When the Covid-19 global pandemic hit, the whole world stopped. While many experienced difficulties establishing a “new normal” for themselves, others struggled with remembering to click the “unmute” button before speaking during Zoom meetings. Ismailis from all corners of the globe have stepped up to navigate the most challenging of situations in order to better the lives of others. Enter CONNECT, the first ever virtual camp for Ismaili Muslim Youth from across the globe.

Founded as a joint initiative of Global Encounters and the Aga Khan Youth and Sports Boards, CONNECT aims to provide inspiration and hope to our global youth, engage them in service to others in order to positively impact our local communities, strengthen connections between peers and to the Jamat at large, and offer virtual programming that is meaningful, builds skills and provides exposure to rich content. Over the course of 2020, CONNECT engaged 1,100 and 700 Ismaili youth (from over 30 different countries) for its July and December sessions respectively.

It takes a village to successfully implement a programme of this size and scale, and it really was a village that came together to serve and impart their time and knowledge for the benefit of the youth of our global Jamat. Dedicated, passionate and resilient are just a few terms to describe the more than 300 volunteers (including 120 TKN volunteers) from over 25 countries for each programme who came together to contribute their unique skill sets, creativity, and countless hours. From STEP teachers, to world renowned artists, to those well-versed in technology, to those studying to earn a Bachelor’s degree - volunteers from all walks of life bonded together from their own locations through a screen. A common sentiment shared by volunteers was expressed by one Facilitator who stated “I immediately felt connected to my global Ismaili community. In all my years, I cannot recall a time that I’ve been surrounded by so many dedicated, intelligent, and passionate individuals all at once”. 

This sentiment translated to the participants as well. CONNECT enabled Ismaili youth who may not have otherwise been able to participate in an in-person camp experience, due to financial, geographic or other barriers, to access a programme that connected them with their Ismaili brothers and sisters across the world, learn more about the work of the Ismaili Imamat and build on existing or new skills. Camp activities such as a ‘Family Cultural Exchange Visit’ aimed to send powerful reminders of the idea that, no matter where we are in this world, or what difficulties we might be faced with, we always have a strong and united community that we belong to, and that we can rely on for support.

A highlight of both programmes was the incredible workshops led by experts from various fields which included Arts, Architecture, Entrepreneurship, Health and Wellness, Education and Technology, and Service and Civic Engagement. Workshops offered valuable skill-building opportunities for our global youth and served as an important platform to foster creativity and collaboration.

Additionally, the December CONNECT programme brought together the values of our faith with one of the most pressing issues of our time, making ‘Climate Change and Social Action’ the theme for the week. Time and time again, Mawlana Hazar Imam has mentioned our community’s responsibility to leave the world in a better condition than that in which we found it. The concept of Khalifa, or guardianship of God’s creation, was introduced and emphasised throughout camp, and served as a foundation upon which volunteers built participants’ understanding of the role that each of us plays in the current global climate crisis. Virtual AKDN field trips focused on highlighting the work of our institutions, familiarising participants with actions being taken to combat climate change and the stepwise changes which they can make in their own lives and communities to drive positive impact.

The final impression that CONNECT left volunteers and participants with was knowing that change does not happen all at once, but that taking small steps in the right direction is the path that a Khalifa must venture on in order to “live up to their exalted status as vicegerent of God on earth.”