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The light of Bolivia's youth illuminates Earth Hour

In Bolivia, Earth Hour lasts for weeks, even months. And every year, it grows like a ceibo tree and races forward like a hare, driven by thousands of young people who, since 2008, have embraced the global movement that originated in 2007 in Sydney, Australia, as a concrete action to combat climate change and restore the health of our common home.

The darkness left by the switched-off lights lights up the faces of the thousands of young people in Bolivia who have made Earth Hour one of their greatest epics. The 60 minutes when candlelights have been lit since 2008, when the symbolic gesture against climate change began to be celebrated in the country a year after it had started in Sydney, Australia, have extended to hours and days, even weeks and months every year. Now, this call to action conceived by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is more than just turning off the switch to reduce electricity consumption. It is a combination of concrete activities, artistic, sports, and altruistic demonstrations with faces and names, developed under the leadership of youth-led organizations throughout the national territory, in capital cities, towns, and communities from where messages spread like hopeful bird songs.


This is a report that travels through Bolivian territory to showcase the youthful faces that have made Earth Hour an undeniable success in Bolivia, tangible proof that youth is the spark that inspires and motivates us to preserve our world with passion and determination.


The stories are found in wonderful places like Cobija (Pando), where over 20 third-grade students at the Colibrí Educational Unit found it strange when their teacher, Noemí Quispe, entered the classroom wearing a white shirt with a large number 60 on her chest. The students' whispering was interrupted when, a few seconds later, seven children of the same age entered the classroom wearing similar shirts and beaming with huge smiles.


The teacher asked her students to pay attention because the group of visitors was going to make a valuable invitation to their lives and their families: "To participate in Earth Hour," an activity where they could learn different ways to care for this beautiful world they live in and which would conclude with a "lights-out" from 8:30 to 9:30 PM on March 25th. The condition was that they bring a candle and an adult family member.


The following Saturday, the meeting took place in the picturesque Piñata Park in the heart of Cobija city, Pando, the capital of the Amazonian department of Bolivia. There, nearly a thousand pandinos gathered at the end of the warm afternoon, as the Women's Conscience for the Amazon group, in coordination with WWF, crowned over a month of preparation. Since 2008, WWF has been carrying out the traditional lights-out event in almost every city in the world to remind humanity of the need to protect the planet and the little time we have left to do so.


In Cobija, the event's preparation almost took care of itself. The members of Women's Conscience for the Amazon, who have been working for eight years, simply had to train a group of children to spread the word about the activity in the city's educational units. Meanwhile, each institution, in coordination with the municipality, the university, and the regional government, did its part to reach the consciousness of almost all the people of Cobija.


Claudia Achá, the leader of this group of women, remembers that after the lights-out event in downtown Cobija, some results were seen. A week later, a group of Colibrí school children, along with their parents, could be seen burying and watering seedlings in a green area of the municipality. "I still believe that we can make a change. One of the strategies is to educate children, who put pressure on us as parents, to carry out these actions for the benefit of the planet," argues Achá.


Claudia Achá is a university teacher in the city of Cobija (Pando) and also a volunteer with Women's Conscience for the Amazon. For the past four years, she has been collaborating with educational institutions, especially with children. She proudly highlights that she has recruited women to volunteer, such as Professor Noemí Quispe, as well as other ladies committed to environmental protection.


In addition to Cobija, more than 23 cities in Bolivia have joined Earth Hour every year since 2008. From Pando to Tarija, from Santa Cruz to La Paz, where more than 100 groups of young people, institutions, companies, and municipal and regional governments organize fairs, workshops, recreational, cultural, and sports activities in which youth is the main protagonist.


In Cochabamba, another hub for Earth Hour activities, the Scout District of that department works on its activities against climate change throughout the month of March. Specifically, they start on March 3rd, which is celebrated as World Biodiversity Day, and continue with International Day of Forests (March 21st), World Water Day (March 22nd), culminating in their main event on the last Saturday of March.


