Canoas Youth Conference

Brazil | 26-28 July 2013

Winter in Brazil can be harsh, but for the over 400 participants of the youth conference in Canoas, the spirit of love and unity was exhilarating, as they gathered for three days of consultation, study and reflection on the ways in which they, as youth, could shoulder the responsibility of contributing to the wellbeing of their communities.

Preparations for the youth conference in Canoas, Brazil, began months earlier for many of the participants. Their efforts to work together to ensure the means were available to all who wished to attend demonstrated what can be accomplished when friends collaborate in an environment of mutual support and encouragement—a theme they would study in workshops at the conference.

“…building bonds of friendship is easier when we have unity of vision.”

A participant at the conference

In one community, a group of youth hosted a coffee house to raise funds to cover the cost of attending the gathering. One of the youth commented, “It was nice to see that we can do things together. We feel closer to each other and to our community because everyone helped.”

Youth from across the south and south eastern regions of Brazil travelled to Canoas, some for up to 20 hours, often stopping to pick up fellow participants along the way. The joy and enthusiasm which they experienced upon arriving, despite a sleepless night on the bus, exceeded the expectations of many.

A young man from São Paulo shared his experience of preparing for and arriving at the conference site: “During this past week I would sleep and wake up thinking about the conference. I spoke of it with other youth—there was no other topic—and when I hopped in the van, I thought, ‘I'm going to Canoas!’ When I arrived and saw the youth, my heart began to race. It surpassed my expectations and I will savour every moment.”

In groups of 20 and 80, the participants reflected together on themes of the spiritual empowerment of younger generations, nurturing capacity to contribute to the betterment of their communities and the opportunities before them as youth. Central to their discussions around service to others was the importance of spiritually empowering younger youth as a vital process in a community’s development. The discussion continued to explore the importance of every individual feeling they can both help and be helped by others as they work together to foster the wellbeing of their communities.

The evening arts presentation, both joyful and inspiring, reflected the youth’s understanding of their role in contributing to the upliftment of humanity. One participant articulated the power of this form of expression to connect people by explaining, “Music is a universal language.” Despite the chill of the winter’s evening, the beautiful strains of a violin, mingled with the notes of piano, guitars, and voices, stirred the hearts of those gathered as they cheered on their fellow participants and sang together.

Throughout their time together, the youth reflected on the capacity for true friendship. One participant shared, “Studying the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith together fosters a commitment of developing the community; an attitude of learning makes everything easier. When you have friends guided by a common goal, it helps in your progress. Building bonds of friendship is easier when we have unity of vision.”

The participants considered how they could include many more youth in the conversation about the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith; they also reflected on the nature of the service itself. One participant shared his thoughts on the importance of education in the process of community development: “Education has an enduring effect on people’s lives… so more youth are able to contribute to the good of humanity, which is our purpose.”

As the three days drew to a close, the youth, now further energized and focused on the task ahead—that of contributing in positive ways to serve their communities—began their journeys home. One participant shared his insights on the significance of the end of their time together: “A lot of people here may now think, ‘Oh, pity that the conference is over, I wish it could last longer. ’ On the contrary, it is not over. I think that it is the beginning of the path of service to be walked. It is beautiful to see this! Such a large group of youth, with the same purpose, and thirsty for change.”

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  • The youth walk to the main hall for the morning plenary session

  • Workshop participants are warmed by the sun, as they move their study outside

  • The youth listen eagerly to their fellow workshop participants

  • The conference provided time for both study and socializing with friends

  • Bundled up to face the crisp winter morning, participants carry their chairs to their workshops

  • Participants met in workshop groups in several places on the conference grounds

  • The large and small workshop groups were also held in tents outside the main hall

  • Activities strengthened bonds of friendship throughout the weekend

  • Joyful participants in one of the small workshop groups

  • Despite the cold night, youth spent time together outside

  • A group shot of the conference participants

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