ALI March Break Retreat – 2017
Report by Zaynab Jaffer
From March 15-17 2017, the Academy for Learning Islam (A.L.I.) hosted a three-day camp for girls aged 9-12 years old at Hidden Acres, a Mennonite campsite in New Hamburg. There were 25 girls who went, along with 4 mentors and six other volunteers. The group arrived at the camp at about 11:00 AM after a two hour drive, and all the girls helped to unload the bus by creating an assembly line to move the suitcases from the bus and into the building.
After a quick snack and ice-breaker game, there was an orientation session, where all the girls received their own folders with the camp’s schedule, rooming information, and the activity and duty rosters. The girls seemed very excited for all the activities. Following the camp theme of “Know Yourself”, there were Discovering Yourself classes with Sr. Fatma Khalfan, where girls were encouraged to reflect on their inner selves, goals, and faith. There were also Quran classes with Sr. Kulsum Dewjee, where the girls looked in-depth at ayahs of the Holy Quran and explored the meanings behind them. The girls got to foster their creativity during the daily Art Time with Sr. Alina Juma, where they explored different painting techniques and made a piece of artwork that could inspire themselves. They also got lots of free time every day to play and chat with their new friends, or relax and play on the fuse ball table or table tennis table at the site.
The girls prayed jamaat namaaz every day with Sr. Shaista Yusufali and Sr Fatma Khalfan, and they each volunteered to take a turn to lead the du’as, adhaans, iqamahs, and ziyarats for everyone with the du’a books they were all given at the start of the camp. They also learnt how to pray Salaatul Layl the first night before fajr. It was beautiful to see the girls wake up early the second night for morning prayers, heading straight for their musallahs after wudhu, and starting Salaatul Layl by themelves, each engrossed in their own spiritual world. Sr Shaista also did Qur’an Tafseer and skit’s preparation with the them. The skits were then presented by the them the next day. It was nice to see the talent our girls have at such a young age.
There were some special activities with the mentors too, including charades and an escape roomtype scavenger hunt around the whole building. The girls also got to do some things outdoors with the Hidden Acres staff, playing a three-way capture-the-flag game, learning how to build a fire, and baking some Bannock over a campfire. It was a bit cold outside, but it was all worth it to come inside and have some nice hot chocolate afterwards. The cooks had really yummy food each day, and every night, they made a special dessert too. The girls each got to take a turn setting up and doing the dishes after a meal with their groups. After dinner each day, the girls got a chance to work on and present a group skit that they made together, featuring a topic provided to them. The skits were each funny and thought-provoking and sweet and enlightening in their own way, and it was amazing how creative the girls could be.
On the last night together, the girls sat in a big circle and each passed around a sheet with their name on it. The girls each wrote a compliment or something that they had observed about that person on their sheet. The sheets were laminated and handed out at the end of camp as a memento from camp or for inspiration on a sad day.
In an environment of spirituality and creativity, the girls had time for self-reflection to better understand themselves. They were able to learn and work on new skills like painting and firemaking. They had a chance to appreciate a new way to worship, and were able to make and play with new friends. It was a great experience that provided an avenue for fun and creativity in a warm, learning and religious atmosphere. Hopefully the girls were able to enjoy it as much as the volunteers hoped they could, and were able form some new strong connections with the other girls there.