Bahá'í Youth: "A New Kind of People"This article appeared in the 1994-95 edition of The Bahá'í World, pp. 167-190.
The crises affecting all of society always have a particularly devastating impact on its youngest members, who are still in the process of forming the attitudes that will guide their lives. At this turning point in history, when the forces of disintegration are accelerating and the forces of integration still too little understood, many youth feel caught in a maelstrom, unsure of how and why they should respond with hope when their experiences are so fraught with pain. In the past ten years, more children than soldiers have been killed or disabled in the wars around the world, while some five million children have been forced into refugee camps, and twelve million have been left homeless.1 In 1995, UNICEF reported that more than half a million of Asia's children were working in sweat shops, brothels, or on the streets.2 Among children between the ages of five and fourteen, murder is now reported to be the third leading cause of death in industrial countries.3 In the United States, nearly four million youth and children live in "distressed neighborhoods" characterized by high poverty and unemployment rates.4 Suicide has become the second leading cause of youthful death in that country.5
While many children and youth valiantly struggle not to be victims of their circumstances, too many learn the lessons of apathy and violence. A study by the US Centers for Disease Control released in 1993 showed that American teenagers were killing each other with guns at the highest rate since the government began recording such deaths 30 years earlier: an average of eleven youths between 15 and 19 were killed this way every day.6 A US Justice Department study released in 1995 showed that juvenile arrests for major violent crimes grew from 83,400 in 1983 to 129,600 in 1992.7 According to a leading educator reviewing the status of youth in 1995, practically all the indicators of youth health and behavior have declined year by year for well over a generation,8 and this crisis is not confined to a particular social class, ethnic group, gender, or other social grouping.9 In the 1990s, the time of youth has become less and less associated with innocence and optimism and too often linked with disaffection, hopelessness, and violence.
Young people from Gardnersville, Monrovia, and Paynesville, Liberia, attending the first National Bahá'í Youth Conference held in Liberia, 9-11 September 1994.
Bahá'í youth, who live all over the world and come from every social grouping, are not unaffected by this crisis. They are among those suffering in war-torn countries, poor neighborhoods, and violent cities. How does being Bahá'ís shape their responses to the current state of the world? Like many other youth who have not relinquished their responsibility for the future, Bahá'í youth try to view the problems as challenges to be overcome. They understand from the writings of the Bahá'í Faith that calamitous events are to characterize this age but find in the same teachings a call to view these disturbances as a stimulus to action, an opportunity to create unity where disunity exists. Youth are extolled in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh as possessing a spirit of adventure and enterprise, eagerness, optimism, vigor, and vitality. They are encouraged to channel these qualities into lives of service, shining as lights of hope in an age of desperation and "rejecting the low sights of mediocrity...[to] scale the ascending heights of excellence in all they aspire to do."10
For any number of reasons, too many modern youth remain blind to their own potential or cynical about the future. The Bahá'í Faith offers youth a charter and hope for the future, an opportunity to become "a new kind of people, people who are upright, kind, intelligent, truthful, and honest."11 In January 1984, the Universal House of Justice addressed the Bahá'í youth of the world with characteristic certitude, saying, "Undoubtedly, it is within your power to contribute significantly to shaping the societies of the coming century; youth can move the world." The stories in the following pages recount some of the experiences of those who have taken up this challenge to demonstrate the positive power of faith, unity, and service.
Sharing the Message of Bahá'u'lláh
Conscious of the gift of understanding they have been given through the Faith, Bahá'í youth are eager to share this vision with others. The Universal House of Justice has reinforced this eagerness, urging them "to impart to their despairing fellow youth the restorative joy, the constructive hope, the radiant assurances of Bahá'u'lláh's stupendous Revelation."12 Such an act, of guiding a sacred human heart to the Source of its illumination, requires the highest standards of purity, integrity, detachment, and sacrifice. Young people, still being relatively free of worldly attachments, are uniquely suited to arise to this challenge and carry the message throughout the world.
From June through September 1994, 24 youth from the United States, Canada, and Europe contributed to the growth of the Bahá'í communities in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. These participants in the Martha Root Project--named after a well-known Bahá'í who traveled around the world several times during the early part of this century to teach the Faith--dedicated themselves to educating people about Bahá'u'lláh, encouraging local Bahá'ís to deepen their understanding of the teachings and to appreciate the privilege of sharing these teachings with others, and nurturing the development of Local Spiritual Assemblies.
Under the guidance of the Regional Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the Baltic States, the youth conducted well-attended public meetings about the Bahá'í Faith, assisted social service organizations such as orphanages, and helped to provide needed community services. They also participated in the International Youth Unity Festival in Kraslava, Latvia, organized by the Regional Spiritual Assembly.
Bahá'í youth in costume to perform a Thai dance at a Bahá'í holy day celebration in Chiangmai, Thailand.
