The opportunity to join together with hundreds of other young people from different ages and experiences and share insights on the ways in which their generation can make a contribution to the betterment of society generated a profound sense of joy amongst the 1,100 youth who had gathered on the grounds surrounding the national Bahá’í centre in Johannesburg, South Africa. As an expression of their excitement at the opening of the historic youth conference, participants shared songs and dances outside a large tent that had been assembled to facilitate the plenary sessions. In a prayerful atmosphere, the conference began with devotions in different languages and songs in Tswana.
In workshop sessions, participants spoke about the responsibility they have as older youth to create environments in which the spiritual qualities and intellectual capacities of those between the ages of 12 and 15 can be nurtured. “At this time their sense of justice is heightened and what is wrong or right becomes especially clear, so it is important they have positive influences around them” said one youth. “What better way to help our communities than to assist the younger generation develop their capacities for service,” said another. Participants also discussed the spiritual qualities and attitudes that they should strive to develop as they assist those younger than themselves and how it is through service that these can be acquired. “When we serve others, we also grow spiritually and intellectually,” said one youth from Mbombela. “When we serve, we develop spiritual qualities such as patience and joy and we learn how to listen to and learn from others,” another observed.
“What better way to help our communities than to assist younger generations to develop their capacities for service”
A participant at the conference
The final evening plenary session was opened by a youth leading the participants in song. She shared a Shosholoza, a traditional South African mining song, but had changed the words to describe how youth are like miners and have to mine their spiritual gems. Many shared about the benefits of walking a path of service in the company of others and how the diversity among them can enrich this experience. “Serving with others helps us to avoid negative patterns of behaviour. Sometimes when we serve by ourselves we become unaware of these patterns, but our friends can help us,” explained a young man from Orange Farm, a township not far from Johannesburg. “It's reassuring to know that somebody else understands what you are going through and that you can share your challenges with them. It is much more rewarding to walk the path of service with others,” said another participant from Cape Town.
The joy, bonds of friendship and common vision that the youth developed during their three days together culminated in concrete plans of action that would prepare them for their next steps along the path of service. With these thoughts fresh in their minds and hearts, a song with the lyrics “be bright in the corner where you are” brought the conference to a close.
Participants shared their insights in groups
Groups spread all over the premises to study the conference materials
The atmosphere of the conference was joyful and high-spirited
1,100 young people attended the gathering
New friendships were forged between the participants throughout the conference
Participants study one of the sections of the material together
A group of youth shared what they plan to implement when they return
Friends from different communities shared songs and music