“Young people of Benin!” the song rang out. “Young people of Burkina!” As each contingent of youth was named—Niger and Togo soon followed—they cheered in celebration and joined their voices with 1,000 others in the auditorium. The soaring melody carried words such as these: “How beautiful it is, love for serving humanity, love for working together.”
Travelling by bus, motorcycle, and in cases where the rainy season had swelled streams, by boat, all came to the youth conference in Ouagadougou from 30 August to 1 September with a single aim—to discuss how to enhance their efforts to improve the material and spiritual conditions of society.
“Those in early adolescence are asking profound questions and it is our calling as youth to support them and help them discover their talents.”
A participant at the conference
Workshop groups reflected on the fact that a common characteristic of their regions is the youthfulness of their populations, and a question in the minds of many was how to ensure that the younger generation achieves its potential for contributing to the well-being of the community. Discussions on the conference materials helped participants to think about how young people can align themselves with positive forces that reinforce their efforts, such as love for truth and attraction to beauty. Describing the sense of responsibility they felt, one young man said, “Those in early adolescence are asking profound questions and it is our calling as youth to support them and help them discover their talents.”
Groups studied and socialized under multi-coloured tents set up throughout the grounds, often expressing their joy at gaining insights into concepts in the materials through uplifting songs. Some friends offered their time to take care of children so that those with families could join the conversations at the conference.
In one of the plenaries, a young woman commented on how moved and inspired she had become after reading a story in the conference materials about the efforts of a community to cultivate a spiritually enriching pattern of life. “Their first step was to understand the physical and social reality of their town. Then they started with a small number of people applying the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh to explore how they could help their neighbours through prayer and service,” she recalled. She went on to describe her own efforts to contribute to this process in her neighbourhood by nurturing the innate qualities of children. Another youth said that the regular gathering of a group of friends in his locality to say prayers not only provides them with spiritual nourishment, but also deepens their bonds of friendship and contributes to the devotional character of the community.
As participants developed greater understanding of the concepts highlighted by the conference themes, they expressed their growing appreciation of the need for enduring mutual support and encouragement among increasing numbers of youth to sustain progress. “Studying the materials will help me explain this vision to my friends and neighbours and inspire them to join me in community-building activities,” one young woman said.
On the last day, the air reverberated with the voices of the 1,000-strong gathering, united in a sense of mission and profound hope for the future. As they sang the melody that had formed a refrain throughout their three days together—“Let us sow the seeds of love and not the seeds of hatred”—the potential of any group of youth who relies on Divine assistance and strives to serve society selflessly was clearly manifest.
The conference was held at a cultural centre in Ouagadougou, Burkina
Devotions at the beginning of each day created a befitting environment for consultation and reflection
Multi-coloured tents were set up on the grounds for the workshop sessions
The youth divided into large and small workshop groups
A group studying a section of the conference materials
Friends consulted and planned together about how to assist in the education of younger youth in their communities
Everyone frequently rose to their feet in joyful songs
A participant from Togo studying the materials prepared for the conference in French
The rhythm of drums could be heard throughout the grounds as music permeated the conference proceedings
A group from Benin performed a traditional dance
A colourful assemblage of over 1,000 youth from Benin, Burkina, Niger, and Togo who attended the conference