Since 1980, SSA has held a Youth Peace Cultural Festival every five years, where youth are given full play to their inner potential and creativity. The festivals are aimed at responding to SGI President Daisaku Ikeda's call for youth to become capable leaders in society who are committed to the advancement of peace. The youth have also used such occasions as a springboard for challenging various areas in their lives and strengthening their Buddhist practice. Besides strengthening their faith, members no doubt developed deep bonds of friendship during preparations for the festival which hopefully enable them to go on to contribute to their local communities and country as good citizens.
Let us recollect the past few Youth Peace Culture Festivals.
Over three weekends in July 2005, the Youth Peace Culture Festival (YCF) was held in two different external venues. Some 5,000 youth, including SSA members, their friends and students from various schools, participated in the event. The YCF was held in conjunction with the launch of the North East Racial Harmony Month, thus tying YCF with the local community in response to President Ikeda’s call to the youth to contribute to society as good citizens. Ministers, government officials and local mayors attended the respective shows. As the organisation was structured in 3 Headquarters then, HQ 1 held their show at Singapore Expo Hall 5, while HQ 2 and HQ 3 held their festivals at the Toa Payoh Sports Hall.
The planning of the YCF began way back in 2004 and a decisive victory was scored. The serious and meticulous preparations of the youth division led by the then EXCO chairperson Mr Tay Hee Chiew was for all to see. About 20,000 members and friends attended the shows! Notably, riding on this momentum, the youth division played a big part in helping SSA achieve the historic 1111 Gohonzon Conferment at the end of the year to cap a victorious year. We can see that the success of YCF and shakubuku campaign were closely linked. A successful model has been set.
Five years later in 2010, to commemorate the 80th Anniversary of the founding of Soka Gakkai, the 35th anniversary of the founding of Soka Gakkai International and the 50th anniversary of SGI President Ikeda’s inauguration as the third president of the Soka Gakkai, SSA staged the memorable Youth Musical in March 2010 at SSA Headquarters. The Musical, which depicted the spirit of the Oneness of Mentor and Disciple with President Toda and President Ikeda as the protagonists, involved 1000 youth division members and more than 150 cast members.
Preparations again began more than a year before. The Musical built on the momentum of a hugely victorious propagation campaign in 2009 led by the Youth Division in which the number of Gohonzon Conferment and applications smashed the record last set by the class of 2005. In order to reach out to as many members and friends as possible, a total of 18 sessions of the Musical for both English and Mandarin speaking audience were held over three weekends.
We grow when we push ourselves beyond our limitations, when we challenge ourselves to go further than we think we can. By doing so, we can break through our shell, become strong, expand our state of life and carry out our human revolution. This is the way of Buddhist practice.
[NHR, Community Spirit Chapter]
The lives of the cast members and those behind the scene exemplified the above guidance by President Ikeda. Although it must have been very exhausting for the youth, there was also evidently tremendous joy and courage shown. On average, each session attracted an attendance of 700 members and new friends. More than 12,000 people would have seen and be inspired by the Musical.
In both the 2005 and 2010 editions, concrete victory in propagation campaigns and a successful YCF went hand in hand. We would have thought that this model would be built upon by the current senior youth leaders in planning for the 2014 edition.
Unfortunately, this did not seem to be the case. The reasons for this conclusion are supported by the following observations.
Firstly, doing things last minute seems to become the norm these days. As late as September, YFP did not exist and instead SSA Times was still publicising about the Youth Culture Festival. Why was the YCF changed to YFP only in October? Even if the reason for the change in the name was justified, the confirmation of the name of such an important event two months before the actual date is undeniably very last minute.
The same could be said about the venue of the Festival. The fact that it was to be held in Toa Payoh Indoor Sports Hall was only made known to members as late as October. Even leaders were uncertain of the dates of the YFP until end of October. I wonder when the whole planning started. The change of senior youth leadership in March, is definitely a poor excuse. It is obvious that, with a seating capacity of 2000, Toa Payoh Sports Hall is never an ideal place to hold a YFP if we are focusing on outreach. Was it because all other preferred venues were taken up?
