What happens when 4 Dasturjis, 2 architects, 2 therapists, 2 Lawyers, an advertising exec, an entrepreneur, a paramedic, a filmmaker, a sommelier, a colonel in the US army, a political consultant, a yoga instructor…. all walk into the Forest of Dean in England?
A social movement finds its wings!
Article by Narges Kakalia
In March 2018, a group of young Parsi and Iranian Zoroastrians from India, Pakistan, Canada, the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand gathered for ten days at the inaugural World Zoroastrian Youth Leadership Forum at the beautiful Asha Center in England. They came at the generous invitation of Zerbanoo Gifford, who founded the Asha Center, a beautiful, serene retreat space in Gloucestershire, that delivers transformative education “to bring about lasting inner, social and environmental change.” The Asha Centre was founded on Zoroastrian-inspired principles of environmental and social sustainability. The Forum was organized by Asha Center intern Sanaya Master of New Zealand, who helped run the Forum. The participants had all been identified as people who play leadership roles in their local communities.
The Forum was nothing short of transformative for the participants. The group of 20 young Zoroastrians worked together under the auspices of instructors Mark Gifford, an interfaith minister who has extensively studied Zoroastrianism, and Adrian Locher, an actor, director and specialist in conflict resolution. Through various exercises and energizers, Adrian and Mark helped the Forum participants connect with each other at a deep level. Then, together, the participants identified challenges facing Zoroastrian communities worldwide (some examples included youth engagement/empowerment, global support for Udvada Iranshah, diminishing knowledge of/engagement with scriptures/religious texts, the need for appropriate places of worship in the diaspora, etc.) and then brainstormed ways to surmount those challenges to build a stronger, more sustainable community. While religious education was discussed, the main focus of the Forum was on building momentum for engagement and active participation at every level of the global Zoroastrian community. The Forum concluded with the participants starting a written document that sets forth a mission, vision statement, and plans and projects for the future.
Of course no Zoroastrian event could ever be complete without some fun, silliness, and an obsessive focus on food and drink. In addition to the daily question, “what are we eating today,” the Forum saw the first ever Zoroastrian Masterchef challenge, a Zoros-Got-Talent night (featuring Lion King sung in a dagli, and sari-clad Spice Girls), a few heartfelt Freddie Mercury invocations, and roadtrips (to Oxford and Wales) during which some enterprising young Zoroastrians used bathroom breaks to buy and bootleg alcohol onto the Asha Center premises. Groups of participants routinely stayed up until 2 or 3 am, discussing their various communities and bonding with fellow participants over hot topic debates and games of Mafia! When the Forum concluded, the organizers, participants, staff and volunteers at the Asha Center bid each other somewhat tearful goodbyes. Though begun, the challenging work of initiating and building sustainable projects for a stronger community still remains. Stay tuned to this space for progress reports over the months and years to come.
Diana Bharucha, Seattle USA
Karl Desai, Sydney Australia
Jim Engineer, Chicago USA
Tanya Hoshi, Toronto Canada
Kayras Irani, Vancouver Canada
Narges Kakalia, New Jersey USA
Tinaz Karbhari, Auckland New Zealand
Jehaan Kotwal, Mumbai India
Shazneen Limjerwala, Mumbai India
Jimmy Madon, Lemington Spa, UK
Sanaya Master, Auckland New Zealand
Layla Mazdayasni, San Diego USA
Shazneen Munshi, London UK
Shireen Patel, Lahore Pakistan
Sheherazad Pavri, Mumbai India
Cyrus Rivetna, Chicago USA
Arashasp Shroff, Toronto Canada
Benafsha Shroff, Denver USA
Cainaz Vakharia, Washington D.C. USA
Arzan Sam Wadia, New York USA