Welcome back — Session B of Camp Ayandeh and Camp Javan has begun in sunny southern California! Campers from all over the US and Canada have arrived and are ready for a week of fun, friendship, and intellectual engagement.

 

We spent the first days introducing campers to the camp spirit though ice-breaker games, spontaneous dance parties, and community agreements. Community agreements are a central part of camp’s structure, where campers discuss in small groups the type of culture they would like to set for the program. In their counselor groups, they agree on what types of behaviors, attitudes, and conversations will be encouraged at camp, and which ones we will work together to minimize. This consensus-based approach always ensures that campers participate in shaping the camp community based on their needs in a given year.

 

Click the audio file above to hear two of our returning campers discuss why they love camp and what they are looking forward to this year!

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IMG_6101The Camp Ayandeh and Camp Javan experiences are in full swing during IAAB’s first session of both youth programs. After a rousing evening of introductions and icebreakers, the campers met their roommates and conversed with their hall mates as part of the theme hall tradition. The male halls were covered in inspirational quotes from formidable female powerhouse leaders ranging from Audre Lorde to Shonda Rhimes while the female halls included encouraging words from male role models within various fields. While many of the campers were excited to mingle with the inhabitants of their home away from home, the counselors urged them to rest to minimize the effects of a long travel day.

IMG_6321The entire camp community awoke to a field covered in a circuit of leadership and teambuilding activities. Counselors led campers through eleven obstacles meant to challenge and unite the groups. Activities ranged from camp mainstays such as the human knot, to new challenges, like the sponge relay, intended to help adapt to the blazing California sun.

IMG_6300Understanding “self” was the theme of the day. Following lunch, the new members of Camp Ayandeh and Javan participated in workshops relating to identity. Javan campers learned about their leadership styles within a team through an exercise called “The Medicine Wheel.” By identifying their leadership styles and the roles they play within a team, the middle school students will be better equipped to understand their strengths and weaknesses. The Javan campers certainly learned a great deal about how their characteristics can complement and challenge the dynamics of their team.

DSC_0263While the Javan campers learned about their leadership styles, Camp Ayandeh’s newest members pondered the impact being part of a community has on their identity. Reza Rad, IAAB’s Youth Programs Manager, led the group in the ‘Give it Up’ activity in which participants list the qualities that most define their identity both as individuals and as Iranian Americans. Each quality is listed on a sticky note and attached to their body. The group makes a large circle and each person sheds a card as they take a step into the circle. Eventually the individuals form a cohesive group in the middle, but it is at the expense of the qualities that make them unique. Afterwards, the campers discussed the simulation in a debrief with the other participants and counselors. The activity illuminated the fact that oftentimes individuals hide or compartmentalize parts of their identity, particularly in social settings. Campers were prompted to consider which parts of themselves, particularly relating to their Iranian identity, they hide in order to be part of a majority, such as in a school setting.

Meanwhile, rDSC_0233eturning Ayandeh campers joined in a stimulating conversation about stereotypes of the millennial and Z generations that are prevalent in mainstream media today. Campers considered examples such as the backlash from The Economist‘s Diamonds reference and the AARP’s latest #DisruptAging campaign.  Ultimately, campers concluded that while many stereotypes exist about young people–including the idea that they are apathetic, too young to understand current events, entitled, and overly sensitive–many stereotypes also exist about older generations. When asked how young people should build their role and voice without specifically having representation or power in the system, many responded that it is increasingly important to break stereotypes by working hard and utilizing their ability in technology as a source of strength instead of criticism. Additionally, cross-generational collaborations and relationship-building are key. Opportunities such as demystifying the use of technology and social media for older generations who are less equipped presents an opportunity to a younger generation fluent in such tools. Education and modeling for others can be powerful tools for an otherwise seemingly powerless generation.

DSC_0291After a long day of intellectually and physically stimulating events, the campers finalized their counselor group names and chants. Each group presented the chant to the camp community with a creative introductory skit, but not before counselors challenged them by performing a parody of Kanye West’s song ‘I love Kanye.’  Lyrics included “I miss the old camp” in the version rewritten by counselor and longtime IAABer Sepanta Mohseni, who graduated from Camp Ayandeh in 2008.

Finally, the campers enjoyed an evening of rest on their theme halls in anticipation of a new day. We look forward to sharing more from Camp Ayandeh and Javan with you–so stay tuned!

To view the photos from the first day, please visit IAAB’s Facebook album.

