Report of the International Humanist Youth Conference 2003
August 29th to September 2nd, Berlin, Germany.
Turning raw material into a finished product is not an easy job. Ask Gea, Antje, Vincent, Hans Christian and a host of others who made IHEYO-Berlin 2003 a reality and they will easily tell you that the idea just like raw material is far cry from the finished product which is bound to reflect all efforts put into it.
IHEYO-Berlin 2003 started as an idea. An idea for continuity after the first IHEYO conference in Netherlands July, 2002. And today, these enthusiastic youths has turned that vision into a mission accomplished. IHEYO-Berlin 2003 has come and gone but the memory of the educative, exciting, informative and entertaining event lingers on. Below is a chronology of how things went at the conference.
WELCOME AT H4Y!
Friday, 29th of August, 2003
For four good days, residents of Schönhauser Allee in Berlin witnessed an influx of fresh residents into their abode, the hotel 4 youth. Although some participants were around some days before the conference, the conference did not commence proper until dinner time on Friday, 29th of August 2003. Before then, participants registration commenced at about 3pm. Antje, Katja and Nancy of the Junge HumanistInnen (short: JuHus) did a very wonderful job in dishing out conference materials to arriving participants from all over the world.
Participants were later treated to a palatable welcoming dinner by the organizers. After the dinner, the conference commence proper with the introduction of the organizing team. Gea Meijers (IHEYO) took time to introduce other members of the team: Antje Leuschke (Juhus), Vincent Lloyd (IHEYO) supported by Nancy Preuss and Katja Schiecke (Juhus).
Then Antje welcome every participant formally and proceed to do an outline of the conference timetable. Thereafter, it was time to play some welcoming games. From your height, age and name big circle game to continental game. In all, the purpose was achieved; we got to know each other. By the time we were through with all that, we were all exhausted, ready to go to bed.
30th of August, 2003
Waking up in the comfort of your new home can be an exciting experience, most especially when you get more comfort than you expected. Hotel4youth, provided the participants a home from home comfort. Breakfast started at 7:30am till 9:00am after which participants board the train to the youth center for the conferences first lecture Humanism today.
The keynote speaker, Frieder Otto Wolf of the Humanistischer Verband Deutschland, really did justice to the topic. He talked on the origin of humanism, Humanism in the world, Humanism in Europe, Humanism in Germany and Humanism in Berlin. Finally, he concluded with his view of humanism for the IHEYO Berlin conference in these words:
it should prepare us to bring humanist ideas to the world and to wherever we are active in our concrete surroundings and contexts. In all, it was a very beautiful beginning.
Three moral dilemmas were presented after the lecture and this showed our commonalities and differences. Especially interesting was to see that all could agree that one some issues worldwide humanist youth action is possible, although people differed in how many cases this was possible.
After lunch, it was time to split into workshops. Participants had options of three main workshops to choose from. These workshops took place on Saturday-afternoon and Sunday-Afternoon. The following main workshops were held:
1) Religious Fundamentalism and Secularism,
2) Humanism for youth and
3) Humanism in practice (about humanist education and Humanist coming of age ceremonies). The Humanism for youth-workshop took place only on Saturday-afternoon and on Sunday-afternoon there was an extra workshop about international youth humanism. Here an overview of the three main workshops.Religious Fundamentalism and Secularism Workshop
(Moderated by Vincent Lloyd U.S.A and Yemi Johnson, NIGERIA)Today, it is an open secret that religious fundamentalism is fast becoming an issue one cannot easily brush aside, most especially with the memory of September 11, 2001 attack. During this workshop different religious fundamentalism were assessed, Islam Fundamentalism, Christian and Hindu-fundamentalism.
The first speaker was Houzan Mahmoud (an Iraqi woman who lives in London, and editor of Equal Rights now!). She explained the womens situation since the American and British invasion of Iraq. According to her, Iraqi women are more insecure than before as there are more rapes, brutality against women, crimes, suicides and a lot of other heinous crimes perpetrated primarily against women in particular.