Scout leader Alejandro Esprella emphasizes that more than 30 public and private institutions participate, offering training in schools, bicycle caravans, and exhibitions at various points in the city. He says this with great enthusiasm, with a commitment that is renewed every year with the arrival of March, when Earth Hour is celebrated.


With all this preparation, Earth Hour in Cochabamba is a success. Activities take place in the Plaza 14 de Septiembre, at the Cristo de la Concordia, and in Quillacollo, to name a few locations, involving more than 2,000 volunteers who contribute their efforts and dedication.


The children and young scouts of Bolivia are the group that has embraced the event initiated by WWF the most. Esprella, in addition to being a volunteer in Cochabamba, is also involved with other organizations such as the Bolivian Platform for Action on Climate Change, the Junior Chamber International (JCI), and is an amateur cyclist.


"I dedicate about 70% of my available time to volunteering. Earth Hour is a moment to make a commitment, to continue adopting these changes, and to ensure that young people continue to participate in these activities consistently," he says, fully convinced that there is still time to act for the good of nature.


From another front of action, Patricia López, leader of the urban cycling team called "Cero Emisiones," which promotes bicycle use and environmental care through sports activities, was another active volunteer who led a team of 30 cyclists pedaling to the top of San Pedro Hill in Cochabamba.


Coordination with the Tourism Secretariat of the Municipal Government of Cercado is underway so that on the last Saturday of March, when Earth Hour is celebrated, sports and cultural activities will begin, and at 8:30 PM, the lights will be turned off, and candles forming the number 60 will be lit at the feet of the Cristo de la Concordia.


"We have had very positive impacts within our entire community because we all work together, whether or not we are part of our groups. We already see a change, and based on that, we see the results. Every Tuesday, we go up to El Cristo, and people no longer leave their trash; they take it back down in their backpacks or bags," says Patricia López.


Cindy Veizaga, the head of Ornithology at the Alcides D'Orbigny Natural History Museum in Cochabamba, is not only motivated by her love for birds. Since last year, along with volunteers from other organizations such as the Scouts and JCI, she planned the most valuable 60 minutes for the planet in advance. In March, more than 30 organizations conducted their own activities throughout the month. "There have been more than 200 people who joined to carry out campaigns at the Cristo de la Concordia and at Laguna Alalay, where many people go for leisure," she notes.


Thus, Earth Hour has become an activity with tangible effects felt in Bolivia.


In the eastern part of the country, in Santa Cruz, around 400 children and young scouts are among the most enthusiastic participants in the event held in Manzana Uno and other locations in the capital city, as well as in dozens of towns in the department. The youngest, aged 7 to 11, express their ideas for protecting the planet through drawings on paper, while the older scouts visit houses and businesses around Plaza 24 de Septiembre, inviting property owners to join the lights-off event.


Laura Silva, a member of the Argentinian Bolivian Scout Group in the Santa Cruz District, emphasizes that Earth Hour is not an activity for just one day, one month, or one week. "It's a long-term process for our lives, and scouts are the ones who will make an impact on their families and society. The scout message is to leave the world in better conditions than we found it," she says, firmly believing in the cause.


Half of her time is spent as a scout and volunteer, while the other half is dedicated to her role as a graphic designer. "Over time, you become more involved. I think what motivates us is reaching out to children and young people so that they can continue with the change," she adds, mentioning that she also oversees the national-scale Earth Tribe program.


In Chiquitano lands, José Antonio Orellana, a communicator and Earth Hour volunteer in Concepción, proudly states that the legacy of his ancestors is the wisdom to respect the environment. With this premise, the organization "Juntos por el Medio Ambiente" (Together for the Environment) has been listening to concerns related to climate change since 2016.

"We started mobilizing with Earth Hour with ten young people because we saw it as a very significant global space for making the voices of young people heard from Concepción. We organized a march with signs requesting that authorities pay more attention to environmental issues, and from that space, we were able to influence our authorities, organizations, institutions, and young people to take an interest in these climate change issues," emphasizes Orellana.


