When 19-year-old Zill Momin thinks back to childhood trips with her father to the IMARA warehouse, there is something she can’t quite put her finger on. “Being a girl growing up I would go occasionally to the IMARA warehouse with my dad, she remembers, “but it wasn’t as open an option…I wanted to go, but something was holding me back.”

Unlike Zill, many Jamati members never witness first-hand the work of IMARA’s many volunteers. “IMARA is a behind the scenes thing,” recounts IMARA member and workshop facilitator, Alishah Sunesara. This “behind the scenes” and diligent work ethic often makes it a black box for the wider Jamat.

Officially, IMARA is the Jamati arm responsible for planning, designing, constructing, and maintaining Jamatkhanas and Imamat properties. Its mission is to keep properties safe and secure, conduct necessary inspections, stay in code with local building regulations, and budget for capital improvements. They also assist in end-to-end Jamati event management, including non-Jamati events hosted on premises.

Alishah added that although most of IMARA’s attention during the Jubilee year was on large-scale construction projects such as multiple stages, its usual work is upkeep - the day-to-day painting of walls, fixing light bulbs, landscaping, audiovisual work, etc., that keeps Jamatkhanas functioning without a hitch.

About a year ago, IMARA wanted to do something about the lack of age and gender diversity amongst its members. Over the last three decades, IMARA’s volunteer base consisted of experienced, often male, Jamati members, who had accrued deep skills in architecture and construction. However, not wanting to lose the deep skills of senior volunteers, IMARA hoped to open up to younger Jamati members who may be interested, but find no pathways to join and learn these skills.

IMARA’s research showed that the Jamat below the age of 40 never had the opportunity to build hands-on skills. Furthermore, they didn’t realize opportunities existed to leverage other skills, such as business development, real estate or management. 

To begin bridging this gap, IMARA hosted a first-of-a-kind Skills Camp on Saturday, November 17, 2018. The camp began at Houston Headquarters Jamatkhana with an introduction and then participants visited the IMARA workshop, which houses all the materials and tools used to design and construct numerous Jamati pieces, such as Jamatkhana paats.

“I got a chance to use the miter saw with IMARA volunteer Zulfiqar Mohammad,” said camp participant, Nisha Mohammed. “Though I messed up at first, he said it was okay because with learning come mistakes…and the warehouse had plenty of extra wood.”

“Watching my dad, I did wonder if the future of IMARA was threatened by our culture today, and if we’d have to hire external talent,” reflected Zill Momin after the Camp, “but I was surprised by the turnout – especially all the girls,”

Over 30 participants joined for the skills camp, and facilitator Zohan Momin feels optimistic planning future workshops that allow junior IMARA to dive deeper into hands-on skill building. “I think we are going to offer more ‘circuit training’ and let people spend half an hour on topics such as electrical wiring, woodworking, audio, etcetera.”

“The camp was an eye-opening for counselors,” added Alishah.

As a result of the camp, participants report feeling more comfortable going to the warehouse and learning. Though the warehouse has always had an “open door policy” for interested volunteers, most people were unaware of this. With their marketing push and camps, younger Jamati members can now reach out to local IMARA leads to join and help.

“We really need people who are willing to give some time - not just a one-time commitment,” says Zohan, to provide the vital, ongoing maintenance tasks that need to be sustained. He adds, “IMARA attracted me because of the people…the brother and sisterhood we have in the community. And when I walk into Jamatkhana, I feel good having done work behind the scenes.”

Organizers hope to pique the interest of youth and young adults who want to build new skills, enjoy new hobbies and camaraderie. Whether it be logistics, building, technology, landscaping, or any of the myriad tasks in between, there is a way to learn and give back through IMARA.