During the same summer, the Krasnoyarsk region of Siberia was visited by a group of youth from the United States taking part in the Marion Jack VI Project.13 The sixth such visit to take place since the trips began in 1990, the project matched American youth with local Bahá'ís to create small teams which taught the Bahá'í Faith in areas along the Yenisey River.
In Australia, the National Youth Committee initiated and planned the Collis Featherstone Teaching Campaign to teach the Bahá'í Faith in the name of the deceased Hand of the Cause of God from that country. At a gathering filled with beautiful music, inspiring addresses, slides, and reminiscences of Mr. Featherstone, the project was launched in Wollongong in October 1994. Then the youth, working with the Bahá'í institutions, began to tell the people of Wollongong about Bahá'u'lláh. They visited thousands of homes, distributing invitations to workshops about the Faith. They set up displays about unity and about the family. They staffed a new Bahá'í bookshop and information center at the Wollongong City Mall, sharing literature and conversation. They hosted a series of arts nights to provide opportunities for spirits to be uplifted through poetry and music.
Youth from India organized book exhibitions in Nepal, conducted public meetings in the villages of Himachal Pradesh, and visited schools and colleges in Uttar Pradesh, all as part of a youth teaching project begun in May 1994. At one village in Punjab, at least 60 people decided to join the Bahá'í community.
In Chile, musical presentations, classes for children, panel discussions, newspaper and radio interviews, and puppet shows were among the media used by the youth to inform people about Bahá'u'lláh. The group of 80 young people who spent one month together organizing and carrying out these activities gathered at the end for a four-day conference to reflect on their work and plan for the following year.
The adaptability, flexibility, and consultation skills of five Canadian youth were noted with appreciation by the National Spiritual Assembly of Greenland following their visit. Members of the Wildfire Youth Institute spent six weeks in Greenland in July and August 1994. During their visit to Nuuk, the Bahá'í Center was filled with inquiring people, and when they traveled to a settlement of 150 inhabitants near Itilloq, one-third of the residents attended a public meeting. The youth spent time encouraging and invigorating their fellow Bahá'ís, some of them in isolated locations, and they inspired one believer to write an article for the national newspaper.
In the United States, the summer of 1994 witnessed the launch of the Army of Light Teaching Campaign. Youth teams and Bahá'í Youth Workshops (see below) formed the nucleus of this effort to bring the Bahá'í message to a wide variety of people. More than 1,000 young people took part in over 100 projects. At an Army of Light National Youth Conference held in Arizona in December 1994, the 2,000 young participants rededicated themselves to "act upon the principles which direct our inner development and private character, and which guide our active life of teaching and service," and each one signed a special scroll to be sent to the Bahá'í World Centre.
Bahá'í Youth Workshops
The power of the arts to connect hearts and to communicate concepts despite barriers of language or culture make dance, drama, and music ideal vehicles for sharing the principles and spirit of the Bahá'í Faith. This power is being harnessed by the Bahá'í youth of the world in a unique way through the Bahá'í Youth Workshop.
Bahá'í youth in Korea learn a dance about prayer entitled "Supplication."
In 1974, a Bahá'í in Los Angeles, seeing how the intense energies, emotions, and need for camaraderie among youth were too often being channeled into negative, destructive activities, created a vehicle for focusing those energies on positive ends. Oscar DeGruy created the first Bahá'í Youth Workshop, defined as a group of youth who use contemporary dance styles, music, and drama to convey messages of universal peace, unity in diversity, and spiritual awareness.14
By the summer of 1994, there were approximately 70 Bahá'í Youth Workshops in the United States and another 30 scattered throughout the world. A National Office for Bahá'í Youth Workshops had been created in the United States to encourage and advise new groups and create a facility for sharing ideas and news. An international mailing list on the Internet had also sprung to life. The art forms used by each group--drama, dance, music, stepping--varied according to the group's strengths, but all Workshops held in common a commitment to unity, prayer, consultation, and study of the Bahá'í teachings in preparation for delivering the message of Bahá'u'lláh.
About 130 youth from 13 Youth Workshops around the mid-western United States descended on Indianapolis and other Indiana cities in August 1994 and shared their talents, enthusiasm, and beliefs with audiences at the State Fair and in public parks. In Indianapolis, the youth taped a segment of a cable television series called Peaceworks, impressing the initially skeptical producer and crew with their professional behavior and quality performances.
"Arise, O Army of Light" was the theme of a step dance performed by the Atlanta Bahá'í Youth Workshop at the Martin Luther King "I Have a Dream" National Youth Assembly in Little Rock, Arkansas. The performance was given at a luncheon for Coretta Scott King before an audience of 1,200. Following another performance the next day--a rap on the equality of women and men and an introduction to the Bahá'í Faith--people crowded onto the stage, wanting to know more. During the year, the Atlanta Workshop was also invited to perform at the annual conference of the National Association for the Education of Youth and Children; the second annual Festival of African American Literature and the Arts at Clemson University; and the Children's Interfaith Service at the First Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, sponsored by the Atlanta/Fulton County Commission on Youth and Children.
