QUITO, Ecuador - Just hours after the passing of Nelson Mandela in December, over 8,000 youth from around the globe began gathering at the 18th World Festival of Youth and Students in Quito, Ecuador.
During the Quito festival's opening days, beautiful music, banners, and singing filled the air as young people entered the festival's main venue, Quito's Parque Bicentenario. There were samba drummers, Andean flutists, Ecuadorian punk bands, and dancing to accompany all as the festival began.
In the opening ceremonies, the young people from each country gathered to march with their delegations. The groups from Cuba, Colombia, Russia, and Ecuador stood out as particularly large and well coordinated. At the opening ceremony stage, nearly every speaker made reference to the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela, and made calls to the youth movement to continue the struggles for equality and peace in his name.
President Rafael Correa came to address the gathering at the end of the ceremony. In a passionate speech, the president repeated multiple times that there can be no peace in the world without justice. He welcomed the youth of the world to Ecuador, and encouraged them to exchange with each other and push for equality in their communities. Correa's speech was all the more dramatic because the rain that began falling at the beginning of his talk became heavier and heavier, until the president and everyone in his company on the stage were completely drenched. However, Correa carried on as if it were the sunniest day in June.
In the days that followed, the festival delegates attended workshops on a broad variety of topics, and exchanged ideas and gifts with each other at the festival's "Friendship Fair".
Discussion sessions were held on youth unemployment, sexual and reproductive rights, ending the U.S. blockade against Cuba, access to higher education, racism and xenophobia, and more.
In a special session called the "Anti-Imperialist Tribunal", delegates offered testimony describing the ways in which corporate and political imperialism are destroying their local communities.
Student organizations from a variety of countries exchanged strategies to preserve quality, public higher education in this age of aggressive privatization.
In addition to the workshops, there were a number of other resources available to the festival delegates. One tent offered free dental examinations and cleanings. Another shared family planning information and a demonstration on how it feels to be pregnant and how to care for young babies.
Still another hosted displays of Ecuador's new social programs under the national "Buen Vivir" plan which expands public health services, education, transportation access, and other services.
The Ecuadorian hosts issued a special call to action regarding Chevron's disgraceful treatment of the Ecuadorian Amazon. Chevron-Texaco dumped billions of gallons of toxic wastewater into rivers and streams, and left over 1,000 large pools of crude oil unmanaged throughout the region.
The result is devastation of the Amazon's ecosystem, and widespread health tragedies among local indigenous communities, including birth defects and cancers. To learn more about or join the campaign to hold Chevron accountable, click here.
Thirty-four delegates from the U.S. participated. The youth festival movement began in the wake of World War II, when young people across the globe chose to declare international solidarity and peace as the way forward out of the war's misery.
Mandela himself attended one of the world youth festivals.
Photo: Lisa Bergman/PW