She also said there have also been instances when the Coalition soldiers are culpable in these inhuman acts. She is of the view that the Islamic fundamentalist stance of Iraq is one of the factors that is aiding and abetting this pitiable Iraqi women stance. To her, religious fundamentalism will be better tackled when the women are empowered to have economic independence. Conclusively, she opined that the Islamic legal code (Sharia) is an obsolete law that is not compatible with modern day reality therefore, she calls for its amendment to conform with recent global trend.
Yemi Johnson (President, Nigerian Humanist Students Society and now Secretary General of the IHEYO!) talked about the Sharia law in Northern Nigeria, his country. According to him, Nigeria is a country of ethno-religious mix; there are over 100 ethnic groups and over 5 religions. But only 3 are prominent (popular): Christianity, Islam and Traditional Religion. Islam is predominantly practised in the North, and Christianity in the South.Since 1999, when the Islamic legal code was adopted, several Nigerian Muslims as well as non-Muslims have fallen victim to the Sharia law. Yemi insisted that one of the problems of the Sharia law is its Patriarchal nature; it favours men and relegates women to the background. To counteract religious fundamentalism, he suggested that there should be a vibrant world body for World non-believers (the humanists) and that an injustice anywhere in religious coloration must be checked.
Gert van Eeckhout (from UnieVrijzinnigeVerenigingen and European Humanist Federation, Belgium) talked about the Christian fundamentalism in Europe. He said many countries in Europe had fought and some are still fighting for the separation of State and Religion in all spheres of public life (in education, schools; about euthanasia, abortion, contraceptives, biomedical research e.t.c). He made participants realised that the struggle against Christian, (esp. Catholic) fundamentalism in Europe might not be over if the Article in the draft European constitution that gave undeserved recognition to Religion, is not amended.
The article in question is ARTICLE 51 which (when approved/ratified) will give the religions like the Catholic Church a consultative role in Europe! This simply means that E.U. and indeed the entire European nations might be smuggling GOD back into public square! Gert then suggested that IHEYO must collaborate with other youth organisations within the European bloc to ensure that this plan does not materialise.
Isakwisa Mwakalonge (from SisiKwaSisi, Tanzania) led the participants into the situation in Tanzania through his paper titled Human Rights in Dilemma. His major focus in his paper was the right of the unbelievers who are usually regarded as a nonentity. He opined that religious fundamentalism can further be reduced if there is awareness of individual rights in the society (especially in Tanzania). This has been his groups focus and he hopes to further reduce the menace of Tanzania Christian fundamentalism via his group and through youth empowerment.
Laxmi Bhattrai and Bishwa Shah (representatives of youth department of HUMAN, Nepal), told us about conditions of life and superstition in Nepal that can make women victims. The major thrust of their papers was about the Hinduism fundamentalist stance. Muslims and hinduists in Nepal are totally overwhelmed by superstitions and irrational behaviour. The general perception is that the supernatural power guides human behaviour and determinate their fates.
The majority of Nepalese are however Hinduists with very little Muslim population. Both of Communities strongly believe in witchcraft (which could all kind of suffering, illness or death). And unless witches are not eliminated, the suffering will continue. Thats why we can find barbaric treatments made on women who are alleged of practising witchcraft (of course its the woman whos inferior in those visions of life- that are only responsible for those kind of societal vices).
Humanism for youth Workshop
(Moderated by Gea Meijers, Netherlands and Ramesh Kumar, India).
During this workshop, the participants analysed why Humanism in some countries attracts so few youths and what problems youth humanist movements encounter in attracting youth. This led the participants to examine ways by which young people can be attracted to humanist activities.
Humanism in Practice Workshop
(Moderated by Hans Christian Nes, Norway and Tryntsje de Groot, Netherlands).
