It has been a whirlwind of a few of months. Global Encounters, an international camp for Shia Ismaili Muslim’s between the ages of fifteen and seventeen had become my world. The youth, each one of them, has something huge to share with the world. Their desire to engage in developmental aid work excited and continues to excite me every day, inspires me to continue to critically reflect on how faith, volunteerism, travel, development, charity, aid, and ethics interact and implicate one another. The projects they aspired to accomplish in a few short hours for others, those they did not know, displayed not only their spirit but the care and support that their family members and community have instilled in them.
My writing did not seize because I did not want to share with each of you the journey I and nearly one-hundred and eighty others were on; I simply decided to engross myself in the present and to be as connected as possible with those around me versus those in my cyber community. Now do not get me wrong, you are just as important as those I was sharing each moment of my day with. I knew that by the end of Global Encounters (GE) that each of those individuals would join my cyber community so I wanted to make the best of sharing geographical space with them, in the present, in the moment.
I have to admit, I also have been putting off this post as I am not sure where to start. GE impacted multiple parts of my life. Being a member of the GE team impacted my personal relationship with faith and community, it has implications on my current research, I have been motivated to think about various ways of utilizing my academic and professional skill sets in unique ways, I witnessed a mirroring of my own life journey in the lives of a few youth, and I struggled along the way. I constantly worry about how much to share as an individual that just ten weeks ago felt like I was living on the periphery of the Ismaili community to now being fully immersed (I will come to this, and other, concepts eventually on the blog). As of yet, I have not processed enough of my own journey to know what to share with you. But as I process, I will share.
The first week at GE was for staff and facilitators to connect, to learn together, and to prepare for the coming weeks of hosting one-hundred and thirty-two youth in a place that was not our home. I believe, although staff and facilitators you are welcome to correct me, that we quickly established a home away from home. Facilitators found spaces to connect, staff and facilitators built a routine, and we all shared meals (those tasty and others not) together three times a day. In today’s society, at least here in North America, I am not sure how many families are able to share three meals together, so in my books we were doing well. A group of youth, from Syria and Tajikistan, joined us, our staff and facilitator group, a week prior to the others. This is when camp really began!
Upon arrival the youth were greeted with excitement and I believe a few nerves. I am almost sure the staff and facilitators were more excited to meet these youth than the youth were to meet us. Well, I think a peer and I were one of the lucky ones. A day into the journey for the Syrian and Tajikistan youth, the two of us were given a free pass on training and joined the youth for an evening of bowling and their first exposure to an East African Jamat Khana (an Ismaili centre of gathering and prayer). There were many bumps in our adventure including the bowling alley not being open for the first hour of our time on location. But, like all great educators, my peer pulled out some back pocket games and entertained while I worked on logistics. Once inside, nothing mattered. The youth, many first time bowlers, were loud, excited, and engaged.
This time allowed my peer and I to connect with some of the most inspirational youth out there. Over the next four hours I had discussions about various forms of practicing the same faith, about anxiety, friendships, relationships, the challenge of two groups mingling, the conflation of beliefs, values, ethics, and practices, excitement over meeting spiritual brothers and sisters from across the globe, living life in a war torn environment, the challenges of crossing boarders, introductions to cultural contextual games and songs, English language challenges, educational pursuits and career goals, hobbies and successful accomplishments, fears, family, and the list could go on. I could not have asked for a better start to Global Encounters!
As the days went on, the youth settled in. They started to take ownership of the space at the Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa, Kenya. Together, with the support of facilitators and staff, the youth also started to build bridges between their cultures and began to conflate their practices with relative ease. Maybe it was the fact that they were living in close quarters, struggled to adapt to new foods together, constantly surrounded themselves with one another, or their musical session of combining local songs together and creating a new flavour of Syrian and Tajik music. Whatever it was, these youth overcame one of the biggest hurdles (in my opinion) within days. This new skill set only increased the integration of youth from the other twenty-one countries soon to arrive.
But let me not get too far ahead of myself. Many fun and exciting adventures happened over this week, outside of this one highlight day for me. As a large group we had a wonderful meal out after sitting in traffic for nearly two hours, we participated in some stimulating sessions, the team created a welcome video, we shared many moments of laughter, and we ventured to the beach. To watch some individuals glance at the ocean for the first time in their lives was something beyond words description. The sheer energy to not even pause, run into waves, and immerse themselves in a body of water with little thought was intriguing to me, mostly because I dislike bodies of water and being in them. We, many of us, also went on camel rides (I will have to find a picture or two). I am not sure we could have asked for a better ending to a week of connecting, learning, and preparation.
Our next days, filled with long and exciting hours, hard work, enjoyment, sadness, curiosity, intrigue, concern, struggle, encouragement, bonding, and so much more held me in place, reminded me of my deeper silent goals, and the desires I have for future days. But, for now, I will leave you in a state of suspense. As mentioned earlier, as I process the next days I will continue to share them with you – our suspense of what GE holds is shared, expect for those that were there to witness and experience it along side one another.