Young Ismailis from across Pakistan grappled with the challenge of re-imagining their country's future last year at the National Youth Camp 2012 held in Karachi. Some 80 participants aged 18 – 22 engaged in dialogue about differences and commonality, reflected on how to make positive life choices, and learnt how they might transform their hopes for a better world into reality.
Themed Dream, Dare and Do…, the camp – organised by the Aga Khan Youth and Sports Board for Pakistan (AKYSBP) – led participants on an exploration of social, economic, health, educational, and other issues and opportunities that face the youth. They were challenged to develop a “Vision 2020” for the Pakistan Jamat, which would include innovative solutions to improve quality of life.
“We were extremely fortunate to [have met] with the National Council and Jamati leaders [who shared] the work of AKDN and also the guidance of Mawlana Hazar Imam for the youth,” said Amjad Ali Shah, a camp participant from Hyderabad, Sindh. “We worked in a group project called Vision 2020, in which representatives of the Jamati institutions shared the objectives, activities, challenges and success stories, and later we worked on the challenges and presented our views and solutions in the camp.”
The 80 participants, who came from across the country, brought with them a range of cultural backgrounds; notably, some 13 per cent of them were Afghan youth living in Pakistan. Counting many from rural parts of the country as well as youth with special abilities, the camp was broadly inclusive, with young women representing 40 per cent of participants. Twenty-four individuals were visiting Karachi for the first time.
The mother of one youngster, who is physically challenged and wheelchair-bound said: “I was impressed with the level of care and support extended to my son, Imran by AKYSBP. My son was in tears on the last day of the camp – he just didn't want to go home as he was leaving the 80 friends from all over Pakistan who made Imran feel like a family member.”
The group's diversity was evident and frequently cited as a unique part of the camp experience. Originally from Afghanistan, Tehmina Shahnazar said: “I consider myself lucky to be part of this one-of-a-kind camp, where I saw diversity at its best. Being from Afghanistan, I had always wondered if I was going to be the right fit for this kind of National Youth Camp, but I saw youngsters coming from all backgrounds.”
Arif Jan of Aliabad, Hunza agreed: “It was great to be among youth from different regions and also Afghan youth and learn about their culture. We learnt many new things – for example emerging careers, which are not commonly discussed in our regions like Gilgit-Baltistan.”
“Our collective differences bring strength to the teaching and learning process and each of us is enriched through the cultural, language and ethnic diversity of others”, said Iqbal Walji, President of the Ismaili Council for Pakistan at the inauguration of the youth camp.
The one-week residential camp was led by AKYSBP Board Member Sohail Zindani. Sessions were arranged with a number of institutions and programmes that encouraged participants to see the world around them differently.
Azra Maqsood of INJAZ Pakistan – an initiative of the Aman Foundation that educates young people about the marketplace and economic matters – led a workshop on entrepreneurship. Participants were asked to think about different forms of livelihoods and economic opportunities.
“It was amazing to see the level of energy and discipline in the Ismaili Youth – I haven't seen this kind of energy in any of our sessions before,” noted Ms Maqsood, impressed by the group's enthusiasm. “Even the youth belonging to the rural areas had good knowledge and excellent exposure.”
The Indus Valley School of Arts and Architecture and the National Academy of Performing Arts brought out their “artists within”. During a day-long session, participants played with different art forms and mediums, including sculpture with clay, photography, painting, music, dance, and theatre. They threw themselves into the activities with gusto, getting their hands (and T-shirts) dirty, and opening their minds to new ways of expressing themselves.
At the Aga Khan University, campers learnt about new and different career opportunities in allied health and education, and heard from a number of senior leaders from the university and the Aga Khan Education Service, Pakistan. Participants enjoyed a day of fun and games at AKU's state-of-the-art sports complex, where activities ranged from playing badminton and basketball to balancing themselves in yoga postures. They were also taught about the importance of good nutrition and the harms caused by substance abuse, and later danced to the lively tunes of the Hunza Band. University volunteers and coaches made sure that everyone joined in the fun and competitions.
“The sessions were full of fun, learning and even adventure,” recalled Rahila Qamar of Chitral enthusiastically. “We hurdled, we studied, we brainstormed, we sang and even danced on the traditional tunes.” She was intent on sharing her experience with her friends at home: “I am an active member of AKYSBP Girls Guides and I plan to apply my learning and experience with my groups in the Guides, planning similar activities for them.”
As the camp drew to its end, Ismailli Council for Pakistan Vice-President Habib Peermohamed, accompanied by other leaders of the Jamat, presented certificates to all the participants. A closing ceremony for the camp was held on a boat, giving participants a chance to take in a three hour sailing cruise.
While appreciating the extraordinary support of various institutions, leadership and volunteers, AKYSBP Chairman Shamez Mukhi said: “Organising a national camp of this nature was an enormous challenge for the AKYSBP team but support from the Regional Councils, Local Councils in Karachi, AKDN institutions, Jamati leadership and volunteers, sponsors, well-wishers and 45 TKN volunteers made it possible for us to deliver without compromising the quality and security of the participants. The feedback of the participants was extremely satisfying and we are planning to organise more youth camps every year.”