Port-Vila Youth Conference

Vanuatu | 17-19 August 2013

Travelling in planes, vehicles, on ships, and by foot, some 1,650 young people from French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu eagerly arrived, many over a week in advance, for the historic youth conference in Port-Vila, Vanuatu, held from 17 to 19 August. From Tanna, in southern Vanuatu, where the Universal House of Justice recently called for the building of one of the first local Houses of Worship in the world, three groups of 200 passengers—a significant percentage of all the youth living on Tanna—arrived in three separate ocean voyages. Two separate flights from the Solomon Islands, with 70 and 30 participants respectively, arrived three days apart. And the day before the conference, 300 youth from the islands of Santo and Malakula, in northern Vanuatu, docked in Port-Vila’s harbour, after a 26-hour journey on a cargo ship.

With abundant joy, several hundred conference-goers, together with the support of many friends in the community, led a parade through Port-Vila to the official conference opening, where over 2,000 people joined in prayer and song. Among those present was the Vanuatu Minister of Youth Development and Sports, who expressed in his address great happiness that Vanuatu was chosen to host the gathering.

“Individuals, communities, and institutions need to mutually support one another in unified action; we need love and patience.”

A participant at the conference

The following day, a stadium full of participants sang in multiple harmonies for an uninterrupted 45 minutes before the first morning session began. The months of preparation, the long voyages, the pre-conference parade, and the joyful singing had filled them with an overflowing sense of readiness—for the opportunity to share their experiences in striving to more effectively serve their communities, and to discuss the ways in which conversations about the transformation of society could be extended to include more and more people. “We must arise, make plans, consult with community members and institutions, and act,” shared one eager participant.

Continental Counsellors Soheyla Bolouri, U’ileiuluwehi Pimental, and Henry Tamashiro attended the conference as representatives of the Universal House of Justice. Each was called on to share remarks during plenary sessions, and each joined in the singing and dancing that took place during the evening arts sessions.

One young person from Nguna, an island in Vanuatu that stretches just 8 km from north to south, shared his understanding of the significance of the task before them: “We youth have a responsibility that is God-given; it is like a spiritual duty … In working together to serve our communities, we must always remain positive, and always depend on God for His assistance.” Another reflected on the spiritual qualities that are conducive to creating an environment that empowers others to arise and scale the heights of service: “Individuals, communities, and institutions need to mutually support one another in unified action,” said a youth, “We need love and patience.”

During the third day, groups took turns to share the concrete plans of service that they had devised in earlier sessions. A participant from New Caledonia stated, “The spirit here has inspired us to work towards building better communities.” He offered his insights on the value of serving as a collective, and added, “We will continue to talk about this conference with our neighbours.”

The high-spirited energy of the 1,650 young people present built as each day progressed, right through to the final moments of the conference. Even after the formal closing, which included concluding words of encouragement from the Counsellors and members of the National Spiritual Assembly, vibrant singing and dancing filled the air with the love and sense of joyful optimism that the conference had helped to advance.

MORE HIGHLIGHTS:

  • To accommodate the large numbers in attendance, the conference proceedings were held in three adjoining venues: a sports stadium, an institute of technology, and a joint primary-secondary school.
  • Pre-conference preparations included several groups of about 20 young people, some even coming together periodically to form a larger group of 80, coming together to spend the months leading up to the gathering studying the guidance of the Universal House of Justice concerning the youth conferences and their purpose.
  • The attendance of some 600 participants from Tanna represents a significant percentage of the youth population of that island which is the site for the building of a local House of Worship

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  • Many participants arrived by boat, including a group from the northern islands of Vanuatu that voyaged for some 26 hours

  • A pre-conference parade through the streets of Port-Vila leading to the main venue where over 2,000 people gathered for an opening ceremony

  • A group studies together under the shade of a tree, in one of three venues that were used to accommodate the large numbers

  • Some participants wore matching outfits to represented their home communities

  • Small group sessions allowed for deeper discussions on the conference materials

  • Singing during the plenary sessions kept the participants’ energy high

  • A group of youth study together one of the sections of the material

  • The conference was an opportunity for the participants to reflect together about the contribution they can make to the spiritual and social development of their communities

  • The atmosphere for the duration of the conference was both high-spirited and celebratory

  • Outdoor games were enjoyed during breaks

  • Participants took turns sharing what they had discussed during the workshop sessions

  • Traditional performances added vibrant colour and energy

  • Several choreographed pieces were shared during the evening arts presentations

  • 1,650 young people from French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu gathered in Port-Vila, the capital of Vanuatu

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