A Looking Glass into Learn to Lead

By: Onsia Ansari

This blog entry has been brought to you by the letter R. R is for Resilience, Refreshing, and Revolutionary.

After having been a part of Learn to Lead for almost 6 years, you’d think I’d be at least a little used to the routine by now. Nope.

The thing with Learn to Lead is that no two years are exactly alike. And this year was no exception.

Looking back, the 2015-2016 term for Learn to Lead has been a transformative one and I’m not just saying that to sound deep and profound. You see, for the last five years preceding this term, Learn to Lead followed a general mold for its year-long plans and ambitions.  In general, we would invite student leaders from high schools (MSA students mostly) and host monthly workshops for them addressing some key issues and values that are important to mentoring young holistic leaders. Year in and year out it would be the same LTL grind. The same pizza but different toppings.

This year, the LTL team took the proverbial pizza, tossed it up and somehow ended up a batch of brand new minestrone soup instead. The team this year was more focused, more close-knit and valued quality over quantity. We may not have been a very big team (there was just nine of us in total), but we grew close over time.

Right off the bat, the executive team knew that we wanted to change the structure of LTL this year. We wanted to let our students take on a more empowering and involved role in the program. But how were we supposed to do that with the regular monthly workshop structure? I mean, as much as we wanted to push the student's leadership capabilities, we simply couldn’t let them take charge of a big project right from the get-go.

So, we did it in baby steps. We kept the regular monthly workshops at first and trained our students on some key values and skills that every leader should embody. We wanted students to walk away with real-world knowledge that they could actually apply rather than just the fluffy theory-based stuff. Along the way, we invited some special guests to attend our workshops so that A) the students could be exposed to great Muslim role models and B) so that they had an opportunity to network and learn from people who had been in a similar position as them a few years ago.

We even managed to squeeze in a trip to an escape room (but that deserves a small blog post of its own).

The overarching guideline for this year underlined that as social animals, humans learn by example and by imitation. The LTL attendees had seen our team put together workshops for them for the first half of the year and now, it was their turn to take on a project and make a change in their community. As we presented the potential projects that the students could take on, I remember how each of the executives had a secret (or in my case, not-so-secret) attachment to one cause or the other. Ultimately, we agreed that it was up to the students to decide which project to pursue. After having chosen said project and designating each student with a special role, we dove into planning and strategizing on how to execute a successful event.

But it would’ve been too easy for everything to go as planned. And let’s face it, hardly anything in the real-world goes exactly as planned.

“…But they plan, and Allah plans. And Allah is the best of planners.” (8:30)

Our team faced some significant road blocks[1][2] along the way and it was an emotional rollercoaster. As with any major project you’re involved in, your patience with yourself and others is tested. We pulled through and tweaked our plan along the way. Our team built resilience with each roadblock and for each time that we had to “go back to the drawing board” we ended up doing a little introspection on how to better ourselves for next time.I applaud our team for being patient, assertive and persistent in their vision.

For many of our attendees, they had never been involved so directly in a project of this scale[3]. And whilst they haven’t had a chance to directly tell me all that they’ve learnt from this experience, I can only hope they walked away more confident in their abilities to make a positive impact in their communities. I also hope they walked away with a sense of wisdom having learnt all the work that goes into making a vision into a reality.

You know, I’m not too sure what the next year holds for LTL or what big changes are in store. But I’m thankful to have been part of the process and to have seen it grow so much over the last 6 years. It’s certainly a far cry from the workshops I used to attend as a student myself[4]. I want to thank each and every one of the LTL members this year for all of their hard work and for all the laughs. I can attest to each of their character and know that they’re all capable of great things in the future insha’Allah.

For the incoming LTL team, let's just say this, "y’all have a lot to live up to. And I’m excited to see how many more amazing things you’ll accomplish."

 

[1] Like having our project changed a bajillion times.

[2] Or that fun time when we thought we had funding secured but hah, we really didn’t! …Maybe we should spend more time on the communication skills workshops next year?

[3] Btw, we ended up choosing to host a family fun BBQ for our new Syrian neighbours

[4]The workshops I attended used to be held at the local community center where we’d be competing with the Senior’s Bollywood Boogie class in the next room in terms of noise level.  These young attendees don’t know how good they’ve got it now that we have the REC. (I’m only partly teasing.)

Syrian Family BBQ Day – The End to Something New

By Noor Khan

I entered Learn to Lead not knowing I would come out of it having taken something significant and profound. Learn to Lead was more than just a program tapping on the talents of the younger youth. It was a group of people looking out for you and really meaning it. Your strengths become more prominent and embraced through the help of your mentors and mentees and an honest and collaborative effort is made in working on the things you’d like to tackle profusely. There’s active listening involved, sincere advice given, and a feeling of a greater family tree being built in the process. My Learn to Lead team was there through every hurdle and happy moment. They instilled in our work from the beginning that the end results were not a priority, but the planning and patience prior would be both a test and a blessing. Our hope was to bring something to life for a community that was so deserving; but ultimately the time in-between opened my eyes to what hard work and perseverance can do for you and what it looks like. Bringing communities together took both patience and planning; the tests that would make you feel like giving up and the blessings that would never that happen. When the day of the event finally comes around, you stop in your tracks and pause to take a moment to reflect. You look around you, the sun beaming from all sides, the laughter of children filling the surrounding air around you, the chatter of smiling adults.

It’s one thing to work on something you care about and another to see it come to life; that’s when you see the achievement made in the community newly built.

You needn’t speak the same language to know that the people around you like being where they are. To witness the happiness in a people you just met and a community only recently built is one thing I take away from June 4th. I also take away the blessings given in the form of people. The new friends made throughout my time with the program was a milestone in itself and I carry something profound from each person I met. I value the lessons and advice given graciously to me and the time spent with a people who are incredible and hard-working. I hope and pray it only be this way and that Learn to Lead and MAC Youth headquarters continue to be a home for many people.

