Youth enjoy learning together
N'ZEREKORE, Guinea — A Baha'i youth conference here attracted participants from Baha'i, Muslim, Christian, and traditional African religious backgrounds.
They gathered at the University of N'Zerekore in the forest region of this French-speaking country to learn about the teachings, history, and administration of the Baha'i Faith through presentations, workshops, and dramatic art performances.
The third annual national Baha'i youth conference, held 23-25 July 2004, opened with greetings from the regional governor's representative and the rector of the university.
The history lessons focused on the lives of the Central Figures and early heroes of the Baha'i Faith.
One Baha'i youth said he was moved by a story about how 'Abdu'l-Baha showed great kindness to a man who chose to mistreat Him. "The story of 'Abdu'l-Baha helped me to love the people who reject me and to show them that I truly love them," said Abdoulaye Bangoura, 19, a teacher of Baha'i children's classes.
"If I try to be like 'Abdu'l-Baha, who is the perfect exemplar of the Baha'i Faith, I must accept the pain and the problems, and continue forward -- this story has given me courage...," he said.
For Mohamed Diaby, a 19-year-old Muslim, it was the story of the Baha'i Faith's Forerunner, the Bab, that caught his attention, and he was attracted to teachings of the oneness of humanity.
"You could say we are all from the same family and worship the same God," said Mr. Diaby.
After studying quotations by Baha'u'llah, Bernadette Traore, a 19-year-old Catholic, drew attention to the message they contained about the need to live in harmony with one's beliefs.
After a presentation on the structure and functioning of
Baha'i administrative institutions, participants divided into groups so they could learn about how to serve as members of Local Spiritual Assemblies.
The groups studied the duties of a secretary and chairperson and then held mock elections for those office-holders. They also appointed an advisor (the equivalent of an Auxiliary Board member.)
Functioning along the lines of a Local Spiritual Assembly, the groups consulted on topics such as assisting illiterate people to study the Baha'i writings, counseling alcoholics, dealing with criticism from local leaders of other religions, and competently looking after Baha'i funds.
One of the participants, Bruce Mukumbi, a Congolese Baha'i now living in Guinea, said the youth learned that the office-holders of the Assembly, such as secretary or chairman, are not allowed to impose their opinions on the group.
"Because of this workshop, everyone understood that each person can freely give his opinion and then the decision that's made belongs to the whole Assembly -- that is the principle of consultation," Mr. Mukumbi said.
The youth worked in groups to create short plays about Baha'i history and Baha'i teachings such as consultation, the oneness of religion, and the equality of women and men.
"The Baha'i Faith in Guinea has a great future with these youth," said Jean Jacques Yem, a high school arts teacher from Mali who attended the conference. Mr. Yem has visited many French-speaking African countries since 1992, presenting plays based on various Baha'i themes and training Baha'i performing arts groups in the use of the arts in promoting the Faith.
Mr. Yem, said he had never seen such enthusiasm from youth as he had observed after spending a month forming theater arts workshops in Guinea.
Mr. Yem said he was also impressed that a six-member National Baha'i Youth Committee organized the conference.
"I saw these young people stand up and take into their own hands the organization of the entire conference," he said. "The programs, the security -- they organized almost everything themselves."
Mr. Bangoura, a member of Guinea's National Baha'i Youth Committee, said the plan for next year's conference is to boost even further the number of youth from different religious backgrounds and countries.
"It is a conference for youth who are both Baha'is and not Baha'is," he said. "Since the main teaching of the Baha'i Faith is the unity of humankind, this teaching is brought to life with participants from other religions -- with Muslims, Christians, and Baha'is."
After the conference, 41 youth and five facilitators stayed for an intensive two-week training program using the Ruhi Institute materials, which focus on different aspects of the Baha'i teachings and history.
An integral part of the Ruhi learning method requires students to memorize quotes from the Baha'i writings.
Mr. Yem said that in the first week of the training sessions, the youth had developed a memorization competition.
"They even adopted a little game where each time someone moved away from courteous behavior, they would respond to that person with a quote," Mr. Yem said.
"For example, a girl said something rude to a boy, and someone started reciting the words [of Baha'u'llah] 'A kindly tongue...' and everyone chimed in together 'is the lodestone of the hearts of men.... It clotheth the words with meaning.' It is so moving to see them living like that."
(Report and photos by Mandy Morgan.)