María Fernanda Gutiérrez, Communication Assistant at WWF Bolivia, considers it "crazy" and exciting to have been part of the logistics and organization of Earth Hour in 2023. She can see the commitment that many organizations have. She says, "This year, we reached places we never imagined. For example, in Pando, we went to Porvenir; in Beni, we were in Baures, Riberalta, Trinidad; even indigenous communities in Bella Vista. We also reached Oruro and Potosí. This shows that the participation of young people is motivating and inspiring. I like listening to their dreams and motivations."


Andrea Cabrera, Communication and Marketing Coordinator for WWF Bolivia, knows that Earth Hour is a moment of unity to celebrate all the wonders it brings us. She says, "It's that magnificent hour when we can see hundreds, thousands of faces, all united with one voice and one goal, which is to protect the planet." Her voice resonates with the rhythm of her heartbeats, reflected in her words.


Marcelo Leaños, a representative of the Youth Community of Bolivia, also in Santa Cruz, has been following Earth Hour since its inception in Bolivia, but it was in 2019, when a call for WWF volunteers was made, that he became fully involved. "We received training and organized ourselves as a group of volunteers to talk about this. This year, in Manzana Uno (Santa Cruz), we had a deeper and more real connection with people and other organizations. We understand that turning off the lights for an hour signifies a call for people's commitment to taking action for the environment. It's a commitment to change the planet," emphasizes Leaños.


Leaños, who graduated in Tourism Management, started following the event in 2017 and became a volunteer through the Youth Community of Bolivia in 2019. "Now, we conduct workshops before Earth Hour to explain the reasons behind it and why we do it," he says with enthusiasm.


In Montero, one of the most active cities in Earth Hour in the northern region of Santa Cruz, Sofía Ferrufino divides her time between environmental volunteering, animal care, and the Salesian Ladies who assist in feeding children from low-income families.

"With my family, we began to worry about the wildfires that affect Santa Cruz every year, and now we have become involved in Earth Hour as international volunteers. This year, we organized it with the San Antonio Lions Club, the Municipality, Montero authorities, the University, and schools. Next year, we want the entire northern region to participate, including Yapacaní, Minero, San Pedro," Ferrufino envisions.


Paola Paroba, head of the Environmental Engineering program at the National Ecological University in Santa Cruz, actively participates in Earth Hour with her students. Preparatory activities were crucial to the success of the event held every year in Manzana Uno and various locations in the city. "With the Green Fair, we worked on waste exchange and were able to incorporate it into the March activities. We showcased one of the projects developed by students, the EcoBike, a bicycle that generates energy when pedaled and can provide light and charge a cell phone," she explains.


The EcoBike: a symbol of creation and creativity. A product of several students. A tangible example that was born in the light of Earth Hour in Bolivia.


In 2007, an urgent call to defend our common home emerged. Earth Hour, conceived by WWF, emerged as a beacon of global awareness about the ravages and impacts of climate change. This initiative, a powerful global movement, resonated like an echo in every corner of the world, calling on humanity to take responsibility for preserving the Earth's health and that of all its inhabitants. It was in the iconic city of Sydney, Australia, where on March 31 of that year, the first chapter of this luminous activity was written. Between 8:30 PM and 9:30 PM, monuments and buildings plunged into darkness, and people in their homes turned off the lights for an hour, flashing a symbolic gesture of resistance to climate change that spread as a symbol of unity worldwide.


Currently, more than 190 countries, including Bolivia, and millions of people have joined the campaign, which aims to make the double danger represented by the loss of nature, climate change, and human actions destroying forests more visible.


For Samuel Sangüeza Pardo, WWF Bolivia's representative, one of the foundations of Earth Hour's organization has been the mobilization of people, namely, volunteers. "You can see it in citizen participation, but you also see it in many organizations, universities, even the Scouts, who have already embraced the topic," he says. He asserts that the power of this movement lies in ownership, even by organizations and municipal governments throughout the country.

