Kadugannawa Youth Conference

Sri Lanka | 19-21 August 2013

“Each person gets a chance to dedicate his or her life to the betterment of society. Today the time has come for the current generation of youth to step up to the challenges of the world,” said a youth at the opening of the conference in Kadugannawa, Sri Lanka.

Reflecting Sri Lanka’s national diversity and culturally rich heritage, a traditional welcome accompanied by exhilarating drum beats and exuberant colours, was performed to formally usher in Continental Counsellors Ms. Enkhdelger Banzragch and Mr. Omid Seioshanseian, present as representatives of the Universal House of Justice, in a beautiful gesture of honour and hospitality.

“Through mutual support and true friendship we can transform our community.”

A participant at the conference

Under the banner of “Spirit of Service Stimulating Purposeful Action”, the youth conference began. Inspired by the vision of Bahá’u’lláh, 800 young people from 12 localities across the island came together to consult on the ways and means of community building. The gathering was remarkable for bringing together youth from ethnic groups that have been embroiled in armed conflict for the last two decades in an environment distinguished, instead, by unity.

The suffering caused by the unrest in northern Sri Lanka has meant that the youth from that region rarely, if ever, have the opportunity to travel beyond its towns and villages. So for the group of youth who made their way some 140 kilometres from the north central region all the way to Kadugannawa, it was a significant and pivotal experience. One young person from a remote northern village said, “I am excited to be here and get new experiences to go back and contribute to the development of my village that has been left behind as a result of the war.”

One mother, whose son travelled a great distance to attend, commented, “Our children are the most precious things in our lives. It is for their betterment that we are striving. I am so glad that my son is participating in this conference.”

As the conference participants reflected together on this unique period of their lives and both the challenges and opportunities it affords, a growing recognition of the responsibility placed on the shoulders of each generation of youth emerged. “It is my strong belief that it is the youth—my friends and me who are gathered here today—who can contribute towards the spiritual development of our village, our country, our nation,” said one young person. Another reflected that her own understanding of the capacity of youth had advanced while studying the conference materials, saying, “Although I am seventeen years old, I assumed I was still too young to make a change in society and lived with a fear that I will not be able to do things by myself. As the conference went on, these fears disappeared and there seemed to be a wonderful feeling of freedom in my mind. I pledge to share this joy with many others and help them in eliminating that feeling of emptiness.”

The workshop groups explored the relationship between individual and collective development, recognizing that individual purpose can be best understood when working with others towards the betterment of the community. As they studied together, the magnitude of the social forces acting on those younger than them, and the critical nature of that age, became increasingly clear. To this end one young person said, “We youth are responsible for the growth and development of younger youth. As a result of our studies at the conference, I have found a clear path to walk as a youth.”

Participants considered ways in which growing numbers of young people could be engaged in the unfolding conversation at the heart of the community building process already underway in their villages and neighbourhoods—a conversation inspired by the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. The friends learned that a spirit of mutual support and assistance is vital to elicit the participation of a growing number of community members in this collective endeavour. One participant said, “Through mutual support and true friendship we can transform our community.”

Throughout the weekend, the arts—shared in both Sinhalese and Tamil—were integrated into the program not only as a means of celebrating the joy of the conference but also as a way to express the insights gained through study and to contribute to building understanding among many others in their communities. For example, the vada-modi is a traditional form of theatre in the Vavuniya region that combines poetic and rhythmic storytelling with the beat of traditional drumming. One young person commented, “This is a very powerful medium of art in our region loved by almost all people, and I am sure it is going to be a powerful tool to educate the parents in our region when we return back home.”

Inspired by the study of the conference themes, one youth shared a poem that provided a glimpse of the group’s hope and resolve to arise and serve:

You within these three days

Did paint me with diverse colours

Did immerse me in the deepest joy

Tears shed beyond the silent minds

Due to broken wishes of the darkest past

Following the gatherings of these youth

I do live in the beauty of the future


  • One of the participants lights the traditional oil lamp

  • Participants study the message of the Universal House of Justice

  • Workshop groups enabled participants to study and reflect more deeply on the various themes posed by conference materials

  • The participants listened attentively as their friends shared ideas within their group

  • The traditional Kandyan drum was performed for the beginning of the conference

  • Participants consult on ways to better serve their communities

  • Youth working on artistic representations that help them better understand the concepts shared during the conference

  • Inspired by the materials studied, participants shared their understandings during a consultation session

  • Conscious of their role in society, the youth shared their future plans of action to better assist their communities

  • Artistic representations of the insights gained during the conference

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