Otavalo Youth Conference

Ecuador | 19-21 July 2013

The town of Otavalo, in northern Ecuador, is flanked by ecological reserves and wedged between several Andean peaks reaching nearly 5,000 metres high. This hillside community, encircled by breathtaking natural beauty, welcomed a gathering of over 450 young people coming together from across Ecuador to discuss the characteristics of the period of youth, the meaning of true friendship, and the contributions that all can make to the destiny of their communities.

Participants came from coastal cities like Manta, in the west; from highland towns like Cuenca, in the south; from large urban centres like Quito, in the north; and from Kichwa-speaking communities like Otavalo itself. An opening devotional programme that included uplifting songs set the stage for a rarefied atmosphere at once consecrated and joyful. Later, a group of youth from Otavalo welcomed the conference participants with a traditional dance.

“True friends are united by having a shared vision.”

A participant at the conference

After each morning plenary session, the participants, many of whom had journeyed long distances together, divided into large groups according to their home community. Each group, named after a particular spiritual quality like “Hope”, “Love”, and “Unity”, studied the conference materials together, some using the arts to convey their insights into a particular concept. The diversity of artistic expressions was indicative of the youth’s abundant creativity. The “Unity” group built a mock airplane to articulate the vision that “youth must soar in the spiritual skies of service”; a group from Chongon, nicknamed “Fortitude”, prepared and presented a pantomime that depicted their understanding of some of the ways in which we can be affected by the positive and negative forces surrounding us.

Studying together in small groups and sharing reflections in large groups helped to deepen understanding of the conference themes. During a session on fostering an environment of mutual support and assistance, one participant said that “true friends are united by having a shared vision. Having the same goals and offering service to the community together is what maintains and elevates their friendship.” In a later session focusing on the variety of ways in which young people contribute to the advancement of civilization, participants discussed the connections between education, the acquisition of knowledge, and employment. “It is important that we study not just intellectual things but also spiritual things,” said a young woman, “this way we will be more effective in serving our communities.”

“It is up to us to make sure to draw on the existing positive forces, and to ensure that our different talents and capacities are expended in the field of service.”

A participant at the conference

And when the time came for the friends to travel back to their communities, many by way of high-altitude roads winding through Andean valleys, the youth were both optimistic and expectant. They could call to mind the poignant reflections of a young woman from Cumbayá, a suburb of the capital Quito, who observed that “this conference has been enriching because of the cultural diversity of the participants. It is up to us to make sure to draw on the forces in our society that are conducive to our well-being, and to ensure that our different talents and capacities are expended in the field of service to humanity.”


  • Continental Counsellors José Luis Almeida and Leticia Iturburo Rivadeneira were representatives of the Universal House of Justice at the conference
  • In the opening plenary session, Mrs. Iturburo read the message of the Universal House of Justice dated 1 July 2013 addressed to the participants of the conference, and Mr. Almeida shared some remarks about the nature of this gathering as more than just an event, but rather a part of a long-term process aiming to contribute to the betterment of society
  • The mayor of Otavalo visited the conference on the first day and shared a few words with the participants. He commented on the value of the principles of the Bahá’í Faith and, moved by seeing young people from different backgrounds working together, he highlighted the “beauty of the diversity of the human race”
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  • Some participants travelled over 15 hours to attend the conference

  • Participants read the message of the Universal House of Justice dated 1 July 2013 together

  • Youth deliberate during one of the sessions

  • Friends gathered to share songs and learn new ones during the breaks between sessions

  • Groups took turns sharing the fruits of their consultations

  • Youth used a variety of methods to share what they had learned during the different sessions

  • Continental Counsellor José Luis Almeida joined the youth participants in preparing songs for an evening presentation

  • A group presented a pantomime highlighting some of the concepts explored during an earlier session

  • Friends from Otavalo presented traditional music from their region

  • A group of friends prepared and shared a song entitled Serving Humankind

  • Over 450 youth gathered together at the Raul Pavon School in Otavalo, Ecuador

  • Youth aged 15 to 30 studied together and shared their reflections

  • A group studies on the grounds of the conference venue

  • Young people from several different regions in Ecuador shared a variety of traditional songs

  • Artistic contributions included traditional dances from different parts of Ecuador

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