Tryntsje de Groot of the Humanist Education Centre (Humanistisch Vormings Onderwijs) in the Netherlands gave a presentation on the education method of "humanist" education that the centre has developed. After this the workshop focussed especially on non-formal education used in the secular coming of age ceremonies. In many of the Northern European countries humanist organizations offer coming of age ceremonies (see last issue of the IHN). Participants in coming of age ceremonies are usually exposed to a course which entails discussion on issues like life stance, ethics and human sexuality, human rights and civic duties. In short, the main question that is usually addressed during the course is: "how shall we behave towards one another?
This workshop was successful because discussions were held closely to examine the methodology used in different organisations. Participants were introduced to different ways of facilitating discussions during coming age ceremonies. Although there are wide range of methods, the majority of the organizations as the participants learnt, use games and exercises when they introduce an issue. Humanist education will also be an important topic at the next IHEYO-conference in Uganda. This is because we need to develop humanist perspectives and approaches in education for the benefit of humanity. Humanist education is more than a methodology; its also an attitude towards the role of education in Human development.
In the evening Katja Katja Schiecke treated the participants on a "cultour" into Berlin, with visits to remains of the wall, the Brandenburger Tor and the Reichstag. Some participants explored Berlin on their own. Dinners were served on the Way. Of course many informal discussion took place, as they took place during the whole conference.
Sunday, August 31st, 2003
Between 7:30am to 9:00am (as usual), we had our breakfast at the hotel before leaving for the Youth Center to continue our conference business for the day.
Everybody was quite optimistic in their mood for the day, most especially because the first IHEYO General Assembly would start today! The General Assembly was chaired by Hans Christian Nes (Norway) while Mikael Ståldal (Sweden) was the GA secretary. We had in attendance, Rob Buitenweg (one of IHEU Vice-presidents). The GA commenced with brief a brief overview of IHEYO from Vincent Lloyd and Gea Meijers.
Rob Buitenweg gave a concise history of IHEU, and spoke of two different forms of humanist activism. One form of humanist activity deals with humanism as an existential branch, the other form focuses on humanism as a social ethical set of values that underlie the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Both forms of humanism call for different kinds of humanist activity. Rob Buitenweg also spoke about the relationship between IHEYO and IHEU. He compared the relationship as a relation between grown up children and parents in a family: both have their own independence, but they share a kinship and there is an equal exchanging of our ideas. He expressed the wish of the Executive Committee of IHEU to regard IHEYO an independent (responsible for its own actions) and related to IHEU.
After the coffee break of fifteen minutes, the GA Chairman took time to read IHEYO Draft bylaws to the members present. During the reading, some flaws were noticed which needed to be ratified before the adoption of the bylaws. The Chairman therefore advised any member present to note the affected sections and articles and suggest an amendment so that it can then be proposed to the entire members present the following day (Monday). After sometimes, the Chairman felt that the drafted Bylaws still needed to be worked upon by some volunteers to make the ratification process very smooth.
A committee was formed with around 15 volunteers that collected each comment, reviewed and rephrased proposed amendments to the draft bylaws during most of this day. The whole set of amendments were drafted and put down on paper to be voted on the next morning. After lunch, we again scattered over the second round of the workshops (see first day). And after the workshop, half of the participants played a City game. These City Games were designed for this conference to ensure that participants had an unique and thorough glimpse of Berlin. Some of the city games were interrupted by heavy rain or misunderstanding of the instructions, other groups got to finishing their game.
Monday, 1st of September, 2003
This days business was specifically the Bylaws ratification and Board members elections.
After some hours of intensive work by the volunteer committee done on the previous day, a total of sixty (!) distinct amendments were ready, including minor corrections and clarifications as well as very important issues concerning the identity and ideology of the IHEYO (a special thanks to the secretary of this committee - Osma Suominen of Finland).
The General Assembly accepted almost all of the amendments to the draft By Laws, only having to discuss and vote on a few difficult or otherwise controversial issues. Many big decisions such as the Main Identity of IHEYO, which was decided to be based on the IHEU Amsterdam Declaration 2002, were agreed upon with no opposing voices, while smaller issues sometimes had to be voted on. The few controversies were mostly due to different expectations based on different organizational cultures in the countries represented, and also the inability of the committee to formulate some issues in a bullet-proof way, so that there were no apparent flaws.