A Martin Luther King Jr. holiday celebration in Oklahoma City featured a performance by Orenda, the local Bahá'í Youth Workshop. Orenda is a Seneca Indian word meaning "flame of eternal love." After one of the youth recited a prayer for humanity, the group performed three pieces for the more than 1,200 people attending the interfaith program. They received a standing ovation.
The 24 youth from various cultural backgrounds who make up Arizona's Eternal Flame Bahá'í Youth Workshop spent three weeks during the summer performing locally and in Los Angeles at community centers, youth clubs, and in shopping malls, attracting between 50 and 120 people per show. The final event of the trip was a performance at Arizona State University which incorporated singing, acting, and dancing on the themes of unity, the oneness of humankind, and the elimination of all forms of prejudice. It elicited a standing ovation.
Arizona was also treated to the performances of the Los Angeles Workshop, which visited the Native American Bahá'í Institute in Houck and the mostly Navajo communities of the surrounding area. Powerful messages about the world's need for racial harmony, equality of the sexes, and spirituality were conveyed by the 22 youth, who also shared the concept of the Bahá'í Youth Workshop with their peers at the Institute. The local youth enthusiastically studied the elements of a Workshop--such as consultation, prayer, disciplined practice, and constant focus on unity--and a month later a Workshop for the Navajo Nation and Gallup area was formed.
Upon returning to southern California, the Los Angeles Workshop spent an intense four days performing 11 times in such locations as a junior high summer school, a community teen center, a day camp, and public parks. Three school principals attended performances and invited the troupe to perform at their schools. Each of the communities organized informational meetings to answer the questions of those moved to seek greater understanding of the Bahá'í Faith.
The Washington State-based Diversity Dance Workshop traveled to Europe to spread its message of harmony. The thirteen youth volunteered to spend their summer teaching about the Bahá'í Faith full-time by performing in public squares, marketplaces and street malls, despite 100-degree heat, lack of adequate drinking water, and costumes soaked with perspiration. For six weeks, they traveled throughout Germany and Switzerland, overcoming language barriers by communicating their message through movement.
The Frankfurt performance of the Diversity Dance Workshop was part of the city's 1,200th anniversary celebration. As the dancers performed on an outdoor stage, program director Anna Powers recounts watching the crowds, their eyes fixed on the movements and their faces reflecting understanding of the message. The sound system was so strong that the quotations read could be heard by people sitting in cafés blocks away.
Reflecting on the power of the trip, one participant, Shahani Porushotma, said, "I will never forget the tears in the eyes of a young Bosnian refugee as she approached me after the Racism Dance to express her appreciation to the Workshop. She had experienced firsthand in her own war-torn country the problems we were depicting... Nor can I forget the reaction of the 200 prison inmates at a performance in Schwabisch Hall after the Dance of Betrayal (about drug abuse). I later found out that all the prisoners were there for drug offenses. I was so moved to hear the comments of one of the inmates: `I realized through your dance that the solution to all my problems lies not in drugs, but it is a spiritual solution that I am seeking.'"
The Youth Workshop concept proved to be adaptable to a wide variety of cultures. Bahá'í Youth Workshops formed in Africa generated great enthusiasm among both performers and audiences. After one Bahá'í youth from the United States traveled to Ghana and Cameroon and shared the Workshop idea, local Bahá'ís adapted the concept to include their own dance and music traditions and to portray how Bahá'í principles apply to the issues facing their people. During performances of the Ghana Bahá'í Youth Workshop in sixteen villages, more than 130 people came to accept the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh and three new Local Spiritual Assemblies were formed. The youth in Cameroon created four skits to include in their initial 36 performances in schools, universities, and public squares.
Eighteen youth from Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Tanzania joined together to form Youth in Motion, a drama and dance group aimed at expressing the message brought by Bahá'u'lláh. The group traveled for four months, performing before a total of more than 50,000 people in three countries.
The Bahá'í Youth Workshop of Yakutsk, Siberia, formed after the Vancouver (Canada) Workshop spent time in this region of Russia. The trip marked the first time any Youth Workshop had traveled to this area to teach about the Bahá'í Faith through the arts. A major performance was held for the dignitaries of the Yakutian Region, followed by a reception. The youth were also honored to be included on the program of an event held at the Russia Theater for the dignitaries of the Sakha Republic. Before the Vancouver youth returned home, they performed together with the new Yakutian Workshop that they had trained. Some months later the Yakutia youth were still performing, distributing information to other youth eager to understand the sources of their inspiration.
