Like a heartbeat, the constant rhythm of drums echoed the soaring spirits of the participants collaborating at the youth conference in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on 26-28 July. Across the bay from rising mountain slopes, the remaining scars of the devastating earthquake of January 2010 are no longer evident, but nearly 500,000 people are still living in temporary camps and shelters.
The conference was held at a school that was still under construction, with organizers making their own arrangements for electricity, accommodations, catering, toilets and showers, months in advance. Spiritual preparations also began months earlier as youth formed groups to study the teachings of Bahá‘u’lláh and began applying them in service to the community.
“I have always dreamed of the unification of these two peoples which share this island... Today, I can see it clearly, because this conference has given me a vision of the unity of our island.”
A participant at the conference
Together, the 140 young participants from the Dominican Republic and 340 from Haiti gathered in this beautiful setting and thoughtfully considered how they could help individuals, families and institutions in their cities and villages work together for the welfare of those living both in their own, and neighboring communities. They recognized that this process of community building seeks to develop the capacity of every human group to contribute to the advancement of civilization, irrespective of background.
“I have always dreamed of the unification of these two peoples which share this island, despite the unsuccessful attempts of many Haitian political leaders,” one young man said on the first day. “Today, I can see it clearly, because this conference has given me a vision of the unity of our island.”
In this environment, participants explored the qualities of one who wishes to assist others to counteract the powerful social influences that can distract them from their purpose of serving society selflessly. “You need patience with the person, and determination to arrive where you want to go,” one young man explained. “To help someone, you have to overcome selfishness. We need unity. We need to wish for the welfare of the other person. Because everything we do has to be done with love.”
On the afternoon of the first day, a torrential downpour started collapsing the roofs of the study tents and the youth were forced to huddle together for cover. Undeterred, a group in the centre erupted in music, clapping and dancing. After a few vibrant songs, the Haitian friends kept drumming, but went silent, encouraging the Dominican friends by indicating it was their turn to sing.
In other artistic expressions, one group of young people demonstrated a conversation about the material and spiritual progress of their town, and another presented a skit illustrating friendships with a positive influence and those that do not lead to progress. In another, the youth pretended to be miners with picks and shovels, working with those younger than themselves to reveal their “hidden gems”. Each young person would slowly reveal a quality they had developed and a profession they had been inspired to pursue, such as becoming a “compassionate doctor”.
Through study and conversation, the youth increased their understanding of the connection between their own progress and the advancement of their local communities. Several young people shared stories of how striving to channel their talents and energies towards the well-being of others had caused profound changes in them, such as one young man who used to habitually resort to fighting and arguing: “One day, I asked myself, ‘What am I doing with my life?’” He has now decided that he wants to help children gain access to education.
At the level of their communities, those gathered identified obstacles to material and spiritual progress that needed to be removed, and consulted about the next set of steps they could take. Two young men identified that their locality had recently built a school, but not all the children were attending, and there was a health clinic that was functioning poorly. “When I go home, I plan to share with them what I learned. Together, we’ll see how we can help our community advance,” one of them said.
By the last day of the conference, one of the participants’ most vivid impressions was of the necessity to work together for sustainable progress. One 20-year-old woman said, “With unity, we can advance. Without unity, we won’t be able to take even one step.” And another, a year younger, said, “The youth in both countries wish to support one another. I feel we’ll have a change in humanity because we’re supporting each other.”
The participants engaged in lively and thoughtful discussions throughout the weekend
Focused group study of the conference materials yielded fresh insights
The rhythm of music throughout the conference was irrepressible
The radiant faces of a group of participants reflect the unity of the gathering
The youth witnessed the power of sincerely listening to one another’s ideas
A powerful rain storm on the first day did not dampen the spirit of the participants
Groups of young people engaged in earnest conversation about how to contribute to sustainable progress
Under a clear sky, music continued to uplift the spirit of the conference
The youth systematically planned how they could assist their communities
Studying in the shade provided a degree of relief from the sweltering summer heat
Drumming evoked the heartbeats of the many youth prepared to take united steps to help their communities advance