CONNECT virtual camp continues to unite youth from around the world

Covid-19 has changed much of what we do and how we do it; from shaking hands and hugging our friends, to the very way we learn and work with our peers and colleagues. At the same time, Covid-19 has given rise to CONNECT, an initiative of Global Encounters and Aga Khan Youth and Sports Boards from around the world. Taking the form of a virtual camp, CONNECT is a way for Ismaili students to build bonds no matter where they may come from. CONNECT will be returning this summer from 19-25 July and 2-8 August.

Aysha Rajwani, the Senior Programme Officer, said that, “This cycle, participants can look forward to choosing their journey. Youth can select a thematic area to explore more in-depth, participate in a new skill-building workshop of their choice, explore the work of AKDN, build friendships across borders and celebrate our rich diversity through fun programming.”

Anisa Zulfova, a 21-year-old facilitator from Khorog, Tajikistan said of her experience with the previous cycle of CONNECT:, “I mostly learned how to interact with the Ismaili Jamat and how to be open to different ideas. I'm impressed with how frequently and how much camp CONNECT experiences have influenced my life. It’s a special place where participants can master real-life problem solving skills, have a significant and positive influence in their lives, and develop a network of peer relations."

From 26 to 31 December, 717 participants from 32 countries gathered for CONNECT, an opportunity to virtually meet Ismaili brothers and sisters from around the world. With over 300 volunteers originating from 25 countries, CONNECT was once again an experience that many participants say is unlike anything they have ever experienced.

Ayanna Boghani, a high school student from Dallas, Texas said, “I think that CONNECT was definitely an amazing experience that allowed me to expand my knowledge of the global Jamat, discover new perspectives, branch out, and make tons of new friends! Overall, I’m really grateful to have had the opportunity to travel farther along the path to enlightenment and learn about other cultures and countries.”

The theme for the December CONNECT camp was social action and climate change. Sameer Paroo, senior programme officer, said that “the pressing issue of the climate change theme for the December CONNECT camp was largely inspired by Prince Aly Muhammad’s film, Close to Home.” Once again, Camp CONNECT pushed the boundaries of the virtual space, navigating the territory of the digital landscape in a new and refreshing way with discussions that mattered, people who cared, and Ismailis who were connected at a deep intellectual level.

With a variety of workshops for participants to attend, attendees could cater their experience to what they most enjoyed and what they wanted to learn about. With meaningful discussions and skill-building activities, participants concluded their experience with not only countless brothers and sisters to stay in touch with, but also a refined understanding of their interests and passions.

Aly Remtullah, an associate managing director of CONNECT from Canada, said that, “Given recent climate change challenges in many areas where the Jamat lives and the global relevance of the topic, we aimed to expose our participants to AKDN’s initiatives within this field. One of our objectives for global camps is to educate youth about AKDN’s work and its impact, and this was one way in which to accomplish that goal digitally.”

Along with its unique theme, emphasising a reality that many Jamati members around the world see the effects of every day, CONNECT had an impact on participants, as well as the faculty and staff. Many leadership members of the team have described this camp as one that was not only a reminder of the power of “One Jamat,” but also of the brilliance of the youth they had the chance to learn more about.

Fariba Nizari, a programme director from Afghanistan, commented that, “CONNECT truly united us by all means. And this bonding goes beyond staff and participants. I was given a new identity as a programme director. Against my personal fears and all the challenges, we had more than 70 participants from across Afghanistan. They participated with great enthusiasm and enjoyed every second of it.”

It is technology that enables these connections, but it is the love of volunteers that fosters it. CONNECT’s permanency is a testament to the benefit of a digital world that we can hold in our hands; the mere opportunities it offers, such as to make global friends, exchange ideas with ease, and above all, beckon teams of individuals from wherever they may be, to come together during a time like this. CONNECT waits for no example to show what Ismailis can do, it simply dives in to explore terrain we haven’t truly explored before. These camps, a directive from the Imam, prepare the youth of today, to navigate the unseen tomorrow; CONNECT strives for the opening of perspectives, rather than isolation; endless curiosity, rather than intellectual stagnation; and above all, love, for the communities in which we create, gather and explore in.

The CONNECT team is ready to welcome participants for the following themes and dates:

  • Entrepreneurship and Technology (19-25 July 2021)
  • Health and Wellness (19-25 July 2021)
  • Arts and Culture (2-8 August 2021)
  • Climate Change and Environmental Action (2-8 August 2021)