The Vancouver Workshop also traveled to the Cook Islands, where it received extensive media coverage. The troupe was the featured guest at the National Song Quest Finals which were attended by the Prime Minister and the Queen's Representative.
The youth at a homeless refuge in Australia were visited by the Sydney Dance Workshop, whose members performed, taught some dances, and shared their feelings about the Bahá'í Faith. Also in Australia, Bahá'í youth from Perth traveled to Onslow-North West Australia to conduct performing arts workshops for their peers. Dance and theater classes, music and rhythm sessions, and study sessions all focusing on the themes of unity and consultation were offered to twenty youth. Bahá'í youth in Tasmania formed a dance group called The Farsight which performed in high schools in several cities and at the Human Rights Day activities in Hobart.
The Ryogen-no-hi Dance Workshop of Japan undertook a proclamation tour of the western part of the country in the summer of 1994. The 30 participating youth found that their dancing created an openness which allowed them to share ideas. Some audience members wept and said the dances "spoke to their hearts." After some Bahá'í youth from Japan attended the Korean Bahá'í summer school, Bahá'í university students from both Japan and Korea united to form a group called the Ocean Waves to provide a chance for youth from various cultures to interact and express themselves through the arts.
The European Bahá'í Youth Council
Since 1989, the activities of Bahá'í youth in Europe and collaboration with other youth organizations which share their aims have been coordinated by the European Bahá'í Youth Council. A five-member body appointed annually by the Universal House of Justice, the Council initiates projects for Bahá'ís, arranges Bahá'í youth participation in events related to important Bahá'í principles, and responds to requests for representation at various youth consultations. During 1994-95, two highlights of Council activities were the "Shaping Europe" conferences and participation in the World Summit for Social Development.
From 20 to 25 July 1994, Bahá'í youth gathered in five locations across Europe to consult about the future of the continent and their own role in shaping its destiny. Sponsored by the European Bahá'í Youth Council, the conferences drew 850 participants from 20 countries to Berlin; 400 from 20 countries to Bucharest; 340 from 19 countries to St. Petersburg; 950 from 26 countries to Barcelona; and 400 from 22 countries to Wolverhampton, England. "...[W]e have rededicated ourselves to our common movement...taking on our shoulders the high responsibility of shaping the future of Europe," reported the youth in Berlin. They further recounted that "the conference culminated in a European linkup in which we were able to share with our Eastern and Western European brothers and sisters the excitement at the prospects of this movement."
Similar expressions of excitement, dedication, and joy came from each of the conference sites. At every location, youth arose to take practical action toward the goals being discussed, some traveling from the conference to teach others about the Bahá'í Faith, some offering a year of full-time volunteer service, and some formulating personal plans for action upon their return to their home communities. Also at every gathering, new souls joined the Bahá'í community, having found truth in the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh.
In March 1995, members of the European Bahá'í Youth Council and other Bahá'í youth were able to share their ideas with representatives of various youth organizations during the International Youth Consultation on Social Development in Copenhagen, an event the Council helped to plan. The gathering was chiefly organized by the World Assembly of Youth to take place in conjunction with the United Nations World Summit for Social Development. The European Bahá'í Youth Council served on the executive steering committee with representatives of four other organizations.
Youth from 70 countries came together to consult on issues such as "Youth--A Dynamic Force for Social Change," "The Social Responsibility of Youth," and "Reforming the United Nations." Two working groups, addressing the themes of global consciousness and the role of education in social development, were offered by the European Bahá'í Youth Council to explore concepts such as unity in diversity, world citizenship, and the spiritual dimension of human nature. Bahá'í youth also chaired two plenary sessions and contributed significantly to the Copenhagen Youth Declaration, a six-page statement drafted during the gathering and presented on behalf of the International Youth Consultation to the World Summit itself.
The European Bahá'í Youth Council's presence was also felt at the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Forum accompanying the World Summit. Youth distributed literature and answered questions at a European Bahá'í Youth Council booth, and they participated in special Youth Caucus meetings held during the course of the Forum.
Surrounding these two high water marks of the Youth Council's year--the Shaping Europe conferences and the Summit in Copenhagen--a number of other significant events occurred, two of them in May 1994. During that month, a representative of the Youth Council, Dr. Kishan Manocha, addressed a large workshop group on the topics "What Can Youth Do to Create a New System of Values?" and "From Spirit Into Action: Implementing Agenda 21" during the International Youth Forum in Novosibirsk Akademgorodok, Siberia. The "Interweek" forum drew 250 people from 26 countries to examine the theme "The Choice of the Future: New Tasks for Individual and Collective Responsibility." The aim of the event was to draw global problems to the attention of European youth, identify strategies for their resolution, and discuss the role of future leaders in the decision-making process, particularly with regard to Russia.
