Author: Tamar Kupiec
Sending a child on an overnight school experience is hard for many parents. But for some families, religious or cultural considerations make the decision that much more difficult. However, when Zainab Mohammed learned her daughter’s class would be going to IslandWood, she had an advantage. Her son, Zaidaan, took part in IslandWood’s School Overnight Program the year before as a student at Lowell Elementary in Capitol Hill, and she knew the experience was worthwhile. Still, she could not send her daughter, Ilham, without a boy or elder to watch over and protect her.
As a practicing Muslim, her faith would not allow it. Ilham pleaded for fairness. As luck would have it, the program fell during a break in Zainab’s nursing studies, allowing her to go as a chaperon. Her schoolwork had been all-consuming and left little time for her daughter. But being together at IslandWood they formed a special bond, which continued after returning home. Even today they laugh as they recall how they would sing an IslandWood song together, eliciting the bewildered stares of family.
Other religious obligations were easier to fulfill: There are halal-friendly options at every meal, the forest and lodges provide tranquility for prayer, and compasses are available to show the direction of Mecca. Zaidan and Zainab took a few minutes away from the group at the appointed times throughout the day, wherever they found themselves. Ilham prayed all at once in the lodge at the end of the day. Combining the five prayers is a departure from tradition, but the spirit and intention were sincere. Zainab was satisfied.
Zainab, Zaidaan, and Ilham all speak fondly about the peacefulness of IslandWood. Their family often walks in the Washington Park Arboretum to admire the plants, especially the cherry blossoms in spring. However, Zainab hadn’t ever explored the natural areas outside the city, and her children had gone only twice to the mountains, making the lush, expansive forests of IslandWood especially striking. Zainab appreciated being away from the stresses of daily life. Zaidaan, now a typical fourteen-year-old who has many passions but who also likes to play it cool, admits, “I liked the forests a bit,” then corrects himself, “a lot actually. I liked the forests a lot.” He also liked to nap in an empty room upstairs in the lodge. Zainab was doing something very different in her room. One evening Ilham walked in on her mother and exclaimed, “You’re doing yoga?!” True. The calm of IslandWood had inspired Zainab to try yoga for the first time, something she still does today.
Ilham, who at thirteen says she often feels “pent up” in a classroom, found a different sort of peace in the pleasure of learning by doing—not just by listening. She remembers learning to identify birds in the wild and by touching the preserved specimens in the studios. She remembers how the sight of a huge rock prompted a lesson on the earth’s layers and the formation of mountains.
Ilham wants to be an anesthesiologist when she grows up, and Zaidaan plans to be a businessman in the field of renewable energy, two ambitions that would please many mothers. But if you ask Zainab what she wants for her children, she does not speak of careers or college degrees. She says only that they should be good people, good to themselves and to others.
Zaidaan has already begun his career. He and a few friends are meeting with staff at the school department to assess its use of energy and determine how it can be made more efficient and earth-friendly. Even renewable energy sources, Zaidaan explains, pose risks to the environment: hydroelectric power can interfere with fish migration, and large turbines can harm birds. He is especially intrigued by a new technology that enables solar panels to generate energy from rain. But with a wisdom that exceeds his young age, he understands that a realistic energy plan depends on multiple sources. Zainab smiles as she listens to him talk. This environmental stewardship—this goodness to Earth and community—is an essential part of the IslandWood curriculum, but it is also just the sort of thing to make this mother proud.