Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Regional Conferences: Chile, Philippines, and Cameroon

Photo of Baha'is in Cameroon celebrating and deliberating

The latest reports on the 41 regional conferences called for by The Universal House of Justice continue to come in, this time from the Chile, The Philippines, and Cameroon!

The Report from Chile

Bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west and rocky hills to the east, the city of Antofagasta lies in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, one of the driest areas on earth. Yet the call of the University House of Justice to a key conference attracted people from all around, many of them representing indigenous groups of the various countries who, as one participant put it, offered “a defiant response to prejudice and raised a flag for unity in diversity.”

Antofagasta is often thought of as disputed territory because of a long-ago war fought here between Chile and neighboring Bolivia and Peru. On 29-30 November it became instead a symbol of unity of those three countries as well as Argentina to the southeast. Some 600 Baha’is from the four nations gathered for one of the 41 Baha’i conferences being held in cities around the world during a four-month span.

From the Mapuche indigenous group in southern Chile came Baha’is who traveled by bus for 27 hours up the western coast of South America to reach the conference site. From Bolivia came 175 people in four buses, making their way through the Andes Mountains and going a long period without food or water because they carried no Chilean money. From Argentina and southern Peru came about 65 people each, along with a smattering of representatives from other nations. (Read all about it)

The Report From the Philippines

Attendance at the Manila regional conference pushed past 1,000 people as Baha’is from eight countries, territories, and islands met at a two-day conference in the capital of the Philippines. Nearly 700 people from the Philippines itself were joined by friends from Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau, Caroline Islands, Mariana Islands, and Marshall Islands.

Such diverse gatherings of people who don’t all speak English apparently are not that common in Manila, as organizers struggled to find enough rental headsets to provide translation for everyone desiring it. The conference was held in the 1,000-seat theater of Camp Emilio Aguinaldo, named after the first president of the Philippine Republic. (Read all about it)

The Report from Cameroon

Some 1,200 participants gathered at the Cameroon National Bahá’í Center for the Yaounde regional conference, 29-30 November. In addition to the hundreds who had come from across Cameroon, there were 90 from Chad, 45 from Congo, 18 from Equatorial Guinea, 20 from Gabon, and 10 from Sao Tome and Principe. A high percentage of those attending were youth, ages 12 to 22.

“Tears came to my eyes,” recalled Moses Tanyi, a participant, “when I observed that Baha’is arrived in humble circumstances, knowing no one, but were being received as brothers.” So loving was the welcome that five friends of Bahá’ís, who had traveled several hundred kilometers from Abong-Mbang in eastern Cameroon, on Saturday morning at the conference decided to join the Bahá’í community.

As in the preceding regional conferences, Saturday was set aside for reviewing progress to date of Baha’i community activities, and Sunday for consulting on plans to develop the capacities of those eager to serve their communities. Challenges of heat and cramped conditions under canopies erected in the garden at the National Center were overcome with a spirit of joy and vitality. A video link was set up to accommodate an overflow of some 150 people. (Read all about it)

Even in my parent-of-a-newborn-end-of-the-semester-of-doctoral-program state of utter exhaustion, I still get inspired by these reports!