During the workshop in Ecuador from 16 to 26 July 2016, participants collaborated to create new songs.

Songs to inspire social change

August 11, 2016

CHONGON, Ecuador — Near Ecuador's southwestern coast lies the town of Chongon. For the past four years, this small locality has brought together young adults from across Latin America for an innovative songwriting workshop.

Participants all have an interest and talent in music as well as experience working with young people in Baha'i-inspired educational programs. The aim of the workshop is to produce music on themes relevant to the lives of adolescents, give voice to their noble sentiments, and reinforce standards to which they aspire.

"In our work with adolescents, we often help them to reflect on the impact of negative social forces on their lives, including through some popular music. But these conversations can be disheartening if we are not able to offer any positive alternatives," said Monica Solano, one of the workshop organizers.

In this connection, the series of gatherings in Chongon has generated music that provides young people with an alternative to the prevalent messages in much of popular music today.

"With each workshop, we are trying more and more to reflect the voice of the youth," explained Katty Scoggin, another of the workshop organizers. "We aim to create lyrics and melodies touching on concepts that appeal to people's higher nature and that speak to the reality of the lives of youth at the same time."

Participants at the most recent annual songwriting workshop in Ecuador Slideshow
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Participants at the most recent annual songwriting workshop in Ecuador

Songs produced in this year's workshop address the theme of spiritual identity. The participants spent the first few days of the seminar speaking to adolescents and youth in Chongon about this topic, as well as studying some of the Baha'i Writings and texts from Baha'i-inspired educational programs that touch on this theme. Then they composed lyrics, hoping to reflect the aspirations, feelings, and experiences of these youth in songs that are relevant to their lives.

The songs are shared with communities in the area through concerts, weekly sessions with high school students, visits with families, and in youth groups. They are also sung regularly in activities throughout south and central America.

Randy, a 20-year-old from Chongon who, together with a group of her peers, has been engaged in Baha'i-inspired educational programs since she was in her early teens, said that the songs from earlier workshops reinforced many of the concepts that she learned in these programs. These in turn helped her to navigate certain decisions in her life.

"In school, sometimes I would have a moment of doubt, thinking that maybe something is not so wrong because it doesn't hurt anyone," explained Randy. "But then I would remember what I had learned in the group, what my true identity is, and that would help me to reflect and make the best decision."

For the workshop participants, the experience has yielded a richer understanding of adolescence and the realities that younger youth face in their communities and has heightened their commitment to the well-being of the next generation. And given that the process of writing songs involves exploring questions faced by young people within the context of their own societies, the participants' understanding of their own communities has also been enhanced.

One of the most popular songs from previous workshops, "Pedrito" (Click here for mp3 download), is an upbeat and uplifting song about a youth who must decide what to do as he faces some moral dilemmas.

Another of the songs from previous workshops with enduring popularity among the youth of Chongon is entitled "Mi meta es servir" ("My goal is to serve"). Its lyrics, translated into English below, appeal to the aspirations of youth all over the world to develop their talents and abilities while contributing to the betterment of the world:

While I ponder my future

I know I must discover my talents

And making the right decisions

If I try I will receive confirmations

Many doors open

When I serve others

I know that my efforts bear fruit

Because God will assist me

Today I walk determined to serve

Serve mankind

The wind blows and urges me to press on

And discover new ways of life

Like a bird that wings its flight

The sky is its greatest yearning

Many doors open

When I serve others

I know that my attempts bear fruit

Because God will assist me

Today I walk determined to serve

Serve mankind

The annual songwriting workshops are part of a broader process of learning about how various means of communication can be used to bring about constructive change to communities—a change that takes into account both the spiritual and material dimensions of community life.

(Editor's note: On 12 August, a change was made to the first paragraph to correct an error in the geographic location of Chongon.)