Preparations were almost complete a day before the start of the youth conference in Madrid, as a team of volunteers spent the morning arranging the final provisions in anticipation of the arrival of 370 youth. As groups of friends from the Canary Islands, Gibraltar, Portugal, and Spain neared the venue under the hot afternoon sun, the surrounding university facilities were transformed into a milieu of energy and excitement. One of the participants commented: “I was so excited to come to this conference, as I’ve never been to such an event before. When I arrived, I felt as though I was at home. We’re from different places, but we feel united.” The participants had arrived, with high spirits and were ready to act!
The youth, who came from diverse backgrounds and were of varying ages, opened the conference with prayers and Writings from the Bahá’í Faith, read and sung in a number of languages. During group sessions, youth settled on the grass and under the cool shade of pine trees. The atmosphere that characterized the conference was at once festive and focused, with the participants demonstrating an eagerness to grasp the concepts that had been introduced in the conference materials. Despite the imposing heat, discussions on themes such as the unique period of youth and early adolescence remained centered, and the youth kept an outstanding level of motivation and commitment throughout the conference.
“When I arrived, I felt as though I was at home. We’re from different places, but we feel united.”
A participant at the conference
The participants engaged in numerous dynamic and profound discussions during the course of the weekend, many of which would continue into break times. One of the main topics that the youth explored was understanding what it means to contribute to their communities through acts of service. Acknowledging the power that is released when everyone concentrates his or her unique talents and capacities on contributing to the betterment of the world, the participants found that there are certain capabilities that can be developed in order to become more effective agents of change. These included the ability to support and consult with one another and to assist the younger generation to channel their potentialities towards similar aims. Speaking about the concept of consultation, one youth remarked: “Consultation is about seeking the truth, not defending one’s position in a debate.” Articulating the relationship between personal and collective growth, another participant said that “when you stop what you’re doing to help a friend, your personal progress is not stalled… when we help others, we also advance.”
Artistic activities were present throughout the conference, sometimes emerging spontaneously during sessions, breaks, and meal times, and at other points planned and shared in front of large groups of their fellow participants. During the plenary sessions, all of the groups were invited to go on stage and use different forms of artistic expression to demonstrate the concepts that they had been learning about during the day. The presentations, were all followed by bursts of applause and cheering, reflecting the collective and participatory spirit that was apparent throughout the conference. At one point, around 80 youth arose from their seats to sing a song.
For many of the participants, this gathering was the continuation of a conversation that will develop far beyond the conference. As one participant said, “when I return home, I’m going to share what I’ve learnt here with my friends and tell them that they can contribute to change. I’m going to encourage them to move forward with their noble goals.”
Participants register at the conference
Groups of friends who travelled to the conference together consulted on their ongoing efforts to better their communities
The dynamics of the study groups were energetic and participatory
There was music even during meal times
Young children were an extra source of joy for the conference participants
The participants came from the Canary Islands, Gibraltar, Portugal, and Spain
Some of the groups continued their conversations outdoors
There were songs, dances, and other artistic expressions throughout the conference
Participants expressed their ideas and reflections during the plenary sessions
There were many opportunities to contribute to the discussions during the conference
A group photo of the conference participants