Youth camps are generally known for promoting collaborative and experiential learning environments. However, in 2020, youth camps at the national and international level had to be modified to adapt to the unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19, which necessitated social distance and isolation. During the pandemic, some virtual camps were arranged to fill a much-needed gap in youth engagement. However, virtual platforms have limitations, particularly due to the restrained engagement between participants and the lack of reliable internet connectivity in most regions of Pakistan.

After almost a year, the wait is over. The Aga Khan Youth and Sports Board (AKYSB) for Southern Region in collaboration with its local boards in Karimabad and Garden tested its ‘Hybrid Youth Camp’ model titled “Talaash” on the 6th and 7th of March, 2021 in Karachi. The hybrid youth camp model balanced between the strengths of traditional, in-person youth camps by promoting active groupwork while recognizing the challenges of distancing due to COVID-19. Hence, rather than gathering all participants together, the hybrid camp divided its 48 participants into four subgroups. The subgroups, which were gender balanced, gathered in predesignated areas in four Jamatkhanas and were connected via a central digital forum. The sessions were conducted online and groupwork was conducted separately in different Jamatkhanas under the supervision of trained mentors. 

The learning experiences of the youth participants were exceptional. The camp focused on enhancing leadership potential of Jamati youth by building life skills on effective teamwork, empathy, creative thinking, entrepreneurship and reflection. Like any pre-COVID camp, the hybrid camp also included energizers, group discussions and presentations. More importantly, the camp provided a platform for the youth to express their views about different aspects of life and realize their leadership strengths. It also aided participants to come out of their comfort zone and make new friends.

Thrilled by the hybrid camp experience and the ability to physically interact with peers after more than a year, a participant expressed, “We are so glad to participate in this camp which has enhanced our learning with fun; we are looking forward to the next camp!” It was also encouraging to receive heartening messages from parents of participants.

One parent shared, “My daughter thoroughly enjoyed the camp. She is usually shy, but the camp team put in a lot of effort to make her participate in all activities and build her confidence.”

After nearly a year, the innovative hybrid camp model brought together Jamati youth in a controlled setting with strict SOPs. By doing so, the model has provided new knowledge and avenues for AKYSB to engage with the youth through arranging similar hybrid youth camps across Pakistan during COVID-19.