Greetings of peace and welcome!
I’m really excited to share with you our story of how KidswithVoice was born. This is a story of courage, determination, and change. I was a single mom with three boys who attended one of the best Islamic schools in Toronto. Like many other families I knew, mine was going through some pretty tough stuff. As my marriage came to an end and I started building a new life for myself and my kids, it became clear to me that they were hurting and it was affecting them both at home and at school. Having worked for years with the York Region District School Board, supporting kids with a variety of needs, I knew full well the kind of commitment, resources and heart it takes to nurture kids who are struggling to make sense of and manage their emotions. I also knew that I needed to start searching for the hearts that would eventually make up my incredibly skilled, experienced and loving team.
It’s no secret that most full-time Islamic schools and after-school madressa programs simply aren’t set up to help kids who don’t fit the mold. So kids who have any sort of challenge, be it emotional, behavioural, intellectual or developmental won’t get the support they need at school and often fall through the cracks. Coming to terms with this reality broke my heart because our religion is one of compassion, empathy and doing everything we can to help others, and if our Islamic schools aren’t a place where the emotional and social needs of our kids can be met, then what? Are public schools the only option? And if we do send our kids to public schools, where they have ample resources, training, and skills to meet every child’s needs, how do we continue to instill in our children a sense of belonging to and love for their faith? And how do we nurture their Islam in a way that is meaningful, joyful and organic? These are all the questions that planted the seeds in my heart for a project that would not only change my life and the life of my own children but the lives of many Muslim families from all over the world.
As my kids and I were beginning our new journey, we explored and began to redefine the meaning of family. I watched my boys begin to rediscover their sense of self and their place in the world and I knew that the only way they were going to have a safe space to make sense of their feelings and begin expressing themselves in healthy, constructive ways again, was if I created that space myself. And I knew that space had to be something special–something very different from what was available out there. This space needed to be warm and welcoming, inviting kids to experience the simplicity and beauty of Islam in a way that was gentle and kind. I knew I wanted a place for kids to play, learn and grow in the company of teachers and other children who came together to celebrate Allah and His Messenger ﷺ.
So I sat down and did a full inventory of my education, professional training, work and life experience and that allowed me to begin drawing important connections between my academic background, specialized training, skills, talents, creative endeavours and the 20+ years of experience teaching, coaching, working with kids, developing curriculum and programming, and helping families heal. All of that would be the initial building blocks for this amazing project.
With these building blocks, I developed a model founded on one core principle: education with heart. The goal was to create a space where Muslim kids could come together to learn and grow in a way that would foster in them a profound sense of belonging. I wanted to create opportunities for kids to explore their interests and discover their strengths in an environment that made them feel valued, appreciated and capable. And I wanted an environment that would not only tolerate their Islam but show them the beauty of it and provide opportunities to celebrate their Muslim Canadian identities, all while engaging in activities that foster good character, creative confidence, strong communication and a desire to give back to the community. And that’s exactly what I did! Once the model was completed I began working on developing the programs. That’s when the real fun began! 🙂
As a mom to three busy boys, my research started with just watching my kids for clues. I watched them while they played, while they did their homework and while they interacted with one another and with their friends. I was determined to find out what it is that kids really need to pique their interest, engage them, challenge them and keep them wanting to come back for more. The next phase of my research consisted of lots of communication with hundreds of insightful moms. I found this to be super helpful and a lot of fun! (Moms always have *the* best stories to tell!) Finally, I spent quite a bit of time checking out the programs already available to our community and I did a thorough analysis of what worked and what didn’t. The whole process was really eye-opening and what I discovered is what has motivated me to keep moving forward: there simply wasn’t a single program out there that was geared towards meeting the emotional and social needs of Muslim kids.
This is when I started developing curricula that integrated subjects including Arabic, Qur’an, Art, Crafts, Sports, and other cool activities like Public Speaking, Drama, Mindfulness, Team Building, Critical Thinking, Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Technology, lots of Personal Development and Community Connections. The rest is history. AlhamduliLah, in our last session at our location we were overcapacity in some of our most popular classes including Creative Arabic and Hearts and Crafts and in December of 2016 we were blessed with the opportunity to run 20 sessions at the Reviving The Islamic Spirit Conference in Toronto. Masha’Allah it went so well that we were asked to run a week-long Kids with Voice program at the RIS Knowledge Retreat. Our dream of providing Islamic Education with HEART has come true and hundreds of families that have experienced the beauty of their children growing and shining in ways they never imagined possible. What a blessing!
This journey has been nothing short of a miracle. From the very beginning Kids with Voice has been a labour of love that has not only changed my life but the lives of so many Muslim children and families from all over the world. I can’t wait to share some of the stories about beautiful transformations in children we’ve worked with–stories that will move you to tears. It is an honour for me to train and work with an extraordinary team of dedicated teachers and volunteers who genuinely LOVE teaching and working with kids; they are passionate, confident, and excited to share their knowledge. What makes our team so special is that each and every one of us fully appreciates the trust that comes with nurturing children and we take that trust very seriously. It is an honour for us to be working together with the kids we teach, parents, schools, Islamic centres and organizations, and our community at large to further develop programming that gives our children opportunities to continue learning, growing as happy, healthy Muslims. With your help, insha’Allah, we can continue to create a generation of creative thinkers and confident doers who are eager to make a difference in the world.
Thank you for helping us make this dream a reality for all of our children. May Allah reward you all for your efforts and continued support. ♥
Jennifer Zaynab Zaghloul