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Learn to Lead - Year in Review!

By Osman Haybe

   Let the Games Begin

Let the Games Begin

   “You will not truly believe unless you love for others what you love for yourself.” - Prophet Muhammad

“You will not truly believe unless you love for others what you love for yourself.” - Prophet Muhammad

   Effective Communication Guest Speakers

Effective Communication Guest Speakers

   Everyone within society is connected to one another in multiple ways. Cut these links and society begins to crumble.

Everyone within society is connected to one another in multiple ways. Cut these links and society begins to crumble.

   “Go this way!  … No! The other way!”

“Go this way!  … No! The other way!”

  Understanding the plight of the first nations from a contemporary and historic perspective.

Understanding the plight of the first nations from a contemporary and historic perspective.

  Allah commands us to speak “Qawlan Sadeedan” but what does that really mean?

Allah commands us to speak “Qawlan Sadeedan” but what does that really mean?

   What is strategic planning?

What is strategic planning?

   Smiling is Sunnah   :)

Smiling is Sunnah :)

   Trivia research

Trivia research

   It better go straight this time!

It better go straight this time!

   Victory!

Victory!

Inspirations for Youth Development

By Fawzy Manaa

So, last time, I sort of left everyone hanging (On purpose)… “Sure, problems again – Great! What are you proposing?” I got asked on multiple occasions. The reality is that we don’t have a tested successful recipe to brag about yet. Also, I want to put it out there are many amazing people involved in this project, and we’re in the early stages. You’ll get to hear from some of them through the next weeks and months insha’Allah and get a much better idea of where we’re headed as we progress through implementation.

Here is what we have though, besides the human capital and the new space at this point: Much needed inspiration! This inspiration we’re hoping – after the help of Allah (swt) – will guide us towards positive transformation of how we do Muslim youth work.

The videos below are by no means comprehensive of all the ideas being thrown around at this stage, but they capture some of the key elements – Each of them will be detailed in future blog entries insha’Allah.

 

The Case for Space: 

We’re creating a space that our youth and youth workers feel like they own. We will be empowering them to help design, paint, and even name the space. Further, we’re designing the space to change behaviours of learning and development (whether spiritual, technical, …). This includes room for interactive activities workshops, work spaces, displays, expression, and more…

Finding the Spark – Room for Hanging Out and Messing Around: 

We want to flip the development model upside down – do much less talking at youth and much more intrinsic development,  where youth get to experiment with “things” in a safe environment, join in even if they are not “ready”, understand themselves and their strengths better, ask all the questions they have and get answers without being judged, and simply try things out (when it comes to applying their learnings).

While they’re doing all of that, our youth workers would act as mentors, not event organizers. The mentors would help, cheer, support, direct, and connect.

We’ll be able to deliver on this – by God’s will – since the space’s primary focus is youth development, not prayer congregation.

Tell Me and I Forget, Involve Me and I Learn: 

One can listen to a lecture about how great the companions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) were in their leadership at such a young age, then go home and forget all about it. The alternative is to provide an opportunity for youth to not just attend events, but actually execute on projects based on community needs and the skill pool available. This will provide them with an unforgettable, ever lasting leadership experience, and with the right level of mentorship, the spiritual/ religious development will also still be top of mind as well.

If you want to learn more or interested in helping out with this project, please reach out to us at macyouthtoronto@gmail.com.

Fawzy Manaa

New Year. New Beginnings.

By Fawzy Manaa

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As 2016 began, many of us have probably taken some time to reflect about our personal lives, how far we’ve gotten, and where we need to improve next. People are now used to this concept, and it’s a good thing (it’d be even greater if we truly follow through on our resolutions). Reflections and resolutions help us grow, they help us change bad habits and focus our development towards the direction we want to take it. They serve as checkpoints to make us recall our successes and failures and lead us to understand what’s going well and what well… not so much and needs to change.

Just like we consciously think about our own personal development, I think it’s worthwhile and essential we take the time to do this as groups and organizations, especially when our goals are people-centric and developmental in nature. Companies do this all the time, but it’s because they have to or else they lose competitive advantage and thus money. For non-for-profits and charities, it takes much longer for change to happen (for many different reasons, not just lack of money motivation). Nonetheless, I am sure we can all agree that change in light of realities is mandatory, even for groups like that.

Today, Muslims in Canada, especially youth, face many challenges, the most dangerous of which are feeling of alienation, lack of support structure, loss of spirituality, generational tensions when it comes to community activism and more. With so many challenges, yet so many advancements in technology, learning styles, and socio-economic dynamics, the halaqa is not going to cut it anymore. The Muslim community needs to reflect on and change its approach to youth and development.

MAC Toronto, chapter of Muslim Association of Canada, is undertaking a journey to not just reflect, but also revise and pioneer how youth development is done in the Muslim community and beyond. MAC Toronto has already started working in a property in the heart of Scarborough where the aim is comprehensive development and empowerment of youth. That is spiritual development, religious and contextual knowledge, as well as skills development, all in a fun and empowering environment that youth and youth workers have say and control over. The goal of this project is to use non-conventional but effective means to ensure youth feel they belong in their communities, find fulfillment through putting their strengths into use, and have lots of fun while they are at it!

If that floats your boat, we want to connect with you. If you have ideas or want to contribute directly, contact us at macyouthtoronto@gmail.com or post in the comments. We are not there yet, but we couldn’t just delay sharing this until everything was done and ready. Where is the fun in that?

Stay tuned for more.

Fawzy Manaa