It all started for us as strangers in the first instance. Long-held expectations regarding the biggest youth convention of the country had peaked into excitement all the while we travelled towards our destination in the capital. As the clock ticked 8 a.m. on 11th of August, I felt a sense of exhilaration stirred deep within my soul regarding the next six days. I rushed out of my hotel along with my heavy luggage, where I was staying and took a cab, which, unfortunately felt like it was moving at a snail’s pace. Ironically, the driver seemed to be more in hurry than me. He landed his Concordia resembling FX taxi in a jiffy at the renowned Marriott hotel. From that point in time each moment which back then seemed ordinary at the time has become as precious to me as water is to fish; each moment was unique and amazing. We were instructed to head towards registration desk. I had no idea that I’d be looking at faces that I would never have seen or known if YLC never existed. Gracious Komal and Tabinda cordially invited us inside to assign to us our serial numbers coordinated according to team colors. Our next step was to make it to the ‘Crystal Hall’, where a diverse set of participants agreed to sit together; creating a history of its own, and started listening to different youth facilitators one by one.
The first YF was a guy attired in a white half sleeves, with the look and attitude of a superstar, wearing a beard as black as coal an giving an impressive look while wearing a time bomb on his wrist. He took to the stage and captured our hearts and minds in an instant. Can you guess who it was? It was none other than Asad Chohan!Similarly, wonderful female facilitators brought us out of our lethargy from the long trip by making us perform energizers. After this, it was time for the official opening ceremony.
Kamran Rizvi with his entire team invited Asad Umer, one of the most inspirational economists and the ex-CEO of Engro Corporation, to cut the YLC cake. With that, in the evening a tricky and yet still exciting phase was introduced. Friends were segregated and a sense of anxiety erupted in a hall. We were told that three complete strangers would be sharing a room for the rest of the conference. It came as a shock but gradually we were came to terms with it. I remarked to one of the female participants at the time , “ Ye safar ab ke baras khathan lagne wala hai” (This journey is about to get really tough).
As I took the first step into my room, I was surprised to find that one of my roommates had spread his luggage on one bed and was sleeping like an elephant on another. Soon my other roommate walked in, and told me that he would be occupying the floor. Thus I was left, all alone and on my own, wondering where I would sleep. Certainly I could not sleep in the washroom!
Therefore, I had to turn my diplomatic tactics on but both of them. At first I thought they would be hard to convince, but I found that they were as compassionate and kind young men. After a hustle and bustle everyone got back to the hall where our very own mentor cum motivational cum heartthrob Umair Jaliawala, perhaps the only reason why most people came to Young Leaders Conference, was ready to take us to a unique journey. He with his self-styled oratory panache instilled a sense of team building in all and sundry.In the meantime, the wait was almost over for the one thing everyone had been anxiously awaiting: YES, FOOD.
A sumptuous dinner was served and we felt as though we were having a state dinner in Buckingham Palace. Later on, the night was stretching itself close to midnight signaling us for going to be, but the evergreen Kambha could not ear to let us go without gracing us with his “The Human Factor” memoir. On 12th of August, rising from the deep slumber of just 4 hours of sleep, we started our day with a healthy breakfast replete with omelets, sandwiches and delicious flavored tea and coffee.Meanwhile, the various youth facilitators, including Abdul Samad (who was my YF) in particular, were eagerly waiting for their showdown in order to show off their numbers in front of the management.
Apart from this, all participants and administration of YLC unanimously passed a Resolution for International Youth Day to always remain connected, participate and innovate. In addition, that day was equally important in terms of policy dialogue conducted by the Ministry of Planning, Development & Reform with experts.As we got back to the hotel, it was time for a session with Asma Jahangir whose famous quote went directly to our hearts,”It is mind that is free not the people”.The last session of the day was probably the most awe-inspiring as Hamza Ali Abbasi and Yousuf Bashir Qureshi (YBQ) stole the show leaving indelible marks on our personality.
The Day 3 theme was ‘Renaissance’. We were told to see the day as a game changer. It was mainly composed of speeches on how to look differently at our art & culture (‘selfies’ are very much considered to be a valuable part of our tradition). After lunch, not mere words but action was due as we were taken on cultural tours to five different places. It was a quite an amazing experience at the Pakistan Monument where we learnt about its objective, socio-economic impact and its importance across the country.
After this came a twist in our story as we were told we were to move from the Marriott to the National University of Science & Technology (NUST). Yelling, lame excuses and jittering echoed around the buses for having to leave the luxuries of the hotel for the remaining stay at YLC. For myself, I started to think about how I could distract myself from the loss of opportunity to look at all the pretty people I used to see in the elevators and lounges.
That being said, we could not have known in what way the coming days at NUST with limited resources would define our personalities for the rest of our lives. Later that night, impeccably dressed for the thematic dinner, I actually felt shivers down my spine when an activity which was meant to help us understand the challenges faced by the differently abled was initiated.I must confess this activity will go a very long way with me. At the end of it, overwhelmed with emotion, we exchanged hugs and felt an even stronger bond. Finally, filled to the fullest with emotions, we reminded ourselves how blessed we are to have the attained freedom on 14th August, 1947, as we celebrated Independence Day at midnight.
A sense of exuberance overcame us as we all were celebrating, singing and dancing while everyone sang along with Muniba Mazari (the candle in the dark). It was an especially auspicious day as it was also a Friday.We were then joined by Asad Durrani, ex DG ISI, talked at length about Pakistan, and this was followed by bits, wits and fits, which stirred within us a patriotic fervor. After this, we were given the chance of a lifetime as nearly 202 boys hailing from different parts of the country offered the ‘Jumma’ prayer (Friday prayer) together. We all came together to drown the dogmas that weigh us down and this helped spark a movement for change.
Moreover, with the help of thematic interventions we reflected on where did we have gone wrong and how we can make it right from now on. Afterwards, Umair Jaliawala stunned us with yet another spectacular activity that really can not be explained in words.The activity required us to put ourselves in the shoes of the less privileged. We were assigned characters who suffer social setbacks in some way. We were also told to break taboos and discuss issues which are usually swept under the rug.
The day theme for 15th August was ‘Reinstatement’. We were told to scrutinize the opportunity cost in order to make the right choice in the end. Sean Griffin and Murtaza Zaidi took the stage next and taught us about how to start, run and grow your own business while shedding the fear of risk and failure behind. Not to be left behind, Umair Jaliawala came up with ‘Shashkay kum & flavor zyada’. As God has brought everyone into this world with a distinct quality, Jaliawala has the amility to inspire and lead. He helped us discover our worth through this activity. The top 10 along with top rest of us exhibited great talent.
The second last day ended with the ‘Power of Tao’ by Kamran a.k.a Kambha. I myself have adopted his unique style of saying ‘Hear, hear!’ Apart from this, Kambha’s session left a mark on us with the slogan ‘Papu Ray Ray’, which we will never forget.And as all good things must come to an end, so came the final day of the conference, the memories of which have been ingrained in our minds forever. It is an old saying “ Ye Jaan tau aani jaani hai is jaan ki koi baat nahi”.
Emotions were stirred and stilled in consecution and this became the hallmark of 16th of August. In the end, we were briefed about building new bridges without burning the old ones by undertaking post YLC social enterprise projects in order to serve our community. Lastly, the closing ceremony by team YLC was a flashback in the form of a superb film, which we will watch every time we miss YLC 15.