Between 30 August and 1 September, the green campus grounds of the University of Warwick, some 160 kilometres away from the bustling crowds of London, hosted over 1,000 youth from Gibraltar, Iceland, Ireland, Malta, and the four countries of the United Kingdom. On the evening preceding the first day of the conference, hundreds of young people assembled in the courtyard of the university campus, greeting each other and cheering as they welcomed the arrivals of their fellow participants. One group had spent their whole journey in song, clapping, drumming, and sharing quotes and verses from the Bahá'í Writings. As they stepped off the bus, the singing continued and their joy was spread to all those gathered.
The collective spirit of the conference was heightened by the eagerness of the youth to learn together how they can work side by side to bring about constructive change in their communities and build their capacities for meaningful service. "I'm here to learn with 1,000 others about how we can contribute to the transformation of our society," one participant said. "I feel so welcomed at this gathering. It is wonderful to see groups of people with a united view of the world and vision of the future," observed another youth.
“I have witnessed the power of the community-building process and I want to be a part of it.”
A participant at the conference
The first plenary session opened with devotions comprising a selection of prayers and Writings from the Bahá'í Faith set to music. After opening remarks from a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the United Kingdom, a video was shown with photos and music from many of the participating countries. As each country appeared on the screen, groups of youth from that region would stand up and receive a warm welcome from the other participants.
Those gathered discussed the ways in which they can strive to live a life of service without feeling conflicted between the different demands that occupy their time. "There are qualities and attitudes that we can bring into all the social spaces that we engage in ... and if we manifest these, our actions become endowed with a power that can contribute to social progress," said one young man. They continued to reflect on habits of the mind that will help them to see the connections between life’s different aspects. "We have to understand that in every step we take in our lives, we have a responsibility to serve. Whether it is in our interactions with our friends and family, or assisting those younger than ourselves to develop their capacities, everything should be oriented towards service."
Evening sessions included an array of dances, songs, skits, and audio-visual presentations, bringing the audience to their feet on countless occasions to join in with the singing and dancing. A video was also screened showing the efforts of a group of younger youth in Hackney, a borough in East London, to encourage the residents of their local area not to litter by beautifying some new rubbish bins with paint. The video then blended into a dance on stage that demonstrated the cultural diversity in that community.
The conference was a testimony of the desire that exists within each young person, regardless of religion, culture, or social situation, to arise and devote themselves to the service of others. “Before I arrived, I wondered why all these youth from different religions and backgrounds were coming together. After being here, I see something that has touched my heart. I have witnessed the power of the community-building process and I want to be a part of it. Now I must go back to my community and share it with others.”
A group studies on the grounds of the conference venue
Youth are joined by Continental Counsellor Uta von Both in their conversation about community building
Youth consulted and planned on how they can assist in the development of their neighborhoods
Singing and other arts infused both plenary and group sessions
A group studies one of the sections of the conference materials together
Participants from a neighborhood in Manchester read pieces they had written about their community
A group from South London presented a song and dance during one of the evening plenary sessions
Youth consult together in a small workshop group
Friends work together to create a poster articulating the concepts they were reflecting about
Over 1,000 youth from Gibraltar, Iceland, Ireland, Malta, and the four countries of the United Kingdom gathered at the University of Warwick