The World Zoroastrian Youth Leaders Forum (WZYLF) was held at the ASHA Centre in Gloucestershire, England between March 16-25, 2018. It was a transformative experience for the group of 20 nextgeneration leaders from around the world, all identified as people closely concerned and connected within local, regional and global Zarathushti circles.
WZYLF organisers, participants & volunteers at Asha Centre
This forum’s aims were tied to using our heads, hearts and hands: to understand the dynamics of sustainable change; to reflect on the global Zarathushti community; to connect with the heart of Zoroastrianism and with one another; and to unite and focus our energies for the betterment of the Zarathushti community. Some of us from India, some from Canada, US, New Zealand and Australia
Adrian Locher (facilitator), Mark Mazda (facilitator) and Sanaya Master (Organiser of WZYLF came to receive us. We gathered to discuss our local community initiatives. These included the World Zarathushti Chamber of Commerce (WZCC) (Jehan Kotwal), Building the social Infrastructure of the community (Shazneen Limjerwala), Study of fire temples (Cyrus Rivetna), Zarathushti memory project (Arzan Wadia). We had a thoroughly enjoyable evening learning Latin dancing from Jimmy.
On Monday, we focused on mapping the challenges, problems and what needs to be healed, in the global Zoroastrian community to create a Zoroastrianism of our highest vision. We were given some questions to reflect on.
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the global Zarathushti community?
- How do we achieve unity and a sense of common purpose?
- How can we achieve sustainable change?
- How does a younger generation make a difference? These were laid out diagrammatically on the sides of a circle, and in the centre was a central question,
- How does Zoroastrianism help us meet these challenges?
Several issues were listed by participants as in need of urgent attention from the community. These included a leadership deficit, the lack of assimilation of Parsis and Iranis, decreasing numbers, lack of understanding of religion, lack of engagement of youth, amongst others.
We took a walk in the Forest of Dean, ably guided by Adrian and Mark. It was beautiful, walking through the forest, sharing stories, bonding, and finally, arriving at a sacred pond (above). Adrian shared that this was used by Christian monks for years
We had a discussion and lunch with Baroness Jan Royall, the principal of Somerville College, Oxford University. In her engaging interaction, she proudly shared that Cornelia Sorabji, a student of Somerville College, was the first woman to study law at Oxford University, the first Indian national to study at any British university, the first female advocate in India and the first woman to practice law in India and Britain.
The grand finale: the Freddy Mercury singalong at the local pub.
Zerbanoo drew attention to this World Congress of Faiths essay award, deadline 28th August 2018
In May, Zerbanoo, with her biographer, Farida Master, spread the word about ASHA on a biography tour in America.
In November, she was invited to speak at Dublin University Undergraduate Awards because of her book on Thomas Clarkson, the abolitionist, after whom they have named their global awards.
- Asha’s Erasmus+ courses and volunteering programme have continued throughout the year and we have again welcomed hundreds of young people from European countries to engage in meaningful and life-changing activities. Zerbanoo comments, “There is certainly no Brexit at ASHA!”
To see a summary of this course’s activity and explore a little of the site. click on the link below: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7msanLMu_D4
- In August the seventh batch of 24 young Indian women came for their annual visit, culminating in a spectacular graduation performance at a theatre in Gloucester.
- Since summer the Asha team has been joined by a number of younger team members to help to diversify and expand their work; each one of them is managing an exciting new project. Next year in March, they are hosting the first ever World Zoroastrian Youth Leaders Forum to help envision and shape the future of the Zoroastrian community.
- Asha has been chosen by the British Council in Poland to be their UK partner in a two-year Interfaith programme focused on intercultural dialogue, tolerance and interreligious diversity.
- A new and timely initiative develops the ongoing Middle East connection. The ‘Peace Laureates Israel Palestine Summit’ aims to bring to ASHA 24 of Israel and Palestine’s most successful young leaders across politics, civic society, culture, faith and the media for a 10-day Summit led by some of the world’s most eminent experts in their fields. This is a bold attempt to help support and prepare the next generation of leaders for a more peaceful solution in the region.
- This year a two-year Biodynamic Apprenticeship scheme was launched in association with the Biodynamic Agriculture College. Asha already has one apprentice (from a Syrian and Bulgarian parentage), and another will start in April next year after completing his time in the British army.
Zerbanoo ends with an update on the Chagos exile:
(For many years, since meeting exiled Chagos islanders when Zerbanoo and her husband Richard were on holiday in Mauritius, Richard has given his services as a solicitor in the long struggle to enable those who wish to do so to return to Diego Garcia).
The disputes over the continuing exile of the islanders has reached the worldwide stage this year. In June a large majority of nations at the UN passed a resolution, fiercely resisted by the UK Foreign Office, to ask the International Court of Justice for an “Advisory Opinion” on the legal consequences of snatching the islands from Mauritius and deporting the population.
Meanwhile, Theresa May’s refusal in November to resettle the islanders, but offer £40m for them to stay put away from the islands, has been shunned by them, and Richard is starting yet another Judicial review (the fifth in twenty years!) of Government intransigence. Full retirement seems to be a diminishing prospect for him.
In other posts on this site readers can learn more about Zerbanoo and the Asha Centre in the Forest of Dean. Amongst a host of other activities, for years she and her husband Richard, freely giving his legal services, have worked to achieve justice for the Chagos Islanders.
Zerbanoo writes about their winter visit to India, where her new book, An Uncensored Life was launched in Mumbai at the Times Literary Festival. She reports that there were many gatherings and some really good publicity for the book and for the ASHA Centre that continues to go from strength to strength, with a new auditorium, secret garden and labyrinth.
She then went to New Zealand and attended the World Youth Zoroastrian Conference and spoke as the guest of honour, receiving a standing ovation.
I had already read, in the excellent magazine Hamazor, about the 6th World Zoroastrian Youth Congress held under the auspices of Kings College, Auckland, between December 28th 2015 and January 2nd 2016.
Zerbanoo was described as an acclaimed human rights campaigner, author, political pioneer for British Asians and the founder of the beautiful ASHA Centre.
The young audience listened ‘with rapt attention’ to uncensored stories and were encouraged to make their world a kinder and more beautiful place, as their prophet Zarathustra always hoped they would, and the second day started off with the Green Initiative presentation to highlight both the initiatives carried out prior to, and during the event, to make it the first ecologically conscious Youth Congress.
Zerbanoo Gifford’s biography ‘AN UNCENSORED LIFE’ by Farida Master and published by Harper Collins is available on Amazon and bookshops – http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/9351776360