Global Encounters Youth Camp visits Aga Khan Schools, Pakistan

08 November 2017

The Global Encounters Camp, which took place in August 2017 in Pakistan, invited students between the ages of 15 to 17 years from across the world to engage in cultural exchange and broaden their horizons.

Global Encounters is an international programme for adolescent Ismaili Muslim youth focused on service, leadership development, culture, and global citizenship. Over the past five years, 560 participants from 30+ countries have made lifelong friendships with their peers from around the globe, explored Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) projects, collectively contributed more than 20,000 service hours to local schools and communities, and transformed the way they think about the world.

This year, the camp was held in three locations: Kenya, India and Pakistan. In Pakistan, the camp began in Karachi at the Aga Khan University Campus and ended with trips to the Northern Areas of Gilgit-Baltistan, as well as Islamabad, Hyderabad and the Khyber region. Students from 14 countries including USA, Canada, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Kenya, UK, Sweden, Syria, Afghanistan, Portugal and Pakistan were represented in this year’s pilot cohort in Pakistan.

On 5th August 2017, the group arrived in Gilgit-Baltistan at the Aga Khan Higher Secondary School (AKHSS), Gilgit campus to mingle with local students and participate in this truly unique experience. 

When the guests arrived on campus, they were greeted with a welcome song, prepared in all the languages of Gilgit-Baltistan, and a traditional ritual- a pinch of wheat flour was sprinkled on their right shoulders, and a few bites of burum hanik (bread and butter) were offered to them. Every participant was also presented with a bracelet and traditional cap, as a complimentary souvenir. These bracelets had been prepared by the students of AKHSS themselves. They were collectively welcomed by Mr. Bahadur Ali, General Manager, Aga Khan Education Services (AKES) Gilgit-Baltistan, along with Mr. Shams Ul Haq, the Principal of AKHSS and the school faculty. The guests were taken to the conference hall where Mr. Bahadur Ali gave a short presentation on AKES, Pakistan. Students also gave a cultural presentation which included music from all cultures of Gilgit-Baltistan, played with traditional as well as modern musical instruments. The whole program was organized by the student council of the AKHSS, Gilgit which included raising funds to buy souvenir caps for the guests. 

AKHSS students then gave the participants a tour of the school, which included a friendly volleyball match between the AKHSS and Global Encounters students. After a session on college planning and career exploration, there was dancing and singing throughout the day, ending with the camp participants sharing their reflections on this experience.

By all accounts, the event that stood out the most was the musical performance by Global Encounters participants from Tajikistan, who danced gracefully to traditional music along with AKHSS teachers. Hasnain Karim, a student of grade 10 of AKHSS, also sang an English song which received a standing ovation.

On August 7th, Global Encounters participants went to AKHHS, Hunza. The participants received a similar welcome and were engaged in an oral history project that paired themselves with AKHSS students. For this project, the young students carried out open-ended interviews with the older members of the community. The project focused on the memories of the past, when they lived under the rule of the Mir of Hunza. Local students translated Burushaski for the participants, and together they were able to form a solid picture of the history of Hunza. 

At night, students performed in a musical evening after dinner. Two students mesmerised the audience by singing an Urdu ghazal. A brief documentary was then screened which reflected on the activities and achievements of the school. 

A camp participant, Nour from Salamiyya, Syria, claimed, “I loved Hunza. It’s very beautiful, and the people are very welcoming.” She then elaborated that she would love to visit Pakistan again, especially Hunza and Islamabad, and that the camp has improved her communication skills significantly. “We engage in experience-sharing with people from different cultures, so we learned how to work together and improve our teamwork skills. I would recommend the camp because it develops your leadership skills and makes you appreciate diversity.”
Another participant, Alisa, from Florida, USA, said, “The most enjoyable parts of this trip have been making new friends, spending time with them, visiting service sites, and helping people.” She found the presentations on the work of AKDN to be most beneficial, as this was not something she had been aware of before. “I had the opportunity to pick up some Arabic, Urdu, and Farsi too,” she said. 

Syed Wajid Ali, president of the student council and a Global Encounters alumni, helped organize this large event. He elaborated, “The visit by GE participants has given AKHSS students the motivation to apply for this opportunity. I am sure that the Global Encounters admissions committee is going to receive numerous applications from AKHSS students next year. I think after having interacted with the camp participants, our students have experienced the strength of diversity firsthand and how it plays a vital role in the dynamics of today’s cosmopolitan world.”