That same month, in Geneva, another representative of the Youth Council, Inder Manocha, attended a meeting called "The Contribution of Youth to Lasting Peace" held under the auspices of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The gathering was the third follow-up meeting to the 1990 World Summit for Children and brought together chief executive officers of humanitarian and development NGOs to further develop the goals of that Summit. A statement prepared by the Youth Council to address the issues concluded with the following: "It is youth, from all cultures and backgrounds, who must look upon their differences as a reason for delight and upon their common humanity as the basis for discovering peace, justice, and equality. Peace is not merely the absence of war in the same way that war is not the absence of peace. It is a decision, a dynamic, and a vision. It needs youth on its side as much as youth need it."
In September 1994, the Council cooperated with the Landegg Academy in Switzerland to organize a forum called "The Creative Resolution of Conflict." The 35 people attending the four-day event developed a statement on conflict resolution and made plans to establish an international network of youth committed to supporting the oneness of mankind. The forum was held under the auspices of the Council of Europe, the European Youth Foundation, and the Youth Parliament of Appenzell. In October, representatives of the European Bahá'í Youth Council participated in the International Young Leadership Camp organized by the youth section of the World Conference on Religion and Peace and held in Riva del Garda, Italy.
Finally, the sixth annual conference of European national and regional Bahá'í youth committees took place in Brno, Czech Republic, in February 1995. Reporting on the atmosphere created by the 80 representatives of 26 countries who attended, the Youth Council wrote, "The sheer urgency of the times and the swift action that must needs be realized by all the youth of Europe in order to achieve the mighty purpose of this stupendous Revelation were clear in the hearts and minds of all present."
Representation at Youth Events
In addition to the significant representation at youth events achieved by the European Bahá'í Youth Council, Bahá'í youth in other regions of the world cosponsored or took part in youth-related consultations organized by other groups.
Two young Bahá'ís were among the 200 delegates from 86 nations to travel to Canada for an international conference for young leaders organized by the Jeanne Sauvé Foundation. The Foundation was created by the former Governor-General of Canada to provide young people with a permanent international forum in which to discuss important issues and create a network of contacts, regardless of political, cultural, ideological, or other differences. In May 1994, the youth met in Montreal to discuss globalization and education.
The Bahá'í participants were invited to present workshops called "Family: the Cornerstone of Society" and "A New Framework for Moral Education." They set up an exhibition from which they distributed pamphlets, prayers, and books on education, development, environment, race unity, peace, and women. They also shared their personal experiences of living as Bahá'ís in Albania, Italy, Iran, the United States, and Central America.
A young Samoan Bahá'í, Vaisualao Lauvao, was selected by the Western Samoan National Youth Council to represent his country at the fifth International Youth Forum in Seoul, Korea, in July. "Youth and the Family--All for One and One for All" was the forum theme, which Vaisualao addressed in the speech he delivered. "The youth phase is the most critical stage of our individual and collective development," he stated. "...It is the testing stage of ideas, habits, attitudes and life-styles. The time to acquire a livelihood, and to adopt those qualities which will mould our perspectives and approaches towards the issues of our age. It is essential therefore for the youth to acquire a clear and unifying vision of human society and their destiny.... In our age this vision is nothing less than the realization...of the truth that we are all members of one family, the family of the human race." In December 1994, two Samoans represented the country's Bahá'í youth at a South Pacific Methodist Youth Convention organized to challenge Pacific youth to pray, reflect, and contribute toward making a peaceful, just, and healthy world.
The reputation made by Bahá'í youth who participated in a National Youth Leadership Forum called "Don't Hate...Communicate" in New York City led to invitations for further Bahá'í involvement in Chicago and Atlanta. The forum series was begun by American Telephone and Telegraph to help young people build alliances with peers of different backgrounds who are working toward positive change. After the first weekend conference in New York, at which youth put together personal and group action plans, the organizers were so impressed with the Bahá'í participants that they accepted all Bahá'í applicants for the Chicago forum. The Chicago youth had been encouraged to apply by the youth task force of the Chicago Human Rights Commission, which was familiar with the Chicago Bahá'í Youth Workshop's diverse makeup and community efforts. This Workshop performed as part of the AT&T Forum's evening program and was so well received that when the Forum moved to Atlanta, the program coordinator invited that city's Bahá'í Youth Workshop to perform. During each city's forum, Bahá'í youth shared sacred writings about overcoming prejudice and offered guidance on developing consultation skills. In a thank you note to the Bahá'ís, the forum coordinator wrote: "...if only the world at large could capture the love and sensitivity that seems to be instilled in the youth of the Bahá'í Faith, our problems would be far closer to being solved."