Watch IAAB’s video about the day on Youtube.

We welcome online participation from all our virtual IAAB family members in the comments section! 

 

 

 

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DSC_1008It’s our favorite time of the year! Welcome to Camp Ayandeh, IAAB’s eleventh annual Iranian-American high school leadership camp, and its sister program Camp Javan. 2016 marks the fifth anniversary of Camp Javan, IAAB’s middle school leadership program, which has brought together over 100 middle school students from across the country.

2016 is a year full of milestones for IAAB’s youth programs. IAAB is offering two sessionsDSC_0900 of both programs for the first time in its more than twelve years of existence. Reza Rad, a Camp Ayandeh 2008 graduate who began attending the first camp in 2006, leads the program with a staff comprised of 73% camper alumni and 93% returning participants, including past counselors.

The outstanding group of counselors and staff welcomed Iranian-American middle school and high school students on Friday, July 8th to Whittier College in Whittier, California.

IMG_6101Located just outside Los Angeles, Whittier’s welcoming sunshine enveloped campers and counselors alike as they participated in icebreakers and began getting to know the other 125 leaders. The energy set the stage for an incredible transformative week of inspiring discussions and forming lasting friendships.

Follow IAAB on Facebook and Instagram to keep in touch with our community of young leaders!

To view the gallery of photos from IAAB’s intensive staff training retreat and the first day of Camp Javan and Camp Ayandeh, click here.

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vigil3

On Monday, September 28th the family of slain Iranian-American college student, Shayan Mazroei,  held a vigil and press conference in Orange County. Local community members and representatives of Iranian Alliances Across Borders (IAAB) and National Iranian American Council (NIAC) were also in attendance.

The Orange County District Attorney rejected demands to investigate Mazroei’s slaying as a hate crime and has yet to charge Elizabeth Thornberg, the murderer’s girlfriend who incited the tragedy by hurling racial slurs at Shayan Mazroei because of his Iranian identity.

 

Manijeh, a graduate student based in Orange County, made a statement on behalf of IAAB. Below is the transcript of her statement: 

“Good afternoon. My name is Manijeh. I’m a developmental psychologist here on behalf of Iranian Alliances Across Borders, known as IAAB: an organization that empowers Iranian-American youth through its summer camps. I would like to express my deepest condolences and those of the entire IAAB community to the Mazroei family and all those affected by Shayan’s tragic death.

Shayan Mazroei was an Iranian-American student, friend, son and beloved member of this community. Shayan was an innocent victim – senselessly murdered while hanging out with his friends here in this very community. Shayan’s final moments were spent responding to deeply hateful anti-Iranian remarks. Yet the Orange County District Attorney has decided not to investigate the role of anti-Iranian hate in Shayan’s murder. If there is one thing we can attest to working with Iranian-American youth for more than ten years, it is the detrimental and deeply-felt effects of anti-Iranian intolerance. I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve seen a young person break down into tears sharing their experience of being called a terrorist. The number of times I’ve heard of a High School student being bullied for their distinctly Middle Eastern appearance. The number of times I’ve seen, first hand, how racial prejudice leads to very real and very deep scars.

vigil6These stories highlight the importance of social environment and context in the well-being of our youth. We must also remember that context plays an important role in violent crime in our society. Just as it would be irresponsible of me to ignore the role of context in youth development, it would be irresponsible to ignore the role of race-related context in the murder of Shayan Mazroei.

IAAB stands with the Mazroei family in calling for the Orange County District Attorney to investigate the role of anti-Iranian hate in this crime. We ask that the DA address the following through an investigation: how much did Shayan’s Iranian identity factor in his tragic murder? And in a community that includes so many active Iranian-American members – how much are others at risk? These questions can only be addressed by investigating Shayan’s murder as a hate crime.

I cannot imagine returning to IAAB’s camp this year and facing over 200 Iranian-American youth and having to tell them that when one of our own was called a terrorist and then murdered, nobody listened.

I hope we listen today. Thank you.”

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Camp “Ayandeh,” or “future,” turned out to be a much more appropriate name than we could have imagined almost ten years ago when we voted to make it the official name of the camp. In an effort to create a brand, we also created a door to the future.

Ten years ago, when I was 19 and Camp Ayandeh was just the first annual “Iranian-American Leadership Camp,” I was surrounded by Iranians, but lacked community. I was fluent in Persian, but had no use for it. I respected and valued my heritage, but didn’t need it.

