From creating start-ups to igniting revolutions, young people have been toppling the old structures and processes that govern our world. Just imagine what solutions might be found if young people are given the space and encouragement to participate and lead – Kofi Annan, (Excerpts from a speech made on the International Youth Day in 2013)

With the advent of the 21st century and the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has changed its course for the future. Demanding creativity, collaboration, strong communication, leadership and resilience in the light of adversities, the youth today face unique challenges. Investment in our youth is the best investment a community can make to secure a dynamic future. Sensitive to the needs of the Jamati youth in Pakistan, the Aga Khan Youth and Sports Board for Pakistan (AKYSBP) organised the Broadening Horizons Youth Camp (BHYC), an eight-day residential camp in Hunza.

Through the experiential learning approach, participants of BHYC were engaged in activities that allowed them to explore their identities and develop crucial skills like critical and analytical thinking, problem solving and perseverance. Nasrin, an Afghan participant, noted, “It was a rare experience being part of this camp. Playing different games and facing varied challenges allowed us to find solutions to our problems creatively. More importantly, during its course, I discovered who I am and was able to reflect on what is happening around me.”

In a first of its kind, the BHYC opened its doors to eight Afghan youth, providing them, and the other 51 participants, with a platform to explore. With national and international participants, the youth were provided a rare opportunity to experience diversity and practice a pluralistic approach to dealing with the day-to-day challenges of life. “I learned that diversity may be hard to adapt to at first, but once you start to feel and explore its beauty, you find yourself loving and wanting it more. The real challenge we faced was not to solve the problem that was put forward to us but actually listen to each other, respect each other’s ideas, work as a team and most importantly, learn from those challenges,” Manahil, a participant, commented. Another participant, Wassay, shared, “I met and bonded with unique individuals from across Pakistan and Afghanistan, learning to understand and respect the different perspectives each individual shared.”

While the camp focused on developing individual identities, it also focused on helping the participants better understand the community and the work of Mawlana Hazar Imam and his institutions. To establish institutional empathy and help participants become aware of the work that the AKDN engages in, a whole day was spent with the Altit community in Hunza. “Working in remote areas is a challenge for everyone, but I learned that it was the resilience of the people and the leadership of Mawlana Hazar Imam and the AKDN that made things possible,” remarked one of the facilitators, Insha. She further added, “The locals inspired me so much; the way they interacted and presented everything reflects what the AKDN has been contributing to the community’s development.” Just like the AKDN, the camp inspired hope in its participants. Jalal, one of the participants who faced hardships in his life, feared he would not achieve a bright future. However, towards the end of the camp he shared, “I was afraid of my future due to lack of motivation and guidance, thinking that I am a burden on my environment and family. However, after the BHYC, my perspective on life completely changed. I feel satisfied and am hopeful for a better future, ready to face and overcome upcoming challenges.”

In accordance with the guidance and work of Mawlana Hazar Imam, the camp aimed to promote global citizenship in the participants and help them become tomorrow’s leaders. Exploring one’s identity and that of their community allowed participants to gain a broader perspective on life, a step toward what Mawlana Hazar Imam calls the “duty of responsible stewardship” (October 17, 2000, Islamabad, Pakistan). As important as it is to know oneself and the world around you, it is equally important to understand how one may contribute to it to make it a better place. Mehak, a facilitator from the camp, commented, “BHYC was a journey of self-exploration that made me believe in the power of my existence as an individual and how many lives I can influence by being my true, authentic self. It allowed me to go beyond boundaries for others and myself and positively impact the world around me.”

In all these learnings, the camp focused on developing future leaders who would become local, regional and national assets for the Jamat in the years ahead. Developing lifelong friendships, the participants situated themselves as positive change agents not just in the Jamat, but for the world at large. Through their acquired knowledge and shared experiences, camp participants are anticipated to play a critical role in Jamati and AKDN institutions for the betterment of the community and the world in the years to come.