Last year, I was invited to speak about fostering interfaith relationships by a professor at Hope College. In my introduction, as I always do, I described myself as ‘Muslim American.’ A student raised her hand and asked me why I described myself this way. “I would never call myself Christian American,” she said. At first I was taken aback by this question, but then I realized my unconscious description of myself was a reflection of a deep-seeded need inside of me to dismantle the perception that for one to be Muslim and American was an oxymoron or worse yet, abhorrent. I wanted to start the conversation with these students by defining myself in a way that was authentic and valid to who I, a part of the 3.45 million Muslims in America, am. As an immigrant of Pakistani descent, a mother, an interfaith youth activator, a ‘Muslim American,’ and an active community member, I believe in the power of relationships and stories to change hearts and minds.
The importance of us each telling our own story is what my work at the Kaufman Interfaith Institute entails. As Program Manager, I am honored to work with the next generation of youth leaders via our summer camps and our co-curricular Scholars programming.
I cannot believe this will be our fifth year of hosting the Kaufman Interfaith Service Day Camp. What began as a dream of community leaders who were passionate about introducing the power of interfaith relationships to younger generations, evolved into a Summer Day Camp. The initial focus of the camp was shared experiences via service at area nonprofits and sacred site visits. Rather than a cursory cross-cultural experience, day camp has transformed into an exploration of equity and justice by making meaningful connections between the core values of a particular worldview, the service we engage in with area nonprofits, and the activities we do during camp. So, our visit to the Sikh Gurdwara, where we learn about “seva” or humble service as we partake in the Langar meal, connects to the service we perform with our hands at Plainsong Farm or New City Neighbors’ Urban Farm. Being called in their faith tradition to care for the earth by these nonprofits connects to the need for good nourishment, especially for those in non-system supported areas. And all of this connects to the Food Access simulation the students experienced as an activity during the same day at camp
Each day of camp is an exploration of the interfaith imperative to advance equity. Students explore their own spiritual, secular, or religious identity and how it connects to the theme of the day. They meet other students and hear their “why” for engaging in this interfaith experience, expanding their views and growing their perspective. Ultimately, they find time to make personal connections to others through story and by creating space within their imagination for other viewpoints outside of their own. Uniquely challenging and expansive, this camp has drawn in area students representing over eight different worldview expressions.
There is still room for your middle- or high-school age student to join our 2023 Interfaith Summer Day Camp taking place the week of June 12th from 9am-3pm. Transportation, meals, snacks, fun and engaging activities, and unique experiences will be provided by the Kaufman staff and our community partners. This year’s day camp would not have been possible without the generous sponsorship of the MillerKnoll Foundation, Gentex Corporation, Corewell Health, University of Michigan Health West, and the Dominican Sisters at Marywood. Here’s where you can find more information about our Interfaith Service Day Camp or to register your student.
Through working with the youth, we have been able to find a balance between narrative and data which drives the way youth leadership and embodied dialogue are framed and executed for effective change. Our Kaufman Interfaith Leadership Scholars meet every other Sunday throughout the school year. This year, as our fourth year of Scholars is coming to an end, we have three Scholars who have been with us since we began. Two of them are seniors and one is only a freshman in high school. Each year, the Scholars spend the first semester learning about interfaith leadership and personal asset mapping while receiving training from GVSU staff on identity, equity, anti-racism frameworks, and deep dialogue. They then apply that training to a project of their choosing during the second semester. This year, the students will host an interactive dialogue at area public schools focused on creating inclusive school environments for people of all spiritual, secular, or religious identities. The students will present their findings at the Parliament of the World’s Religions taking place in Chicago in August. This unique extracurricular opportunity is transformative for our area youth and our communities. While the fifth year of Scholars will begin in the Fall, registration is open now for all that are interested. No prior experience is necessary. Check out this page for more information about our Leadership Scholars
Our dreams for Kaufman’s Next Generation programming are vast. As students graduate high school and move on to jobs or college, we find ourselves wanting to stay connected. We hope that the seeds of learning we are planting produce sprouts of understanding, equity, and belonging wherever these students land.