A report on the YMWA Productive Leadership Camp 2011, 2 -4 December.
For the sixty six participants of the annual Young Muslim Woman’s Association (YMWA) camp, it was a day unlike any other day; it was a memorable day – a day where they would venture out into the realms of nature to discover and learn the interwoven strands of responsibility, independence and sisterhood. The two-day camp spanned from midday on Friday 2 December to the Sunday afternoon. The theme of ‘Productive Leadership’ was explored extensively throughout the duration of the camp, either through the activities or the inspirational guest speakers who were invited to facilitate.
Excitement and dreams of positive ambiance accompanied the one-hour drive to the camp site at Hunua Falls, near Papakura. Upon arrival at the camp site, the girls settled into their cabins which all had Maori names of plants, flowers and trees, such as rarewera and rimu, while a lavish afternoon tea was laid out by the Food Committee. The girls were then enlightened on the topic of “Finding your productive leadership niche” by Sister Aaliya. Maghrib prayers and a five minute spiritual bulletin conducted by Auntie Waseema, followed.
The evening activities commenced with a debriefing of the next day’s activities and the girls then enjoyed a festive dinner by which time most had summoned up the courage to approach an unfamiliar face and exchange friendly greetings. The participants were proud that they represented nineteen different nationalities: Arab, Cambodian, Chinese, Egyptian, Fijian Indian, Indian, Indonesian, Iraqi, Kurdish, Lebanese, Malay, Maori, Middle Eastern, Pakistani, Palestinian, Somali, South African, Sri Lankan and Tunisian.
Saturday morning commenced with whistles being blown to wake up the girls and the busiest day started with fajr prayer. Every prayer was followed with some thoughts on the spirituality and remembrance of Allah (swt). The expression of being “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed” was far from applicable and it took much inner strength and will power to stay awake on the ten-minute walk through the bush to get to the magnificent lake beside the falls. The day’s physically demanding activities, rotated among five groups of 13 each included kayaking, archery, orienteering, high ropes, and mentally demanding “What is your leadership profile?” personality analysis.
For some, kayaking was unexplored territory but they were at ease with the help of a qualified instructor who gave basic tips on maneuvering in the water. The oars glided swiftly in the water and created a baby-blue arch as the girls circled the lake over and over. One particular highlight of the kayaking experience was seeing the mother of a fellow supervisor summon up the courage to try her hand at the sport.
Archery, a skill once considered a necessity in the good old days, was clearly an area in which to have fun, with some arrows flying a mile off the target!
Orienteering was by far the most physically demanding activity, testing the girl’s athleticism and endurance as they had to run around the campsite searching for various flags and clues. This activity also tested one’s willpower and inner strength to persevere in the face of adversity.
The high ropes portion of the day’s activities was clearly not for the faint-hearted with participants having to climb up an 8m high wooden pole while strapped to a harness. After reaching the very top, the girls then had to make a leap of faith and try to catch the metal bar positioned in front of them; it is a no mean feat. This activity can be seen as an allegory for life, in that a journey of a thousand miles is commenced with one single brave step. One may be tempted to look back but, at one point in the climb, one realises that the best stance is a forward-thinking one. There may also be countless hurdles along the way but if one has enduring faith and belief in Allah (swt) and one’s capabilities, the climb is not that difficult. When one reaches the top of the climb, it may be very tempting to become self-deluded to the point of arrogance but then one looks around and sees that it would not have been possible without the help of peers holding her hand in support (who in the activity were holding the rope attached to the harness). Lastly, while we may set high standards for ourselves, they may or may not be reached (as in the case of the metal bar). However it is crucial that we learn not to define and shape our achievement by the number of times we fall but by the number of times we dust ourselves off and try again.
The Saturday’s night activities included a lecture on “Productive leadership” by Sister Noeleen van de Lisdonk, founder of the Fatimah Foundation, as well as an interactive workshop conducted by Sheikh Rafat Najm on the topic of “Confidence”. These interactive workshops provided a further opportunity for the girls to master the art of teamwork, productive leadership and self-confidence.
Sunday morning came all too soon in the most literal sense, as the girls had only managed to get a few hours of sleep with the camp party that had ensued the night before. Begrudgingly, the girls managed to tear themselves away from bed and go down into the dining room for a nutritious breakfast by the courtesy of the Food Committee. Sunday morning was spent with enlightening talks by Sister Fiona Lovatt Davis and Auntie Waseema on various aspects of Leadership. Interestingly, Sister Fiona touched on the idea that leadership in the Islamic sense is that which is entrusted to a person and not what a person aspires to become. Instead, one should cultivate the heart and spirit not to compete for leadership.
One particular anecdote shared by Sister Fiona was particularly touching and can be applied to life in general. Growing up, Fiona lived near a run-down, litter-infested railway station which, for all intents and purposes, appeared to be incapable of supporting growth and life. She recounted how her father would sprinkle mahoe tree seeds into the rubbish stack every time they walked past the location for many consecutive years, thinking nothing of it. A few years ago, Sister Fiona decided to go back to that very same spot and, to her utmost bewilderment, saw a massive forest of mahoe as far as the eye could see. “Out of the dry earth comes life” is therefore a concept which can be applied to all that which upon first glance, appears to be futile. It may take a few years for one to see the fruits of one’s labour, but then again, what are a few years of work in the stretch of one’s lifetime?
After the Young Leaders Workshop conducted by YMWA members, a barbeque awaited the girls. Soon it was time to pack up belongings and start the final set of chores, after which the camp prize-giving was held. This was a formal affair with the girls dressed up and seated in horizontal rows. Every girl received a personal participation certificate confirming the camp’s activities. Special awards were also presented for the “Confident Camper”, the “Early Camper”, the “First to Fajr on Saturday/Sunday Morning”, as well as the “Happy Camper”. The grand “Champion Leader” prize was awarded to the individual who had clearly demonstrated the qualities of a good leader and who had demonstrated personal excellence throughout the camp. A panel carefully chose YMWA Youth Ambassadors for 14 schools that would soon undergo training and mentoring for further leadership programme.
All in all, the YMWA “Productive leadership” camp was a three-day, two-night physical, mental and spiritual rigorous training that the girls are still cherishing in their hearts. It paved the path of individual leadership as well as strengthening the bonds of sisterhood. They had set goals to achieve during the ensuing year and they departed with a number of new-found friends.
It was by the mercy of Allah (swt) that the three days passed with peace and harmony. As with all camps, the success can be attributed to all the hard work and dedication of not only the volunteers and facilitators but also the anonymous contributors who allowed it to become financially sustainable.