In just over twenty-four hours one hundred and thirty-two youth came together at the Aga Khan Academy, Mombasa Kenya. Each of these youth displays experienced levels of leadership, dedication to various extra curricular activities, and a sincere desire to do more in our shared universe. These youth were selected amongst a thousand applicants, having a subtle edge over the other just as deserving applicants. Their arrivals, some in the midst of Mombasa’s chaotic traffic, others in the dead of night, were all welcomed by facilitators, staff, and the medical team. Hours later, these youth were fully immersed into Global Encounters.
The day’s quickly blurred together; each day building on the day’s previous. But no start is a good start if there isn’t a bang and culturally contextual welcome.
Youth, facilitators, staff, and local volunteers participated in an exciting welcome and an introduction to a few local treats including madam (coconut water) on our first official night of GE. Still jet-lagged, the next morning the youth were briefed on what service sites they would be volunteering at over the next days, taught about needs assessments, met many Academy Mwalimu’s (teacher/educator), began to learn their way around eighteen acres of land, and established an understanding of camps schedule. Without pause, each youth, those fighting jet-lag, some quickly experiencing home-sickness, and others fighting stomach bugs, attended their service sites.
The days coming were filled with service site activities, learning about various components of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), the various projects His Highness the Aga Khan supports and initiates, the connections between AKDN projects and the Ismaili Muslim faith, ethics and beliefs, and about concepts like voluntourism, aid, charity and development. On top of that, youth were introduced to their capstones (research) projects (a peer and I oversaw the capstones project). I could talk for hours about Capstones but I feel it is better left for a reflection of the last week of camp where each youth not only completed their projects but brought an immense sense of accomplishment and achievement to one another. I even, with humility, was very proud of each youth and their project outcomes.
The first week of camp included an evening to build vision boards, opportunities to start to grapple with linking faith, service, and leadership, and a cultural performance night. Right from first introduction I was in awe of the youth. My amazement of their skill sets and abilities grew on a daily basis, most significantly the night we created vision boards. During this session we were interested to learn what brought the youth to GE, how their home cultures influenced them and their leadership desires, how they thought about and now think about service, and what they believed their purpose at GE and/or in life was/is. The outcome was more than I could have imagined.
The skills and connection of the youth continued to flourish over the coming days. A few short nights into camp each of the youth participated in a cultural dance, many of them being introduced to cultures they had only recently learnt about. The excitement, joy, and passion in their performance was topped with the loud, hearty, and warm cheers for their peers. Perhaps cultural conflation is best done through music and dance?
As you may guess, GE was off to a fabulous start. In the days coming our work at ten service sites continued. We regularly engaged in intricate and critical conversations. We desired deeper understanding and connection, and we pondered our places at GE, in our home communities and in the global community. Our exposure to AKDN projects stimulated academic and professional aspirations, and prepared us for the weeks ahead.