The joyful voices of 500 participants, singing in the Tswana, Shona, Sotho, and Swahili tongues, rose together throughout the conference in Mahikeng. The three days between 27 to 29 September represented a significant occasion for the youth from Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, and South Africa, who had gathered to consider the contribution they could make to the well-being of their communities in light of the Teachings of Bahá‘u’lláh.
Friends from Namibia and Lesotho travelled the farthest to attend. The group from Namibia arrived at the South African border late in the evening before the conference, and had to spend the night on their bus to wait for the border crossing to reopen the next morning. Despite their tiredness, they were eager and happy as they arrived just in time for the first session.
“Anyone who shares the goal of improving our individual and collective lives needs to unite just as we are doing in this conference.”
A participant at the conference
In their conversations, the participants strove to gain insights into how their efforts could play a decisive role in the advancement of their neighbourhoods and villages. They discussed how some social forces, such as consumerism, can hinder young people in their efforts to contribute to the transformation of society, while others can impel them forward, like a thirst for knowledge. A skit shared by a group from the city of Bloemfontein illustrated how older youth can help those younger than them, to overcome negative influences by channelling their energies in service to humanity. Participants advanced in their understanding that the will to make progress is strengthened when one belongs to a community that is united in that goal. One youth said: “I’m comforted by knowing that I’m not alone and other youth who came with me are going to offer their support and assistance … I will make a great effort to limit the influence of these negative forces by serving my community.”
During the conference, there was a growing recognition among those gathered of the need to build and maintain friendships with other young people and community members sharing similar aims. “You cannot change the world alone,” one participant said. “Anyone who shares the goal of improving our individual and collective lives needs to unite just as we are doing in this conference,” another said.
Some young people who attended the conference had already been serving, from a few months to sometimes a few years, as facilitators of groups for the spiritual empowerment of younger youth or as teachers of moral education classes for children. One of these youth said, “I saw kids in my community having nothing to do and I thought, let me help them!” —so she started a group. Others explained how the conference has motivated them to make similar efforts when they return home. One youth said, “We change the world by supporting the work of community building in our neighbourhood.” Another group of youth from the Limpopo region shared how the conference had motivated them, saying, “We want to take the vision and strength that we are developing here back to our villages.”
Devotions at the beginning of each day created an uplifting environment for consultation and reflection
Each day began with a plenary session before participants broke into workshop groups
Workshops in smaller groups enabled more in-depth discussion on the conference materials
Consultations explored how everyone has capacities to contribute to improving their communities
Group study inspired thoughtful reflection and joyful interactions
Everyone had an opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas
One of the groups worked on a map to help better understand the reality of their community
Singing contributed to the vibrant atmosphere of the conference