The transformer: Zerbanoo Gifford on turning 70


July 16, 2020



It was a toss-up between a Women’s Forum and a Global Zoroastrian Youth Leaders Forum.

Something special was being planned for Zerbanoo Gifford’s 70th birthday on May 11 since the last one year.

Article By Farida Master

The social entrepreneur and founder of ASHA Centre in the Forest of Dean, England wanted it to be meaningful and of significance that would leave it’s footprint for generations to come. Not just a cake-cutting, having-a-good-time kind of gathering at the onset of the 70th year of her life that has been filled with dramatic highs/lows and big milestones.

The Global Zoroastrian Youth Leaders Forum won. 

After all, there couldn’t be a better legacy than paving the way and providing a foundation for a group of young Zoro leaders that demonstrate innate leadership skills. Two years ago, when the idea was first developed from seed to a full-fledged forum at the breathtaking ASHA Centre, the forum helped facilitate the beginnings of a generational transition in leadership, and empower a new generation of Zoroastrian leaders.

Zerbanoo who has always been passionate about empowering young adults was keen to host the second youth leaders’ forum to reassess the ideas that had germinated in the womb of the forest, and see how they translated from the whiteboard to reality.

And while the air tickets were booked by some of the delegates, and programme outlined, Covid-19 happened.

As the fear of the pandemic suddenly gripped the world, flights were cancelled and borders closed.

Zerbanoo’s 70 birthday celebrations to be marked by determined Zoro youth leaders flying in from different parts of the world to continue the good work — came to a standstill.

As the world rested and withdrew from all activity, it was time for Zerbanoo to reflect.

Zerbanoo ASHA

Zerbanoo says that the ASHA Centre has helped to transform many lives in giving people the space to connect and grow.

Members of the youth leaders forum sent many messages of love and caring, which were put together in a video created by Sanaya Master.

The human rights campaigner and author of several books was deeply touched as she sat down to watch the video along with the ASHA family.

“For me, the priority is always the investment for young people. We have to help them to connect with each other, and offer them the head-heart-hands education where the whole being is integrated and feels valued,” says Zerbanoo in a long-distance interview.

Equally enthused about the World Zoroastrian Youth Congress to be held in UK in 2023, Zerbanoo has thrown an open invitation to the organising committee to use the ASHA Centre for their weekend planning meetings. 

“It is so important that they are in an environment where they are free to be creative and understand the vital role of keeping our worldwide community vibrant,” she says.

“We have to ensure that we support their endeavours. They have to adapt to new homelands and yet keep their identity. There are so many issues facing young people in the Diaspora.

“We are hoping that one day during the UK Youth Congress they will be able to come and experience ASHA and its neighbouring Church Farm.

Zerbanoo was recently involved with purchasing 54-acres of the neighbouring Church Farm with ponds, woods, barns and 15 stables.

“The lady who owned it was an accomplished horse-rider and had always wanted ASHA to buy her property when she moved as she had seen what miracle we had done with the ASHA land,” she says about her new pet project as she works hard on planning the transformation of the land.

“We let ASHA grow holistically. It is embraced by the forest and has feminine energy which is beautiful,” she says about creating another piece of paradise and then throwing the doors open to the community to enjoy the fruits of hard labour.

“For me, ASHA is like a well in an oasis, I hope it shows the way the caravan must go.

“Over the last decade, the ASHA Centre has helped to transform many lives in giving people the space to connect and grow. We have created an environment of outstanding educational value and natural beauty, in which everyone who visits experiences a deep sense of inspiration, connection and purpose.”


Smiles and handshakes as Zerbanoo is being welcomed into an ancient Honourable Society of the Knights of the Round Table, a 300-year-old organisation.  

Quoting Mark Twain she says, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

The former director of Anti-Slavery International found her life’s purpose years ago as she first tried to bring about a change in British politics, boldly standing up to the bastion of white men in politics. She fought for equality, be it for women, people of colour or the underprivileged.

Whether it was interviewing 300 most powerful women in the world or helping people on the fringes of society rise above the rubble—the game-changer took on causes without a pause.

Regardless of the fact that she lives miles away from the maddening city crowd, one thing is for sure! There has never a dull moment in her life.

KORT Services Dinner November 2018 - 3[8246]

Zerbanoo with her knights in shining armour, (l-r) Adrian Locher, General manager ASHA, son Alex Gifford and husband Richard Gifford

You’d expect nothing less than Zerbanoo being chosen as one of the few women in the 300 year-old-society of Knights of the Round Table; or as one of the most outstanding five Roedeans throughout history!

Roedean School in Brighton is equivalent to the boy’s Harrow School, one of the most prestigious schools in the world.

The other outstanding Roedeans included Cicely Saunders, founder of the modern hospice movement; Ursula Graham Bower, famous anthropologist and guerrilla fighter in World War 11.

About turning 70 she says, “Three score (20) years and ten makes it 70, after which it is said that one’s life is a period of grace where one is free of past karma and can create seeds for the future lives. I am looking forward to having a great time with Grace for the years left.”