So, when I arrived at the first camp, I was skeptical. Where were all the “grown-ups”? How would these young organizers teach anything of substance? What was the point of this camp anyway? Less than five minutes after meeting the first year staff, the skepticism melted away. What I saw was a group of awe-inspiring Iranian Americans around my own age who wanted a camp that was inclusive, supportive, and positive but still allowed for space for critical thought, uncomfortable but necessary conversations, and acknowledgement of our shortcomings. They wanted a place that could take all of the tough stuff and make something productive and positive out of it. This was not what I expected at all.

I remember on the very first day of training for the very first camp, Narges Bajoghli, IAAB’s Co-Founder, was clear that we shouldn’t call the campers “kids.” We wanted to empower them to be leaders, not treat them like children. This kind of deliberate action is what created Camp Ayandeh. Over the years, we spent months coming up with creative activities, brainstorming themes, and crafting the perfect camp groups. We stayed up late every night at camp planning for the next day, debriefing what went well and what we could improve on, how to make sure every camper felt included, and how to make each exercise and activity memorable. We struggled with whether and how to discuss politics and history. We trained on how to discuss topics that were considered “taboo” or controversial responsibly. Sometimes, we argued and cried, sometimes we laughed and danced, sometimes we gave up and went to bed, ready to sleep on it and get up at dawn tomorrow to try again.

For years, I wondered what made us come back after that first year and keep coming back. Why did we count down the weeks until the next camp, starting from the very day we got home from the last one? Why did we cry when we left? What was the empty feeling we had for weeks after we got home? Of course, the curriculum was one factor. There was the serious material—the brainstorming and learning and collaborating. Along with the formalized learning, there are so many other things that happen at Camp Ayandeh that are fun and creative and interesting and wonderful. Ta’arof competitions, impromptu jam sessions and dance parties, vasati (Iranian dodgeball–which I learned for the first time at Ayandeh), the universal enthusiasm for chelo kabab….but there had to be something else that made us all feel so connected.

Each year, Camp Ayandeh’s attendees become a family. They spend their meals together, learn together, play together, go through hard times together, laugh and cry together. The infrastructure of the camp encourages friendship and collaboration. The first year, every camper and counselor received a very spot-on, personalized “superlative” award, clearly showing how well we got to know each other in just one week. Then, when you say your last tearful goodbye at the end of your week together, that family endures. You still laugh and cry together. Your friends from Ayandeh are the first you call when you get into the college of your choice, get your first job, get engaged. They’re the first people you think of when you need a place to stay in a far away city. Often, they’re the ones who know you best.

Only with five years of distance did I realize what made it so easy for us to establish these lifelong friendships. We had a very strong common foundation: I think that we all, in some form or another, have dreams for our future Diaspora (another thing I first learned from camp) community—we want the “Iranian” part of our hyphenated identities to be a prominent and fulfilling part of our lives. Some of us may have always felt a connection, and some of us develop it at camp. But all of us came for a reason, and all of us walk away with a sense of purpose.

I used to worry about our community’s future. Would we, as a community, be inclusive, tolerant, supportive? Would the generations that follow us be able to recognize their complicated identities—to be both Iranian and something else, or many other things, and to value all the aspects of their identities? Would they struggle like we did or would it come more naturally because of our work? Because of Ayandeh, I don’t worry about our Diaspora anymore. Camp Ayandeh is a microcosm of our larger community and it’s everything I could hope for. Ayandeh provides a space to think critically about our community and what we hope for its future. Alumni of Ayandeh are activists, doctors-to-be, professionals, travelers, artists, musicians, politicians, caregivers, poets. They are tolerant, supportive, cooperative. They are taste-makers and pioneers. Like me, not all of them are involved directly with the Iranian-American Diaspora, but each of them makes a lasting impact on our community. We created an “Ayandeh” reflective of our collective hopes and wishes for this community, and I couldn’t be prouder, or more honored, to have had the opportunity to be there at the start and still watch it flourish today.

3216700Nakkisa Akhavan was a counselor at IAAB’s very first camp in 2006 and later served as IAAB’s Public Relations Director and Director of the 2009 Fourth International Conference on the Iranian Diaspora. Nakkisa participated in Camp Ayandeh yearly until 2009. She’s an alumna of UC Berkeley and UCLA School of Law where she specialized in Critical Race Studies. Nakkisa is a practicing civil rights and employment discrimination attorney and currently works in the federal public sector as a Trial Attorney for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Everything she’s expressed here is in her personal capacity only.

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