"For example, in Puerto Quijarro or Trinidad, people wait for Earth Hour every year. I believe that the results, stemming from the ownership of different sectors, are part of the success," Sangüeza proudly states, affirming that Earth Hour has been quite successful in Bolivia.


The capital city is not absent from the grand celebration.


In La Paz, Cristian Farfán is a civil engineer and independent consultant, but he volunteers with the Youth Community of Bolivia. "This year, I was the departmental coordinator for Earth Hour, and we worked with a group of 15 active people in raising awareness and spreading information to the population," he details, knowing that each year the interest of participants is growing.


Montserrat Zapata, for her part, implemented Earth Hour for the first time in the municipality of Viacha in La Paz. She volunteers with the Youth Community and other organizations linked to environmental conservation. This year, she led collectives with about 12 volunteers, mainly students.


Candles also illuminate from the capital of Bolivia: Sucre.


Edwin Oroza, who studied graphic design, is from Sucre. For the March event, he dedicates all his time as a scout from the Chuquisaca District, responsible for the Heimdall group. "We always plan the event 50 days in advance," he emphasizes.


For Edwin, working with time and planning is one of the keys that help make Earth Hour a success.


In the same city, Sucre, Jonathan Aguilar participates in Earth Hour with the Action Against Climate Change, the Junior Chamber International, along with other youth organizations and allied institutions, for four years. "Our activities had a great impact," he expresses, while recounting that the Earth Hour event took place in Plaza 25 de Mayo, where the lights were turned off, and various activities were held, bringing together different artists who showcased their talents and offered hope for better days.


In Sucre, many people have fond memories of inviting citizens to participate in a peaceful march for the environment and organizing many previous activities that are unforgettable because when you work for nature, those actions accompany you for the rest of your life.


In another part of the country, Milenka Almanza, an environmental engineer and animal rights activist, helps Earth Hour in Potosí spread its messages of hope for the present and future of the world.


"This year, we scheduled webinars related to the importance of climate change. At the Main Square, we had the symbolic turning off of lights, with the participation of institutions and artists, in which about 2,000 people took part," she emphasizes.


When Milenka talks about Earth Hour, her voice - powerful like a trumpet - radiates an invitation for anyone who hears her to join the community that contributes their bit to living on a more sustainable planet. Each activity she recalls, she experiences as if it were yesterday.




With the call "One Hour for the Planet, One Hour for Life," Bolivia is part of this celebration with more than 60 events organized in 24 cities. The results are tangible year after year, especially when children and young people are sensitized about the role that each person plays and, above all, when it inspires different sectors to take actions to achieve a life in harmony with nature.


For example, Paola Paroba mentions that the participation of the National Ecological University in Santa Cruz promotes the use of sustainable energy to mitigate the effects of climate change. "There was even a social media campaign in which about 600 students participated, and they also turn off the lights in their homes and families. If we multiply that by four, we are adding a lot of people to this awareness," emphasizes Paroba, who proudly represents the university where she works.


For Laura Silva, the results are tangible, whether in the countryside or the city. Children aged 7 to 10 are the ones who are vigilant and observe that the environment is not polluted and that trash is not thrown anywhere," she points out.


The children with whom Laura carries out activities for the planet know that a clean city is not only more beautiful but also healthier for those who live in it and for its visitors.


Similarly, Sofía Ferrufino highlights that, for example, in a school in Turobito (north of Santa Cruz), seedlings were given to students for reforestation campaigns. "Since, unfortunately, wildfires continue every year, we go to schools to give talks and workshops on the environment. We also promote plastic recycling among students, and we are already working with kindergarten children," she says.


For Alejandro Esprella, measuring the results of Earth Hour each year is very difficult because it is subjective. "It is a commitment that each person assumes," he says, knowing that sustainability depends on the participants in Earth Hour making a commitment not only for that day but throughout the year. He recalls that, for example, in July, they participated in Plastic-Free Week, which was a nationwide campaign within the scouts, and in September, they carried out the Clean the World campaign.


