The clock strikes ten on a causal Sunday morning as eight Jamati youth members from various parts of Pakistan make their way to Booni Town in Chitral. The picturesque valley of Booni welcomes them with a light-scented summer breeze – for many of these youth, it is their first excursion outside their native city.

As mentors in the BRIDGE Programme, they have dedicated their time and knowledge towards 50 secondary students who reside in lesser-privileged, outlying settlements in Chitral, including Broghil – one of the furthest villages near the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. During the 15-day BRIDGE Programme, the mentors adopted a customised approach to improve life skills and critical analysis of the secondary students, and fill conceptual gaps in their academic competencies in subjects including English, mathematics and science. More importantly, through its mentorship approach, the mentors served as role models and inspired hope among the secondary students aspired for a better future. The BRIDGE Programme presents one of the many ways in which the Jamati youth contribute in the development of the Jamat and Jamati institutions, showcasing the core values of volunteerism, empathy, brotherhood and ethical leadership in our community. Indeed, the youth are torchbearers for growth and sustenance in any community, especially in the context of Pakistan where nearly a third of the population is aged between 15 and 29 years.

Historically, the Ismaili community in Pakistan has been blessed to have volunteers from all age brackets – a true validation of this is during Jamati occasions when it heartening to see children, adolescents, young students, working professionals, as well as senior citizens dressed in the uniforms of their respective institutions with a common aim to serve the Jamat. The engagement of the youth in Jamati institutions, based on the guidance of Mawlana Hazar Imam, is particularly emphasised as they are change agents and can provide effective ways to address Jamati issues. Today, the youth plays a pivotal role not only in planning but also in the execution of community events at the local, regional and national level, whereas many Jamati youth from Pakistan have also served on international assignments. Overall, such active engagement not only instils a much needed innovative lens to Jamati activities, but also gives the young volunteers a sense of communal responsibility while preparing them to take leadership positions in the future.

A classic case study is the recent Rays of Light exhibition which continued for 91 days in Karachi catering to tens of thousand members of the Jamat and was later held in Islamabad. In retrospect, astounding to note that while the exhibition shed a glimpse of light on the glorious work of the Ismaili Imamat, its execution could only be made possible through the strength of volunteers, particularly the youth, who worked closely with international experts to manage various aspects including programme experience, administration, logistics, marketing and registration. In several instances, the youth took leadership roles and dedicated several hours of their busy schedules to create a lifetime experience for the jamat. The execution of an exhibition with the stature of Rays of Lights would have been next to impossible without the voluntary support of our steadfast youth.

Since 2007, the inception, and later the extension, of the Time and Knowledge Nazrana (TKN) by Mawlana Hazar Imam has further institutionalised the ability of the youth to engage productively in serving the community. The TKN initiative reflects Mawlana Hazar Imam’s vision that the notion of voluntary service is not a monolith; it can be manifested in a myriad of ways based on one’s professional and academic expertise, as well as their ability to dedicate time and knowledge for the Imam in serving the community at large. According to Mrs. Yasmeen Merchant, the National TKN Lead for Pakistan, “The zeal and dedication of the Jamati youth in registering for the Time and Knowledge Nazrana offers a ‘talent pool’ for institutions to engage them in meaningful projects. When these projects align with their personal and professional interests it gives them an opportunity to serve the community. Moreover, with their unparalleled energy and refreshing ideas, the youth are also able to fill critical gaps in Jamati institutions through the TKN initiative.”

The engagement of youth in Jamati institutions, however, is not simply about benefitting the community. Another key aspect about the youth’s engagement with the community is its implication on their personal and professional development. The Youth and Sports Board-led Scouting and Guiding camps, for instance, instil important attributes in the youth across Pakistan to engage with, and contribute towards, the community through the best use of limited resources whilst working in diverse teams. The celebrated motto, “Do a good turn everyday” best reflects the values of empathy and generosity inculcated through the Scouting and Guiding movement in the youth via regular activities including plantation and cleanliness drives, traffic control during Jamatkhana time, and other such ventures. The provincial and national events, both within and outside the community, provide hands-on experiences for individuals to work collaboratively in diverse teams and learn critical life skills including first aid. In a globalising world where parents are often strained with the threats of social media and undesirable social habits affecting their children, the institutional framework of the Ismaili community is providing a golden opportunity for its youth to stay engaged in the community environment through voluntary service. There is no denying that a majority of the youth volunteers act as the backbone of the community. Their engagement with the community not only enhances the productivity of Jamati institutions, but also grooms individuals to become future ambassadors of the Ismaili community.