Youth Congress in Ecuador dedicated to service and transformation
OTAVALO, Ecuador — More than 500 young people from South and Central America gathered here from 9 to 14 August for a Baha'i Youth Movement Congress dedicated to "Service and Transformation: The Challenge of this Generation."
It was the latest in a series of large youth gatherings that have taken place this year throughout the Americas, beginning in Paraguay in January and in El Salvador, Dominican Republic and Canada in July. Their focus has been to galvanize the youth to become catalysts for the spiritual transformation needed to break through the protracted social conflicts that afflict the continent, such as race and class prejudice, corruption, violence, poverty, and social injustice.
In a letter addressed to the youth of Latin America in January, the Universal House of Justice, supreme governing body of the Baha'i Faith, called on them to become "invincible champions of justice."
"Be not dismayed if your endeavors are dismissed as utopian by the voices that would oppose any suggestion of fundamental change. Trust in the capacity of this generation to disentangle itself from the embroilments of a divided society," the letter stated.
The Baha'i youth movement is a global social movement that draws inspiration from the heroes and martyrs in the early history of the Baha'i Faith, many of whom were in their teens and twenties and who consecrated their lives to the spiritual regeneration of mankind. In the century and a half since the Faith was established, each generation of youth has drawn strength from their example to strive for moral excellence, good character, and service to humanity.
The first day of the Congress focused on how to accelerate the transformation of Latin American society by drawing on this rich spiritual heritage.
"We had a wonderful talk from Eloy Anello in which he called on us to become the 'living martyrs' of the West, to follow in the steps of our 'spiritual forebears' …and perform heroic acts," Paola Dumet, a member of the National Youth Committee of Ecuador, reported. Mr. Anello is a member of the Continental Board of Counsellors in the Americas. The talk was followed with drama and other artistic presentations that called to remembrance the lives and deeds of the early martyrs of the Faith.
The second day of the Congress focused on individual transformation and the establishment of a distinctive Baha'i way of life. Workshops were held on such themes as courtship and marriage, service and family life, striving for excellence in studies and professional life, and freedom from vices and addictions. The underlying message of these workshops was that Baha'i youth can best become catalysts for social change and influence their peers by exemplifying the highest standards of moral excellence in their own lives. As stated in the Baha'i writings, such things as "chastity, politeness, friendliness, hospitality, joyous optimism about the ultimate future happiness and well-being of mankind, should distinguish them and win over to them the love and admiration of their fellow youth."
The remainder of the Congress focused on the many practical lines of action open to the youth in their individual or collective efforts. The youth of the Ruhi Institute of Colombia presented a workshop on the training process that has been used in rural areas for large-scale development of human resources and moral capacity. Workshops were presented on the use of the arts, study circles, year of service opportunities (where youth offer one or two years of full-time volunteer service), and pioneering (the practice of settling in another country to assist in the development of the Baha'i community). An exposition was held for representatives of each country to present information about their activities.
"One of the objectives of the Congress was to share the experiences of the other countries and widen our vision of the Baha'i youth movement and understand that what we were doing in each country is part of the Movement," Ms. Dumet said. "We were able to feel as part of a single great movement in all of the Americas."
A group of youth representing all the countries present met to draft a congress declaration that was symbolically ratified on the final evening as all the youth rose to their feet. The youth were named "Spiritual Chasquis" after the term used in the Andes for the messengers who ran from one city to another carrying messages for the Inca.
"In this way we all pledged to carry the message of the Baha'i Youth Movement and share it with all our generation," Ms. Dumet reported.
The next morning a closing festival was held to celebrate the unity in diversity of the Latin American youth. Some of the local authorities were present, including the mayor of Otavalo who is the first indigenous elected official in Otavalo. "[The mayor] was attracted by the great diversity of the youth and the artistic presentations of young indigenous Baha'is from Ecuador and Peru," Ms. Dumet reported. As the youth bade their farewells, groups were organized for post-congress outreach campaigns throughout the country.
"I think for all of us, this historic event for the future of the Baha'i Youth Movement of the Americas was something unforgettable and affected the hearts of all the participants; and most importantly we all left inspired and with energy to take concrete action in our communities," she said.
The youth movement has made extensive use of the Internet for organizing and exchanging information. The Congress Web site at http://come.to/congreso-ecuador contains the Congress declaration, workshop materials, and other links and follow-up materials. Other youth movement portals include www.ibyc2000.org, www.mjb.cl, www.bahaiyouth.org, and www.bahaiyouth.com.