, and Seychelles, at Espace Mahavokisoa, a hall surrounded by lush green rice fields in Antananarivo.
The participants eagerly began their study about the possibilities that await them to contribute to the well-being of their communities. The conversations inside the hall were warm and animated. One could hear groups deliberating in Creole, English, French, and Malagasy. Several groups wore hand-woven hats of raffia palm, each in the style typical of their region.
“I have felt so much joy at this conference with the discussions, the friendships, and unity of ideas that have been shared.”
A participant at the conference
Groups raised their voices in traditional song and performed dances representing the various regions from which they had come. One young woman welcomed the participants and presented the goals of their gathering in the form of a kabary, an eloquent form of speech that has been an important tradition in Malagasy culture for centuries. The art of kabary requires one to choose words carefully, so as to touch upon both the profound and lighter aspects of life.
In the context of contributing to the advancement of civilization, many youth spoke of striving to assist rising generations to develop their inherent potentialities and to take part in the process of transformation unfolding in their regions. This outpouring of shared experience revealed the potential of their collective endeavour and spurred on many groups to make plans. “When I am back from the conference I would like to continue what I have been learning with my friends, and with the younger youth, about how to help them to refine their characters,” explained a young man. “We are making a map of our neighborhood to see what we will do … I have decided to form a group of younger youth, and to go invite the youth in my neighbourhood,” shared a participant from Réunion.
The youth also saw opportunities to invite others to walk a path of service with them: “When I get home, I will call on my friends who were not at the conference … there are a lot of youth in the village,” shared one of the participants. “I will work with those who are younger than me to accomplish all the plans we have made here at the conference,” said another young person from Mauritius. And yet another youth shared the feeling that “true friendships are formed while doing meaningful service, such as children’s classes and helping those younger than ourselves.”
The youth explored the social forces that either impel young people forward or have the potential to hinder their efforts towards personal growth and the contribution they are making to uplift their communities. “We must be the mirrors for the younger youth, and standards for them,” explained one of the participants. “My responsibility,” added another, “is to provide for the spiritual education of a group of young people, to encourage them and help them navigate the social forces around them.”
“I feel really blessed to have this opportunity,” said one young person who has decided to offer a year of service to advance the process of community building underway in Seychelles. “Now we have an idea of where we need to focus our energies. My responsibility is to work with youth and children to make a better civilization for tomorrow and to change the world.”
Youth greet each other as they arrive at the conference site
During breaks the participants gathered outside to socialize and play games
During the weekend the youth studied the message of the Universal House of Justice dated 1 July 2013
Participants studied some of the conference themes outside
The conference had time for the sharing of cultural dances from the many regions represented
One group drew a map of their village to consult about their plans of action
Some youth played a game together during one of the breaks
New friendships were forged between participants throughout the conference
One of the dances shared was on the theme of unity
The conference was filled with both purposeful study and joyful fellowship
Participants consulted on how they could bring about constructive change in their communities, particularly by assisting those younger than themselves
Two youth share a Bahá’í prayer put to song