On 8 February 2013, when the Universal House of Justice first called for the convocation of a series of youth conferences around the world, young people throughout the island-nation of Tonga learned that they were invited to travel to Nadi, Fiji, where the closest gathering would be held. Shortly after the initial announcement, the House of Justice wrote of the overwhelming response of young Bahá’ís and their friends, calling for additional conferences to accommodate the large numbers wishing to participate—a development “indicative of the magnitude of the reservoirs of energy and devotion that youth possess.” To the delight of the Tongan youth, one of the 19 additional locations was Nuku’alofa, where some 410 young people hailing from four major island groups came together from 27 to 29 September on the grounds of the Ocean of Light International School in Hofoa, a neighbourhood to the west of the city.
A large number in attendance were new to the conversation about striving to apply the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh to their individual and collective lives. “I decided to come to this conference because I believe in its purpose,” shared one, “and know it will be a useful experience for me to learn how to assist my community.”
“I’m going to start with simple steps, by showing kindness and listening attentively. While doing so, I will seek to understand the needs of those around me, and then strive to meet those needs.”
A participant at the conference
In an atmosphere both joyful and focused, participants studied and consulted in groups, gathering in classrooms, under the main canopy, and on the spreading lawns of the school property. Surrounding the spacious fields and athletic courts of the venue were lush coconut palms, some reaching up to 25 metres high. The occasional cool Pacific breeze or a spattering of rain brought respite to afternoons of warm weather.
In reflecting on the idea of a twofold moral purpose in life—to work for the betterment of society while also striving to improve one’s own character—one participant shared, “This is a process where you can see individuals transform by working for the transformation of their communities.”
Artistic presentations each evening were seen not as purely entertainment, but rather as an occasion to share insights and ideas through creative expression. So evident was this understanding that, part way through the second day, the setup of the stage was adjusted to be more inclusive of the participants. Those gathered used songs, skits, dances, and visual arts to articulate the concepts they were exploring. One group, for example, presented a poster that illustrated how young people are like a coral reef that will one day become an island, and how, with service at the centre of their lives, they must be united against the waves of negative forces in order to build healthy and vibrant communities.
Moved by the discussions carried out in a spirit of mutual encouragement, a young person shared the hope of immediate steps that could be taken following the conference: “I’m going to start with simple steps, by showing kindness and listening attentively. While doing so, I will seek to understand the needs of those around me, and then strive to respond to those needs.” “When we apply ourselves to the work of uniting our families and villages,” said another, “we cannot do it alone; we need friends to help us.”
The three days of joyful deliberations helped to refine the common vision that bound the youth: that of contributing to the advancement of society. As they prepared to return to their neighbourhoods and villages, they knew that this vision now needed to be shared with a growing number of people: “In order to assist our peers who were not able to be with us, we have to directly invite them to join in our community-building work. We have to listen to them, involve them, and help them to develop their interests and talents in service to humanity.”
Participants registering for the Nuku’alofa youth conference
Community members rallied in support of the gathering, including helping to raise the large canopy used to shelter participants from the sun and rain
Participants studied the message of the Universal House of Justice addressed to them dated 1 July 2013
Groups met in classrooms and throughout the outdoor properties of the Ocean of Light International School
Youth consulted on how they could bring about constructive change in their communities, particularly by assisting those younger than themselves
Those gathered took time to reflect on ways to support and assist one another in service to humanity
Around 410 participants filled the conference venue with a vibrant energy
Over the course of three days several new songs were created in small groups and shared in larger settings
Plenary sessions were joyful and high-spirited
Groups took turns to share insights gleaned from their study of the conference materials
Each of the groups created artistic presentations to illustrate the concepts they explored
Young people dressed in vibrant colours present a traditional Tongan dance
A group photo of the participants representing four major island groups throughout Tonga—‘Eua, Ha’apai, Tongatapu, and Vava’u