At the United Nations Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, held in Barbados in April/May 1994, a Youth Ecofest '94 Tent was set up for the exchange of information and ideas. Two Bahá'í youth made presentations on the topic of spiritual principles and sustainable development. In August 1994, eight Bahá'í youth took part in an international youth forum in Singapore planned in cooperation with UNESCO to prepare for the tenth anniversary of the United Nations International Year of Youth in 1995.
The Bahá'í Youth Movement of Costa Rica worked with representatives of UNICEF and the Children of the Earth to organize a conference called "Youth and the United Nations--A Vital Connection," in June 1994. The event was one of a series of gatherings held around the world in preparation for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. About 35 youth from Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Nicaragua attended workshops, dramatic presentations, and video showings on consultation, moral leadership, the United Nations, and the rights of children. The conference, which took place at the Charles Wolcott Youth Institute in Santa Ana, Costa Rica, helped establish bonds between youth from different parts of Central America.
"Aside from teaching the Cause, the greatest service the Bahá'í Youth can render is to exemplify in their lives the teachings and especially to be promoters--within the Bahá'í communities and in the world at large--of love and harmony, qualities so sadly lacking in these days of hatred, suspicion, vindictiveness and prejudice."15 As mentioned above, a number of Bahá'í youth made efforts to carry out this duty by serving as representatives at youth gatherings and sharing Bahá'í ideals. Other attempts to be champions of unity took a variety of forms.
A reputation for being promoters of racial harmony is being earned by students at the Maxwell International Bahá'í School in Shawnigan Lake, British Columbia, Canada. When the nearby Native Heritage and Friendship Centers organized a drama group to perform interactive skits about racism in area schools to stimulate discussion, eight Maxwell students were the only non-Native youth invited to help. Maxwell School is known for its Bahá'í Youth Workshop which uses dance and drama to promote race unity.
The elimination of prejudice was one of the topics addressed by youth during a summer school in El Salvador focused on "Shaping a Model of a New Society." Bahá'í youth served as panelists, speakers, and seminar chairpersons throughout the program for the school. Approximately 350 people attended. Following the "Shaping Europe" conferences organized by the European Bahá'í Youth Council in the summer of 1994, a group of youth in Portugal put together a series of gatherings for their peers to discuss social issues. The positive response generated radio and newspaper coverage of the events. Bahá'í youth in the West Leeward Islands spoke about topics such as unity and purity during a regular five-minute radio program called "Youth Speak Out." The radio station offered the program to the Bahá'ís free of charge as it is considered a public service broadcast.
In Korea, the Peace Club formed by Bahá'ís at the Taejon National University of Technology in 1992 continued promoting the ideals of world peace, cultural understanding, and global thinking. The Club sponsored weekly presentations and discussions, invited guest speakers, presented speeches to other clubs, and organized cultural tours to Japan to establish bonds with fellow students. In December 1994, seven Peace Club members visited the Kyushu Institute of Technology in Japan and participated in a workshop led by Kyushu Professor Judith Johnson. Bahá'í writings on peace were studied and discussed.
Many youth devoted a year or more to full-time community service, responding to a recommendation made by the Universal House of Justice in a letter to the Bahá'í youth of the world dated 3 January 1984. Since that time, the "Youth Year of Service" concept has inspired youth to undertake a range of services as full-time volunteers. Some teach the Bahá'í Faith, others work in development projects such as hospitals or schools, and others volunteer at the Bahá'í World Centre in Haifa, Israel. Such experiences help youth to internalize the idea that the life of a Bahá'í is a life of service to humanity.
Education for Service
"...O ye illumined youth, strive by night and by day to unravel the mysteries of the mind and spirit, and to grasp the secrets of the Day of God," counselled `Abdu'l-Bahá.16 His successor, Shoghi Effendi, likewise urged youth to develop equally both their intellectual and spiritual capacities, with the aim of preparing themselves to apply Bahá'í teachings to the needs of society.
To this end, a variety of educational settings are used to foster ever-increasing levels of understanding among youth. At special camps, institutes, schools, and retreats organized for, and sometimes by, youth, such understanding of the Bahá'í Faith is approached intellectually through serious study of its writings, spiritually through prayer and meditation, and socially through the practice of consultation, service, and fellowship.
During 1994-95, youth camps were particularly popular in a variety of locations. The youth in the greater Auckland region of New Zealand helped to prepare sessions for presentation to their peers during the Bahá'í Regional Youth Camp in Hunua, Papakura, in June 1994. The camp came about through the cooperation of five Local Spiritual Assemblies. In Botswana, the community's desire to bring Bahá'í youth together as one spiritual family to demonstrate cooperation and love resulted in the country's first youth camp. For one week, youth gathered at the Bahá'í Institute in Mahalapye and studied the life of Bahá'u'lláh, the Kitab-i-Aqdas, chastity and marriage, and the immortality of the soul. In a report from the participants, the youth related their recognition that "they have a special role in the social and administrative activities of the Faith and that they are the carriers of the lamp which can illumine the people...."