Secondly, it is indisputable that the number of people being reached out to has dwindled. One preview and 4 actual shows held in the Toa Payoh Sports Hall mean that the number of people who can watch the performances are limited. Defeat was clear right from the beginning as far as the choice of the venue is concerned. This year’s scale is equivalent to the scale which one HQ would have managed in 2005!So in terms of numbers, we were only one third of the past even though it looked impressive at the grand finale.
And to be honest, those who attended the shows will realise that except for the last show with the attendance of a Minister of State, all other shows only had 65% to 70% of the Sports Hall occupied. More importantly, many among the spectators were our own adult division members and not youth division new friends. It seemed that the outreach fell far short of target.
Thirdly, the plans seemed haphazard and not well-thought out. Although there was a 30-minute video publicising the YFP during the November Individual Division discussion meeting to inspire members to look forward to the YFP,we were then informed there are only two tickets available for the whole district’s four division to invite new friends who are preferably youth. This is a joke! The target is so easy to achieve that it does not push us to fight and challenge ourselves to invite friends. The length of the video and the number of tickets made available do not synchronise! Even with this so called “sure-win” target, we wonder if we achieved it, as mentioned in my second point. The fact that publicity came just one month before the actual event only goes to show again the last minute planning. In terms of strategic planning and inspiring the ground to fight, we are regressing.
Fourthly, ever since the focus shifted to YFP in June, the propagation campaign died a natural death. Although a few friendship meetings were held since then, outcomes were vague. It is naive to think that reporting the number of new friends attending such meetings in SSA Times is the same as reporting concrete results achieved in propagation. In terms of focus and follow up of campaigns, SSA Senior Youth Leadership is found wanting again.
Fifthly, we wonder if the welfare of the YFP participants has been seriously looked into. We were very touched by the heroic acts of the logistic group members who sheltered the participants to and from the holding area and the Sports Hall when there were spells of heavy rain during the shows. But this could not hide the fact that there was poor planning from the show chairperson and the planning team! Has the weather been factored into the planning when clearly there was no cover between the Stadium and the Sports Hall? It was clearly left for the logistic group to save the day! Nothing should be left to chance! We should always chant for the best outcome but prepare for the worst! Has this thinking been forgotten?
How do we explain the fact that the participants of the YMD item had to stand under trees opposite the Toa Payoh Stadium stand which could not hold all participants? The poor members had to endure the scorching heat of the sun and brave the rain. Is this so called “training” for the YMD? Or is this another example of poor planning of the senior leaders?
Lastly, it was noticed by quite a few members that the Youth Chief dressed too shabbily for the occasion when he delivered the congratulatory message. He only wore a long sleeve shirt with long pants, which is essentially just ordinary office wear. The Youth Chief is the representative of the entire Youth Division and the Youth Friendship for Peace Festival is clearly the platform of the Youth Chief! Though it may seem a small matter, it spoke volumes about the importance he attached to the YFP. Such attitude is unbecoming of a top leader in the youth division.
We hope that SSA has not become complacent to assume that since they have the experience accumulated over these years to hold a YCF, they will be successful anyway. Has the new senior youth leadership team, perhaps consumed by egotism or mere arrogance, chose to try a new approach at the expense of a successful model set in 2005?
The above observations suggest that this new approach did not seem to work!
Without clear cut victories in both shakubuku campaign and YFP fronts, 2014 seems to be another year of decline rather than dynamic advancement. Our heart goes out to all members and frontline leaders who have tirelessly given their energies and best effort to try to make things work on the ground. However, we are less sympathetic towards senior leaders who have let the members down, again and again!
We cannot see how SSA central leadership is giving us hope and confidence that all is going well toward the attainment of its target of 50,000 members in 2017. But one thing is sure: we are running out of time. What we have been seeing is leaders quoting a lot of President Ikeda’s guidance in meetings urging members and frontline leaders to practise with a vow. But so far, all the actual planning, thinking and execution taken by the top leaders in campaigns and activities make us wonder if they really understand what it means to truly practise based on a vow of a genuine disciple. It is easy to parrot the words. What we want to see are the practice and actions. The central leaders have not shown good examples so far.
A great deal of soul searching among the central leaders is needed. Perhaps what is urgently needed is to practise exactly what President Ikeda has taught us instead of trying to be creative and clever.The youth division, being the driving force of the entire organisation, has to deliver concrete results soon.