I’m surrounded by young people from all over Europe. Everyone looks, dresses and behaves differently. Actually we can hardly understand each other and have to use gestures to communicate. At home we eat different foods and have different customs, but here we are brothers and sisters in faith: This is European Youth Camp, and we are One Jamat

“Bonjour, ca va?”

“Wie gehts?”

“Kayfa halak?”

“Hur mår du?”

“How’s it going?”

By creating safe and inclusive spaces that reflect different traditions and heritages, the European Youth Camp enables a spirit of unity, welcoming newly arrived members of the Jamat who are adjusting to life in a new country, speaking a new language, and navigating a different culture. Many young people leave the camps having made new and meaningful relationships that will last a lifetime. This sense of community becomes an anchor for young Ismailis in the various Jamats of Europe.

“I’ve met some new people and made new friends, we even visited each other after the camp sometimes,” said 16-year-old Mazen Taher who attended the Encounters Europe camp in Berlin this year. “I’ve learned some new things about the Imamat and the history of our community. It definitely was good to attend.”

The first European Youth Camp was launched in 2016, in response to a growing and changing demographic in the European Jamat. Since 2014, the Jamat in Europe has quadrupled in size. Youth and young adults form over 80 per cent of the Jamat. The majority of the newly arrived members of the community have come from Central Asia and the Middle East. 

The most recent camp was the 16th residential programme to have taken place in Europe since 2016. The camps aim to bring together people from different traditions within the Ismaili Tariqah, embracing our diversity and cultivating a culture of inclusivity within the Jamat. 

The camps vary in duration, target different age groups, and range in size from smaller, more intimate groups to larger gatherings. European Youth Camp and Encounters Europe target young adults aged 12-18 and utilise the IIS Secondary Curriculum to create its thematic content. Since 2016, the camps have drawn over 650 participants and 100 facilitators. 

Whilst incorporating a variety of cultural backgrounds and languages can prove challenging, especially when facilitating education sessions and communicating across cultural sensitivities, the camps manage to harness the beauty of this diversity and celebrate it with recreational activities, sports and games, as well as traditional music and dance workshops. Classes and workshops are held in various languages with multilingual facilitators supporting smaller groups. Inside the safe space of the Jamatkhana, youth are encouraged to recite devotional literature in Arabic, Farsi, and Gujarati.

On the last night of camp, a cultural party mixes music from different traditions including Bollywood, Dabke, Afghan music, and Dandiya Raas. Everyone joins in the fun, learning and teaching new dance steps while also making up their own new dances. The weekend ends with a video showcasing highlights from the camp. It is a powerful moment for the participants as they laugh and cheer while observing their progress and accomplishments as a team.

“Sometimes it’s quite difficult to communicate with others because you don’t speak the same language… It helps that every group has a few facilitators that will explain the content to you,” said Yasmin Mohamed who attended the European Youth Camp in the Netherlands last year, at age 15.

One of the main goals of the camps is to nurture and develop future local leadership. Former participants have now become camp facilitators, translators, team leads, and project leads. 

“The camps were really inspiring in many ways, and my facilitators were role models. But also the feeling of brotherhood in general made me want to be more involved in these camps. I wanted to be a part of the team which brings the youth in the Jamat together,” said Romina Nadir Ali, a former participant that is now a facilitator and team lead. “It is a great opportunity where you get together with the youth in our Jamat and at the same time develop yourself. Anyone who attends will have great memories and learn many skills.”

In 2020, we will see the camps family grow with European Youth Camp in Germany, Holland, and Sweden, while Encounters Europe will extend to cover three regions. 

Wherever we come from, and whichever language we speak, the heart of all of our camps includes the motto: We are One Jamat!