However, the difficult issues were noted down, and there will probably be amendment proposals with better chances of resolving these mostly technical issues presented to the next General Assembly. One big remaining issue was the question of financial and legal responsibility of Executive Committee officers, as neither the draft bylaws nor the committee had or could make that part formulated in a satisfactory way. It was agreed that the relevant articles should be written following closely the example of the IHEU bylaws, but the specifics were left as a task for the new Executive Committee.
We didn't manage to finish all of the discussion and voting on the By Laws on this day, some of it took place on Tuesday. Finally, the amended bylaws were adopted with 34 votes in favour, no votes against, and one blank vote.
Also on the agenda for Monday was the election of the first IHEYO Executive Committee, for which there were a total of nine candidates from eight different countries. Each office was voted on separately, to make sure that each elected officer have the support of the majority.
Gea Meijers (IHEYO, Young Humanists, the Netherlands) was elected the President, Yemi Johnson (Nigerian Humanist Student Society, Nigeria) as Secretary-General, Alina Mänttäri (Prometheus Camp, Finland) and Ramesh Kumar (Social Development Foundation, India) as 1st and 2nd Vice President, respectively. Marita Eriksen (Norwegian Humanist Assocation, Norway), Lars-Petter Helgestad (also Norwegian Humanist Association, Norway), Frederik Dezutter(Union of Vrijzinnige Verenigingen, Belgium), Wolfgang Huber (Austrian Freethinkers, Austria) and Vincent Lloyd (, IHEYO, Common Sense, USA) were elected as regular members. No Treasurer was elected as there were no candidates for that office, so the whole Executive Committee has the responsibility for financial issues until a Treasurer is appointed.
The assembly also had to decide on membership issues. No membership fees were set for the time being until the next General Assembly (as the organization is still being formed). It was decided that all those organizations that were represented in the General Assembly and who submitted their official membership application to the Executive Committee by February 1st, 2004, will be considered full members and will have the right to vote at the next General Assembly which will be taking place in Kampala, Uganda, in May/June 2004.
After lunch, participants were taken to visit local humanist youth projects indifferent parts of Berlin, like humanist education, humanist youth clubs or training camps, etc.
Dinner for this day was served at a party held for the participants by the Juhus. Fun loving participants digged it out on the DANCING FLOOR while some opted out to go to bed (after a hectic but historic and eventful day).
Tuesday, 2nd of September, 2003
This was the last day for the conference. After breakfast, the General Assembly reconvened to adopt the bylaws. Yemi Johnson was called upon to say some things concerning the next GA in Uganda as the coordinator after which the Chairman formally winded up the General Assembly. Two groups, the Finnish Prometheus Camp association and the Humanist Freethinker Havelland, present plans for co-organising an international youth camp in 2004 and 2005.
After some group photographs, a general appreciation flower was presented to the organiser of the Juhus (Antje Leuschke) for an excellent organization. And the evaluation took place. After an evaluation-game, people filled in their evaluation forms.
75 % of the participants handed in their evaluation form. The overall evaluation is very good. On elements of the programme, everything was fine in general and the practical arrangements were very good. People were happy with the procedure of the General Assembly.
And when judging the conference in its whole, on average people agreed this was one of the best conferences they have attended so far (!), they enjoyed the conference very much and there was enough humanist content. The conference was declared closed at quarter to 12:00noon. But next year there will be a chance for every young humanist to join again! With great enthusiasm the new IHEYO Executive Committee together with many young humanists around the world will further invigorate humanism at large and worldwide!
Reports collated by Yemi Ademowo Johnson with the support of Osma Suominen, Hans Christian Nes, Marie Prott and Gea Meijers. Wolfgang Huber is the Internet Director.