Cindy Veizaga also indicates that children and young people are the primary recipients of the message delivered in March. "Because beyond just turning off the lights, it's about sending the message to take small actions that contribute to the well-being of our planet, to conservation. We have seen that many people, from this point on, already participate in more activities like recycling, cleaning up cities, and how to conserve water," she emphasizes.


Edwin Oroza also agrees that children and young people are the primary recipients and become agents of change at this moment. "Adults have also accepted this stage of transitioning to responsible use of electricity and consumption, but children and young people are the ones who can represent this change the most and make a real impact," he expresses.


José Antonio Orellana goes even further by stating that innovation is required every year for the message to be firmly assimilated. "We have created different educational activities to make young people passionate about participating. We develop plays, marches, races, routes to clean up various tourist places here in Concepción. The main square, the church, and the tower have become icons of the blackout," he delves.

This is the work of the group Young Chiquitanos United for the Environment (JUMA), an organization that uses innovative didactic tools to raise awareness among youth about climate change and transmit knowledge of Chiquitano culture, based on the wisdom of the elders. "Around 300 young people have passed through the organization, and today they are leading indigenous organizations that develop other advocacy spaces," Orellana asserts.




"Since its inception, Earth Hour has brought together young people, authorities, academia, and the private sector in one voice. It is a mobilization that has allowed people to not only understand what is happening in our environment but also to recognize that we can still save the planet and all the life it harbors," says Samuel Sangüeza Pardo, WWF representative in Bolivia.


He adds that in Bolivia, there have been many milestones established since 2008 when Earth Hour started in our country. "In every place, there are wonderful stories. For example, in Puerto Suárez, young people identify with the theme of tree planting and reforestation. So, in all regions, they eagerly await Earth Hour as a date to do their part."


And a key word is empowerment. Natalia Ramírez, Brand and Content Management Officer at WWF Bolivia, explains that the campaign has gained strength because people have empowered themselves on environmental issues and are now leading their own activities and setting their own goals.


"We have returned to the message that Earth Hour conveys, which at some point had become diversified due to the number of participating institutions. But I believe this space is one of unity, where we celebrate the planet, but also become aware of what we can still do together. We have been able to pass the torch to the youth, and they have had the confidence to receive Earth Hour as their own event," says Andrea Cabrera.


"Nature and humanity must thrive together," reflects Samuel Sangüeza Pardo on the importance of this activity that is as universal as it is Bolivian. He believes that the starting point is that vision and not nature against humanity or humanity against nature. "Around that 'core idea,' Earth Hour will continue to fulfill its role, the population will continue to grow, and I believe that the campaign in cities should gain more strength," he asserts confidently with each of his words.

According to data provided by WWF, by 2050 Bolivia will have 16 million inhabitants, of which 80% will live in cities. "In that context, the crusade will continue to strengthen, and there will be more groups working on inspiring actions," he predicts.


Milenka Almanza, who has witnessed efforts to promote environmental activities in Potosí, acknowledges the deep-rooted mining tradition that has prevailed in the region for centuries. As a collective, they emphasize that they are focused on research aimed at harmonizing mining activity with positive environmental impact.


Marcelo Leaños points out that this collective shift in consciousness is already palpable in the new generations. Therefore, they seek to take action, and upon learning about spaces like Earth Hour, it contributes to that change. "It is very difficult to live a life that does not generate an impact, but every year you can see that: people are seeing that they can change and improve. It is a call to commitment for everyone," he considers.


For Natalia Ramírez, people believe in the Earth Hour campaign because they witness significant progress in actions aimed at creating a better world. She details that they currently work with 160 organizations, mostly youth groups, but also municipal and departmental governments that support the initiative each year. "We also have private sector companies supporting the dissemination of content and sponsoring the campaign, committing to more sustainable processes," she explains.


