Volume 18 Number 5
Ready and Able
01 October 2005

Pamela Jenner takes part in a conference organized by young Eastern Europeans

Do good leadership skills have to go hand in hand with experience of life? While young people complain about not being given a chance to show initiative and leadership, many of the older generation say they feel marginalized by an increasingly ‘ageist’ society.

These views and the problems created by the generation gap were just some of the topics tackled at the ‘Service, Responsibility and Leadership’ conference, which opened the summer at Caux. It was run by a group of East Europeans who proved that being young is no barrier to organizing a highly successful, week-long event.

At the welcome session, Ukrainian Kostyantyn Ploskyy, one of the organizers, talked about the struggle for young people to make their own decisions, find their own way and realize their own potential.

On a wider level, he described how ordinary Ukrainians realized they could influence events in their country, when they stood in their thousands in the central square in Kiev in December to demand a recount in the presidential elections. ‘Is it only possible in extraordinary situations for people to wake up?’ asked Ploskyy. This was a question that was to be heard many times throughout the week, particularly in relation to terrorism, since the London bombings occurred on the first day of the conference.

‘We do have a high level of freedom in Ukraine but there are still too many hopes which are not realized,’ said Sasha Kopyl, who was also part of the organizing team. She added that the country still operated very much by old methods, principles and values, although people were much more aware of what was going on in government.

Sasha Shimina, an International Law student from Ukraine, pointed out: ‘When young people try to take part in decisionmaking we are challenged and encouraged to take initiative and try to make changes, but when we do that we are seen as not experienced.’

The third day of the conference was an open day, which drew visitors from around Switzerland, including diplomats. Dr Mario Soares, former President of Portugal, described his humble background, his early life under a military dictatorship and his experiences in prison and in exile fighting for democracy. He was sceptical about a liberal globalization that did not take into account values of solidarity and social justice: ‘Politics must not be at the service of economics. Economics should serve politics, should serve people.’

Rev Dr Samuel Kobia, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, said: ‘Caux is a fountain of great moral energy. We come from diverse situations but it is this diversity that makes it possible for us to tell each other stories, inspire each other and give each other hope.’

Milica Djordjevic, of Serbia Montenegro, spoke in the Service, Responsibility and Leadership conference about her work with child prostitutes, drug addicts and other vulnerable children on the streets of Belgrade. ‘I feel my calling is to bring change to the social care system in Serbia Montenegro through NGOs,’ she said. The outreach projects she works with include creating the first drop-in centre for street children in Belgrade.

Volodymyr Krutko described his work with the homeless in Moscow: ‘Fear destroys trust and leads people to take up arms,’ he said. ‘By compassion and understanding others we can destroy our fear.’

Frenchman Michel Koechlin spoke passionately about his desire for a strong and united Europe and his huge disappointment when France rejected the draft European constitution. He described the trauma of being forced to leave his home during World War II and said: ‘My dream is for a peaceful Europe, a Europe which takes its responsibilities seriously concerning the entire world.’ This was echoed by Jacqueline Mayiugi, wife of the Vice President of Burundi, when she spoke on the open day: ‘People are dying of hunger every day. We need the help of your countries and a sense of international solidarity.’

Other speakers and participants in the conference provided sources of inspiration for the future through creative workshops, international dancing and a variety show; showcasing a surprising array of talent. It is the huge diversity of people at the Caux conferences that makes them so nurturing. Eleven-year-old Hassaan Shahawy was probably the youngest person to take an active part in the conference. He has been coming to the conferences all the way from Los Angeles with his mother Eba Hathout and sister Sarrah, nearly 15, since he was six years old. ‘I like the atmosphere here; it’s very peaceful,’ he said. Eba Hathout, said: ‘As a child I came here with my parents—I almost grew up here,’ she said. ‘I was in a school below Caux and I call this “my mountain”.’