Weekend youth camps became a regular feature of life in Venezuela, where, as of August 1994, a series in La Guajira had involved nearly 400 participants. During the camps, youth learn songs, memorize prayers and quotations, and study Bahá'í writings. Youth camps also became regular in regions of Malaysia. The fourth Sabah Bahá'í Youth Camp took place in June 1994 with 50 participants, and another camp was organized in Port Dickson in August with the theme "Youth--A Time for Service."
Youth institutes--opportunities for intensive study of the Bahá'í Faith ranging from one day to several weeks--also attracted eager participation. Members of the National Spiritual Assembly of South Africa and members of the Auxiliary Board for that region joined Bahá'í youth for a five-day institute during the summer of 1994. The program was developed through consultation among participants, and each evening topics that had been studied during the day were shared through music, song, and drama. In nearby Zambia, thirteen youth from Burundi, Rwanda, and Zambia completed a four-week course held at the William Masethla Bahá'í Institute. Fired with enthusiasm to share the teachings they had studied, five of the youth volunteered to undertake a 45-day teaching trip in Zaire, traveling by bicycle. Several weekend youth institutes also took place in the Seychelles during the year.
The spirit that animated the nine-day Ndoma Institute for Youth in the Solomon Islands was beyond description, related the organizers, who saw youth deeply engrossed in in-depth presentations on the unfoldment of the Bahá'í Faith, witnessed the presenters become energized by the enthusiasm of the 50 students, and experienced the potential of love and unity as they took part in an event that truly linked the hearts of indigenous believers and foreign pioneers. One of the highlights of the institute was a public meeting held to proclaim the Bahá'í Faith; after devotional readings and a main talk, the youth provided entertainment for the 200 guests.
In addition to camps and institutes, other educational structures were found to be successful. The Bahá'í youth of Mongolia gave talks with confidence and love for the Faith and consulted together with maturity during the first National Youth School held in that country in June. In Alaska, the fourth ALCAN Youth Training Program brought together youth from Alaska and Canada for two weeks of training and one week of service to the community.
Although many Bahá'í youth educational gatherings are open to other interested youth, some are explicitly aimed at serving the needs of the wider youth population. The Youth Development Institute at Chandigarh, India, for example, which was created by Bahá'ís in 1991, continued to assist both Bahá'í and other youth to prepare for their futures. The institute exists to encourage youth to develop virtues such as confidence, tolerance, and patience, to provide opportunities for young people to serve the community, and to counsel youth in career planning. During 1994, a library was established for the area, many students who had dropped out of school were assisted with continuing their education, career guidance was given, and Bahá'í youth conducted classes for younger children
One particular form of education that has become a regular feature in the lives of many Bahá'í youth is the conference. Youth conferences--national, regional and international--provide opportunities for education, inspiration, exchange, and socializing. Increasingly youth themselves have taken the lead in planning and conducting such gatherings.
Among the many national youth conferences that took place during 1994-95 were two in Chile which demonstrated the initiative being taken by the young Bahá'ís of that country. At the first conference, held in August 1994 in Talca, all talks and workshops were prepared and presented by youth to give them opportunities to develop their skills. The conference focused on evaluating the past year's projects and planning for the future. The second national conference, in February 1995, was the culmination of a month-long teaching project undertaken by the youth in sixteen cities of Chile.
"At this time of trouble and confusion, who can offer a greater demonstration than the Bahá'í youth of the power of righteous living to restore hope to the hopeless and confidence to the fearful among their disillusioned peers?" Such was the challenge put before the 2,000 participants attending the United States' national youth conference in a message from the Universal House of Justice to the gathering. Each of the four days spent in Phoenix, Arizona, focused on one of the Central Figures of the Bahá'í Faith, further preparing the youth to continue teaching in the "Army of Light" projects around the country.
The national youth conference in Colombia in July focused on "The Family: Organic Base of a Healthy World." The conference also launched a nationwide two-year tour of the Bahá'í Afro-Cuban musical group Millero Congo. New Zealand's annual national youth conference, held in Silverstream, Upper Hutt, in August, generated a spirit of fellowship, love, and service that contributed to the declarations of faith by two participants. National youth conferences were also held in July 1994 in Sri Lanka, at the Bahá'í Teaching Institute, Kadugannawa, and in February 1995 in Uruguay, where youth studied "World Crisis and the Role of Bahá'ís." Many of the Malaysian youth attending a conference in Kuala Lumpur in February 1995, organized by the National Youth Committee, arose to pledge periods of service ranging from one month to one year.
