To every generation is given a moment. And the moment came into focus for over 1,000 youth from Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan on July 26 in Toronto, as they gathered from across the region for the three days of the youth conference.
As the youth discussed the ways in which service to humanity provides opportunities for individual growth as well as developing capacity to contribute to social progress, examples from personal experiences were shared. One youth reflected on participating in a neighbourhood program for younger youth: “As we grow older, we are going to change, and the program for younger youth is helping us through those changes... It helps us bond spiritually with others and accomplish our noble goals.”
“I am so glad that my friends from my neighbourhood invited me to be a part of this. I feel I am walking closer to God.”
A participant at the conference
Another participant shared reflections during the plenary session on the ways in which serving her neighbourhood has helped her to grow: “I’ve learned the importance of developing spiritual qualities like humility; I’ve learned that I’m not the most important person in the world. I am so glad that my friends from my neighbourhood invited me to be a part of this. I feel I am walking closer to God. And when I serve Him, I feel an abundance of blessings.”
The spirit of all the youth at the conference was at once joyful and focused, vibrant and inspiring.
As their fellow participants shared reflections, stories and plans for the coming months, the youth cheered in support, and on occasion spontaneously sang together during meal breaks. Poetry, song, skits, presentation of paintings, dance and a shadow puppet play depicting the formation of a group for younger youth in a neighbourhood all brought added joy and clarity to the consultations of the youth. So attractive was the collective spirit that a young hotel staff, whose day off coincided with the last day of the conference, registered and joined the conversation.
The workshop groups shared ideas about how to foster true bonds of friendship. One participant said, “I had thought before about how friendship assists me or the other person, but I had never thought about how friendship impacts the community around us and contributes to society.”
A theme throughout the gathering was the inspiring experiences youth shared of their efforts to help release the powers of those younger than them. The story of an 18-year-old, who had participated in a programme for younger youth in his community since the age of 12, highlighted the importance of developing capacity for service in the younger generation: “My community used to be known for having a lot of problems.…. But for my generation, it was different. The older youth that influenced us were from the Bahá’í community, and they taught us something completely different. They helped us understand principles, unity, they helped our community learn to love one another and we learned to serve our neighbours together.”
Everyone considered the question of how more youth can become included in this process in which Bahá’í principles are translated into the reality of everyday life, recognizing that an environment permeated with mutual support would open the way for growing numbers of youth to work together to transform their communities. One group that was having difficulty thinking of names of people they could invite to join in such a conversation was inspired by hearing that another group had thought of 200 peers, and soon was able to think of the names of more than 100 others. Together, the youth helped one another plan to help their friends and acquaintances begin walking a path of service with others.
One 18-year-old described how she experienced this when, after joining a group for younger youth at the age of 13 and progressing through the programme, the older youth supported her to start one of her own. “At first I was hesitant, because I didn’t think I was the right person,” she said, going on to explain that she has been working with younger youth in her neighbourhood for two years and they traveled to the conference together. “Once the capacity of youth is realized, and the desire to serve others is tapped into, we can accomplish so much.”
“What is amazing that I realized at this conference is that there’s almost 1,000 people here who are working together, consulting together, discussing and sharing ideas and learning together, and together we can unlock their potential and help so many youth realize their capacity to make a difference.”
Over 1,000 youth gathered at the Toronto Congress Centre
Friends collaborating on an artistic presentation
Workshop groups shared concepts and music with fellow participants
An artwork created by the youth reflecting how their understanding advanced throughout the weekend
A group of young conference participants who traveled from the same neighbourhood talk together during a break
During the conference the youth considered how they could invite others to work together to transform their communities
A shadow puppet play prepared by one of the workshop groups captured everyone’s imagination
Songs frequently stirred the hearts of the participants
The youth made plans to reach out to their friends and acquaintances
A group of young people from Saskatchewan share a vibrant painting
A collective spirit animated the youth’s interactions throughout the weekend
A group photo of the conference participants