Andrea Cabrera emphasizes, "In recent years, we have noticed that young people are more committed, more interested in knowing what else they can do, and in several cases, even companies are implementing many things worth mentioning, such as those that have installed solar systems in their buildings or those that already have internal programs to reduce plastic or paper consumption."


The testimonies of all these individuals who are guardians of the planet sound in unison, as if they were singing a single melody that accompanies actions for a world that must be saved while there is still time.




Biodiversity loss and the impacts of climate change are putting the planet at risk. Forests are being destroyed at an alarming rate, especially in the tropics. According to WWF data, the global forest coverage area is only 54% of what it was at the dawn of civilization.


In the latest report published by the World Resources Institute, Bolivia ranks third among countries with the highest loss of primary forests in 2021, with 291,379 hectares deforested during that year, marking a historical record for the country. Meanwhile, WWF's Living Planet Report (LPR) 2022 revealed an average 69% decline in monitored wildlife populations from 1970 to 2018. Latin America and the Caribbean showed an average decline of 94%.


With this data, is there hope of reversing the situation? Earth Hour volunteers believe there is, or at least hope to prolong the life of our planet. Montserrat Zapata, who lives in an industrial municipality like Viacha, sees daily how air and water pollution advance indiscriminately, and there is no legislation to curb the effects.


"I believe there is hope. That's why I find myself with many youth movements to make these changes and contribute from where I am. I have found positive responses from authorities in different municipalities; they have listened to us and joint actions with the population have been possible," she reflects, although she believes that more work with neighborhood associations is needed, for example.


Alejandro Esprella also understands that, despite the path being quite challenging and full of obstacles, change is possible. "It all has to start with oneself and set an example. I believe that, mainly, there is a lack of education because there are many laws in the country that we do not apply," he observes.


"Yes, I have a lot of faith that things can change. I get very excited, for example, when I conduct workshops on environmental care. I like to convey the importance of birds, what they benefit us, and their care as living beings. I get excited when I see children grasp the message, which makes me feel very, very good," says Cindy Veizaga.


Meanwhile, Cristian Farfán points out that there is a reason why he is a volunteer, and it is the change he can bring about. "I have the idea that making a change is difficult at present, but to reverse that, we are educating, providing valuable information to children and young people. They will be the future leaders of the country, and they will have the idea that we must take care of the planet. Through them, we can achieve a more structural change."

Offering leadership opportunities that empower young people to create positive change is Jonathan Aguilar's proposition for the youth of Sucre. He believes that, through JCI, there are different spaces, especially in the field of entrepreneurship, and through Earth Hour, collaborations can be forged with other organizations and institutions that share the same goal. But the message remains the same: "That we can take care of our planet. We are facing a climate crisis that we neglected in previous years, but this year, with the actions we have implemented, they can be replicated for future generations."


"My answer is a resounding yes," says Milenka Almanza when asked if she has plenty of hope for a better world, at least environmentally. "Otherwise, our struggles would have no direction. I know that there will be obstacles in the process, and many people will oppose or not support it, but I believe it can be done, and the idea is to unite efforts, create synergies, alliances, and seek financing mechanisms," she states.


What is missing? Paola Paroba is asked, and she immediately responds, "More actions coming from our municipal and national governments so that we can fulfill our objectives and focus on them to make it truly work."


Every March, in every corner of Bolivia where Earth Hour is celebrated, the candles held in each of the thousands of hands, like small torches in the darkness, symbolize the shared promise to preserve the beauty that surrounds us. Thus, amid shadows and flickers of light, cities, towns, and rural communities immerse themselves in the "best blackout" that can exist in this world. In that eternal moment, while the stars twinkle in the sky and the moon rises as a witness, hope soars like a song in the hearts of each participant. A communion of souls committed to the Earth they call home, willing to write, with the ink of their actions, a future where the light of awareness illuminates the path to a greener and purer world.




EH 2023 Bolivia
La luz de los jóvenes de Bolivia ilumina La Hora del Planeta