An historic youth conference occurred in the Eastern Caroline Islands in December 1994. For the first time, second generation Bahá'ís from indigenous groups made up the majority of the participants, coming from the islands of Kosrae, Chuuk, and Pohnpei. For one week, the youth focused their attention on prayer, methods of studying the sacred writings, and the life of Bahá'u'lláh and memorized passages and history to prepare for presenting the Faith. In the evenings they developed artistic performances for upcoming events.
In Costa Rica, the Bahá'ís of Villa Palacio spent fifteen days clearing away an old structure that had served as a Bahá'í Center and building a pavilion twice its size in preparation for a youth conference. Visitors were welcomed by a traditional Guaymi chanter and musician who led singing and dancing. During the conference, the youth presented dramatic portrayals of early believers in the Faith such as Lua Getsinger and Howard Colby Ives, and they acted out skits to demonstrate the differences between problem-solving with and without consultation.
In the African nations of Zaire, Ethiopia, and Liberia, Bahá'í youth held conferences to prepare themselves for contributing to positive change in their countries. In Zaire, 112 young Bahá'ís gathered in August at a farm outside of Lubumbashi to explore how youth can contribute to spiritualizing and changing the world. They studied Bahá'í teachings on morality and each evening gathered around a fire with interested friends to discuss what they had learned and answer questions. In Addis Abba, Ethiopia, youth attended a training conference to prepare for resettling to different regions of the country to take the Bahá'í teachings there. In Liberia, approximately 75 young men and women rose above difficult circumstances to gather for a three-day national youth conference consisting of discussion, prayers, lectures, songs, and games.
Regional youth conferences took place in Latin America, Asia, Europe, and Australasia. The Latin American Bahá'í Youth Conference, held in Brazil in July, drew 200 participants from fourteen nations and included a walk for biodiversity through the central park of Brasilia. The Association of South East Asian Nations Bahá'í Youth Conference attracted almost 250 youth from Australia, Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. The October gathering in Thailand revolved around the theme "Unique Challenges and Opportunities." In Europe, simultaneous conferences on the theme of "Shaping Europe" were organized in England, Germany, Romania, Russia, and Spain by the European Bahá'í Youth Council (see pp. 177-178). The first regional youth conference to be held in the Mariana Islands--conceived, planned, and carried out by the Marianas National Youth Committee--attracted young Bahá'ís from the Eastern Caroline Islands, the Western Caroline Islands, Australia, and Guam.
Bahá'í youth from the Dominican Republic reported a particular sense of triumph when they were allowed to attend Haiti's international youth conference, crossing a border that is often closed because of political and economic considerations. The youth studied and consulted together and overcame language barriers through music and dance and "by so many gestures from the heart."
"Blessed is he who in the prime of his youth and the heyday of his life will arise to serve the Cause of the Lord of the beginning and of the end, and adorn his heart with His love," wrote Bahá'u'lláh.17 Bahá'í youth in 1995, assailed by the same turbulent forces of change affecting all humanity at this critical hour, found their refuge in this assurance. As they faced the daily struggle all people face to understand their place in the world and to manifest the potential within them, they discovered strength, guidance, and vision in the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh. To the extent that they acted upon this precious discovery, they found themselves truly blessed.
- UNICEF, State of the World's Children, 1995 (Oxford University Press).
- International Herald Tribune, 16 December 1994.
- William Damon, Greater Expectations: Overcoming the Culture of Indulgence in America's Homes and Schools (New York: The Free Press, 1995), p. 9.
- Kids Count Data Book 1994, Center for the Study of Social Policy. Available: CYFERNET.
- Damon, p. 10.
- The National Update on America's Education Goals (American Political Network, Inc., 1993). Available: MN Children Youth and Family Consortium Electronic Clearinghouse.
- International Herald Tribune, 9-10 September 1995.
- Damon, p. 7.
- Damon, p. xiii.
- Universal House of Justice, letter dated 8 May 1985 to the Bahá'í youth of the world.
- From a letter dated 25 August 1944 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi cited in Unrestrained as the Wind: A Life Dedicated to Bahá'u'lláh (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1985), pp. 23-24.
- Universal House of Justice, letter dated 8 May 1985 to the Bahá'í youth of the world.
- Marion Jack was a distinguished Bahá'í teacher who settled in Bulgaria in 1930 and remained there until her death in 1954.
- Although Bahá'í youth have held workshops on many topics, including the performing arts for many years, and many performing arts groups have existed, the term "Bahá'í Youth Workshop" has come to be used for the particular kind of activity described in the following pages.
- From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to the Louhelen School, Youth Session, 15 October 1944, cited in "Youth," Compilation of Compilations, vol. 2 (Mona Vale: Bahá'í Publications Australia, 1991), p. 432.
- `Abdu'l-Bahá, from a tablet translated from the Persian, cited in "Youth," Compilation of Compilations, vol. 2, p. 415.
- From a tablet translated from the Persian, cited in "Youth," Compilation of Compilations, vol. 2, p. 415.