By Preet Ayoub Shaikh
Being selected to represent Pakistan in the International Youth Camp (IYC) for Transparency and Integrity was one of the best things to happen to me, as I would realise just days into the camp. This camp, which was held in one the most scenic cities in the world, played a pivotal role in determining much of my future as a powerful and conscientious citizen of my country, and for that I will forever be a better person.
Corruption is one of the biggest problems Pakistan faces today; in fact, it is the problem that gives rise to and spawns many other evils in our society. The lack of education, the low standard of living, the millions living below poverty line, all these adversities are fuelled by the existence of corruption, and we the youth find ourselves frustrated and helpless to do anything. Or so I thought. IYC completely changed my outlook on the problems faced by corrupt countries, but more than that it shaped a whole new perspective… it made me realise the tools and resources we the youth can use to channel something positive, to target this disgusting issue, to fix our country, to take matters into our own hands.
The camp was by no means an easy experience. As the name suggests, we were living in tents equipped with nothing but a blanket, to be shared between 3 people.
Moreover, there were communal showers, and a difficult routine to boot. We were to wake up at 5:30 am for aerobics and start our day with some very loud music and questionable dance moves. Shower and breakfast were then followed by lectures and talks by some excellent and experienced speakers.
The agenda involved talks on corruption, human rights, good governance, law, social
work, youth empowerment and tools and resources that the youth can employ. All the talks and lectures were informative, coupled with good handouts and interactive games and activities to maintain our interest and attention. The long working days were punctuated with coffee and fruit breaks, and all 3 meals of the day were great to look forward to. The Muslim participants were especially looked after, being served food from a specialized Halal restaurant, something we greatly appreciated
Before the lectures officially started, we woke up on Sunday to find a line of bicycles waiting for us. We were told that we would be riding about 20 kilometres to the Angkor Wat and Bayon Temples. Apprehensive as I was, this was one of the most thrilling experiences I could have possibly had as a tourist. The temples, needless to say, were beautiful and were filled with thousands of tourists. Tall trees and forests engulfed the temples and the whole view was made just perfect by beautiful ebony-coloured elephants that occasionally passed by, carrying tourists on their massive backs.
While the lectures, activities and living conditions were great and an incredible learning experience, I believe camps like these are unique and so successful all over the world because of what they provide in terms of cultural exchange, and multi-ethnic education. No book or movie in the world can replace the knowledge gained from having a conversation with someone different, someone not like us and that is a belief that was further reinforced during my time in Siem Reap. Every meal, you could see an Indonesian and a Cambodian having a conversation, a Malaysian trying to figure out our thick Pakistani accent, or a Bangladeshi explaining to a Vietnamese boy why she ate with her hands instead of using a knife and fork.
Everyday our Halal table was visited by participants from other countries, many joining us and sharing our “special chicken.” This kind of camaraderie and sharing of living space, bathrooms, food but most importantly ideas is what makes this world a small place, a place where people are finding it easier to disregard borders and passport checks, a place where our governments can no longer instil in us unnecessary political hatred of another person, and it is camps like these that are really making this world more globalized, that are helping spread the ideas of tolerance and acceptance, that are helping misunderstood groups and minorities from being stigmatized.
One of the major events during this camp was the Charlie Hebdo tragedy. When we woke up and news of the massacre reached us, we were apprehensive of how one of the French women at the camp would interact with us Muslims. What followed though was not a debate but rather a discussion of the tragedy and it is these kind of instances that humanize the world… that remind us that we are first part of the human race and then part of other manmade/political/ethnic entities.
Evenings at the camp were some of the best times. The first evening of the camp, which was also the opening ceremony, TI Cambodia invited some important ministers to inaugurate the ceremony. The participants then lit a campfire and sang a song to signify the commencement of the camp. The whole event was capped by beautiful traditional dances by professional Cambodian dancers. Other evenings involved traditional performances by each country followed by the house band playing some lovely music and the participants dancing to it. One especially fun day, we were allowed to break tradition and go in Tuk-tuks to the Night Market and Pub Street, two of the most attractive tourist destinations in all of Cambodia. One of the most memorable nights was that of the closing ceremony, where we were again visited by Cambodian royalty, and where each participant in their national dress received a memento and certificate by TI Cambodia.
Siem Reap was an incredible experience, and I will remember my time and friends there for many years to come. Thank you, Transparency International, Pakistan and Cambodia, for the amazing opportunity.