Milne Bay Youth Conference

Papua New Guinea | 20-22 September 2013

The valley of Aragip, the site of the second youth conference in Papua New Guinea, lies in the midst of the mountains in the remote interior of Milne Bay. The closest port of Sirisiri is a six-hour walk away, and the township of Alotau is another 10 hours away by boat and road transport. Yet almost 1,400 young people travelled for days to participate in the conference held on the grounds of a school in this valley from 20 to 22 September.

They came together to deepen their understanding and steel their resolve to walk a path of service to their communities, exploring questions such as “What is the role of youth in building a world civilization?” in the words of one participant from Alotau.

“Before, I did not know my role in the community. By studying and acting in light of Bahá‘u’lláh’s Writings, I found I loved teaching children and over time my capacity to serve in this way was strengthened. Now I see my role of service in the community as a teacher of children.”

A participant at the conference

More than 1,000 community members—adults, younger youth, and children—took care of the conference logistics, ensuring that the multitude of participants had shelter, food, and all that was necessary for them to focus on their study of the conference materials. For days the local friends had worked together erecting makeshift sapling supported canvas shelters, a stage, pit latrines, and a mess hall for serving food. Villagers in and around Aragip emptied their gardens, filling up one of the storerooms at the school with produce.

At dawn, a look over the embankment above the river revealed a mass of youthful humanity performing their daily ablutions. By 7 a.m. the school’s field was filled with groups waiting patiently for the morning meal, some singing songs, some earnestly reviewing the materials they had studied the day before, and many continuing conversations about their plans for service. By 7:45 a.m., all 1,385 youth were again assembled to begin the conference program for that day, commencing with prayers and the singing of verses from the Bahá’í Writings in melodious voices echoing throughout the valley. The reverent atmosphere was reflective of the growing devotional spirit of their home communities where friends regularly come together to pray.

In workshop groups the participants considered how the potential of youth to contribute to the advancement of society can be released through striving to translate the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh into action in individual and collective life. They were conscious that in doing so, they would be joining the efforts of thousands of others in Papua New Guinea who are helping friends of all ages to participate in activities that build materially and spiritually prosperous communities. “Before, I did not know my role in the community,” said one youth from Makamaka. “By studying and acting in light of Bahá‘u’lláh’s Writings, I found I loved teaching children and over time my capacity to serve in this way was strengthened. Now I see my role of service in the community as a teacher of children.”

The concepts in the materials were beautifully expressed in songs, dances, and skits in the native tongues of each region and culture represented. For many of those present, including some who had been invited only a few days earlier, the conference materials and discussions raised challenging yet exciting questions. “I do not know where to start, but the youth in my area are including me in their conversations and I will look to them to help me take the first steps,” said one participant, demonstrating the importance of mutual support and encouragement in order for increasing numbers of young people to unite in service to their communities.

As the youth reflected on how to apply their newfound insights to the development of their villages and towns, they could see the opportunity and importance of nurturing the younger generations and their part to play by being positive examples themselves: “I will try to be a positive influence in my community,” said one young person, succinctly. And many others agreed that there was no time to be lost in implementing their service plans: “After this conference we will need to take immediate steps to contribute to the advancement of the world”

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  • Nearly 1,400 young people converged in the beautiful Aragip valley in Milne Bay

  • Discussions began in large groups and then broke into smaller ones in order to explore the ideas in light of their local realities

  • Friends consulted together about how to assist in the education of younger youth in their communities

  • Youth earnestly studied the conference materials during workshop sessions and breaks

  • Members of the local community assisted with various tasks such as preparing and serving food

  • Participants were encouraged to share their plans for when they returned

  • Music, singing and cultural presentations were shared throughout the weekend bringing joy to all who participated

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