Cochabamba Youth Conference

Bolivia | 2-4 August 2013

The Andes mountain range stretches for about 7,000 kilometres through seven countries in the South American continent. Midway through the range is Bolivia, a multi-ethnic country of ten million people and 34 official languages. In the centre of Bolivia there exists a valley, and it is in this valley that Cochabamba is located. At the western edge of Cochabamba, in a peaceful retreat centre, over 380 young people from across Bolivia gathered together in a spirit of joy and fellowship from 2 to 4 August to consider the contribution that they can, and must, make to the fortunes of humanity.

“I sense a great spirit of service here,” said one participant from La Guardia, a small town just outside the large urban centre of Santa Cruz. “We are anxious to advance our understanding and increase our motivation,” he added, “so that we can return home and serve our communities in a more systematic way.” They had come from nearly all the regions of Bolivia—Beni, Chuquisaca, Cochabamba, La Paz, Oruro, Potosí, Santa Cruz, and Tarija—and over half were from the Quechua and Aymara indigenous communities of the high Andean plateaus and valleys.

“We are in a decisive stage in our lives, and our contribution to a more just society depends on what we are doing now and the vision we have for the future.”

A participant at the conference

The conference proceedings increased the unity of thought and expanded the vision of the participants, and as the sessions built on one another, participants could feel their own understanding advancing day by day. “Each person is incorporating the concepts we study into their thought process,” noted one facilitator of a small group discussion, “and I can see that they are really feeling committed to this process.” In the mornings, participants shared insights that were generated from the previous day, and some described the implications of these insights on their efforts to serve their communities. “We are in a decisive stage in our lives,” said one youth, “and our contribution to a more just society depends on what we are doing now and the vision we have for the future.”

Continental Counsellors José Luis Almeida and Bernardino Sánchez represented the Universal House of Justice at this historic occasion, and both were called on to share some remarks during plenary sessions. On the second day, Mr. Sánchez explored the unique role and opportunity that faced the current generation of youth, opening with questions that the youth could ask themselves as a platform for reflection: “Who am I?”, “What does it mean to be a young person?”, and “What am I advancing towards?” In relation to these questions, Mr. Sánchez highlighted the vision that the Universal House of Justice had for this age group, one that counted on young people to be the harbingers of social transformation. He shared that determination was needed to bring this vision alive, a determination that begins with thoughts—“thoughts not of abstract ideas, but of concrete principles that have to be firmly resolved in our minds and hearts.”

Full days of focused study and spirited consultations were followed by vibrant evening programmes that included arts presentations. One evening, the youth from Chuquisaca presented a zampoñada, a traditional musical piece where several zampoñas (Andean panpipes) are played simultaneously, creating a strong and energetic rhythm which captured the dynamic spirit of the conference. Everyone present followed this rhythm with clapping and singing, while dozens of youth spontaneously stood up from their seats and broke into dance, singing the lyrics that were composed especially for the occasion: “Oh! Youth of this time, let’s work, let’s serve…”


  • An observer shared that “Bolivia is a very diverse country in terms of climates, landscapes, cultures, ethnic groups, and languages. The conference is a beautiful reflection of this diversity.”
  • The National Spiritual Assembly of Bolivia addressed a letter to the youth present at the conference, read aloud by a representative of the institution. In her closing remarks, the representative of the National Assembly said that “we have seen this conference as a great celebration… A celebration with much reflection and plenty of commitments for our return to the field of service in our communities.”
  • During the closing plenary session, groups presented their plans to initiate or expand community-building activities upon their return home. Plans included the hosting of youth camps, athletic tournaments, and follow-up “mini-conferences”.
Return to top
  • A spirit of joy and focus imbued the atmosphere

  • The workshop sessions provided opportunities for each participant to contribute to the process of consultation, which was highly animated

  • Many youth shared artistic presentations that celebrated their rich cultural diversity

  • The participants took time to reflect on how they could support and assist one another in service to humanity

  • A group of youth socialize between the workshop sessions

  • A group shares a zampoñada, a traditional musical presentation using the zampoñas, the Andean panpipe

  • Youth reflected on the conference materials, consulted, and planned together

  • The participants studied how they can make a positive contribution to their neighbourhoods

  • Music from many regions was shared throughout the conference

  • One of the large workshop groups studies the material together

  • Music and other arts infused both plenary and group sessions

Return to top