This summer I travelled to Los Angeles, California in order to work as a counselor at a leadership camp for Iranian American youth. This camp is run by a non-profit organization called Iranian Alliances Across Borders, that also organize various other Iranian diaspora community-based activities, such as the YAR study-abroad program, and yearly summits for university students. This was my second year as a camp counselor for Camp Ayandeh, a camp that serves to provide a platform for Iranian-American diaspora youth, in order to gain confidence, public speaking skills, awareness about social and political issues in their societies, and learn about their culture and heritage. I am very grateful for the Principal’s Go Abroad Fund for allowing me to return to this camp, as I believe one of the most important factors of engaging in volunteering in an effective manner is the sustainability of your work. By returning to the camp, I could not only build on my experience as a counselor thus taking on new responsibilities and launching new initiatives in this space, but also was able to strengthen the bonds I had previously made with campers allowing them to increase their trust in me such that I could assist them better in their personal development and with any given issues they may be facing. It is always important to demonstrate your commitment to a cause and a community, if you truly wish to improve its future, and I do have such a wish especially for the Iranian diaspora youth community.
Whether it is statistically correct or not, with the murder of the three Muslim students in the Chapel Hill shooting in the USA, followed by the killing of a young Iranian-American named Shayan Mazrooeei, and most recently the racially-motivated murder of an Arab-American man Khalid Jabara, in Tulsa, it feels as though there has been a surge in xenophobia and islamophobia worldwide but especially in the US. This worried me a lot before arriving, in the sense that I wondered what effects these events were having on the young campers, most of whom as children of immigrants to the US had already been exposed to many uncomfortable situations of discrimination throughout their lives. I was also preoccupied by the thought of how this in turn would effect the camp atmosphere.
In general, I was surprised by how much strength and kindness these young people showed despite the difficult situations that surrounded them. It inspired me to see the confidence they drew from their community, and how they intentionally supported one another in big and small ways. I was very glad to be able to be a part of this wonderful space once again, on one hand as a counselor assisting to create it, and on the other hand as a peer enjoying its fruits and benefits. This experience motivated me to explore my own Iranian diaspora community back in Germany when I returned home, and I even ended up publishing a piece about some of my interactions with this youth soon after: http://ajammc.com/2016/08/22/german-iranian-german-youth-in-munich/