Interfaith Peace and Educational Centre Opens
16 Jun 2010
A new facility promoting interfaith peace, the Asha Centre, opened on a day of celebration, also marking the 60th birthday of its founder, acclaimed human rights campaigner, Zebanoo Gifford
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A new educational facility promoting interfaith peace, the Asha Centre, has opened in the Forest of Dean. The inauguration on 11th May, was a day of celebration, which also marked the 60th birthday of its founding director, the acclaimed human rights campaigner, Zerbanoo Gifford. The Asha centre works in particular with young people, though leadership courses based on the arts, the environment and personal development.
The flamboyant Marquess of Bath, one of Asha’s patrons, unveiled a plaque as he officially declared the centre open. Dr Rashna Writer from the school of Oriental and African studies at London University, then explained how the name Asha reflects a Zoroastrian concept of order, righteousness and justice as guiding principles of human conduct.
A spiritual dimension underlines the work of the Asha Centre, which encompasses all religions and respects different traditions. This was expressed on a number of occasions during the day, beginning with an interfaith ceremony in a newly planted Peace Grove, led by the Bishop of Tewkesbury, the Right Reverend John Went. Religious leaders each walked to a young tree where they stood reciting prayers and blessings from their faiths.
Satish Kumar, editor of Resurgence magazine and celebrated peace pilgrim, then opened the Golden Tiger Eco Lodge. The specially designed educational building will allow visitors to observe birds and other wildlife without disturbing them. Satish spoke about the origins of the word ‘ecology’ and its connections with the word ‘economy’ and how these two disciplines are inter-connected. He went on to say that the Asha centre was a beacon of hope for those who wanted to have a more ecologically sustainable and profound way of living.
A building housing the centre’s renewable energy facilities for heating and hot water, was also declared open. Environmental sustainability is a foundation of the Asha centre’s operation, and at the inauguration even the plates at lunch were made of palm leaves, which could then be composted.
Tributes were then paid by friends and family to Zerbanoo, who has been a human rights campaigner throughout her life. She was the first non-white woman to be elected as a councillor for the Liberal Party, and in 2006 was honoured as International Woman of the Year. Zerbanoo has worked with numerous projects and charities involved with anti-slavery initiatives, race-relations and homelessness, and today is best known for championing the rights of young people, especially street children. She is also at the forefront of training young people from across the world to become social activists in their communities.
Musical entertainment began with a song written and performed by Positive News assistant editor, Sean Dagan Wood, in tribute to editor, Shauna Crockett Burrows, whose birthday was also being marked on the day. Shauna found herself in front of a surprise 80th birthday cake, replicating the appearance of a copy of Positive News, which was presented to her by Zerbanoo.
Following this was a unique astrological dance, choreographed by Caroline Liljestrom, a Swedish eurythmy artist. The sequence was based on the position of the planets at the precise time of Zerbanoo’s birth. Twenty-two of Zerbanoo’s friends donned colourful robes and played the part of the planets and all twelve signs of the zodiac, reciting the gifts that each planet and star sign brought to the birthday girl, such as: kindness and generosity of spirit, networking and communication skills, determination to fight for justice and equality, and her ability to bring about revolutionary change.
Speaking to BBC radio about the day, Zerbanoo quoted her favourite Freddie Mercury song: ‘It’s a kind of magic,’ she said.
Photo: An astrological dance performed at the inauguration of the Asha Centre ’ Hugh HillHM DIGIART
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