By Sanaya Irani
The ASHA Centre, nestled in the Royal Forest of Dean in England, is a charity that works to empower young people and foster interfaith understanding and sustainable development. The Centre that is founded by the iconic Zerbanoo Gifford, is internationally recognised as a hub for people to experience each other’s cultures, faiths and shared humanity. It is a place where people become more conscious of their life purpose and can connect more deeply with nature, each other and their higher selves.
For the thousands of people from all cultures and faiths who have visited ASHA, it is often the first time they learn about Zoroastrianism and experience its principles in action – beautifying and caring for the environment, fighting for other’s human rights, equality, public service, generosity and the importance of a free will.
For me, ASHA is the most beautiful place on earth, a sentiment that resonates with almost everyone who visits the Centre. Incredibly nourishing for the mind, body and soul — something desperately needed in our chaotic world — the ASHA Centre is spread over five acres of beautifully manicured gardens with an abundance of roses, tulips, apples and cherry trees.
I first visited the ASHA Centre in 2013, and soon discovered that they were the best two months of my life. My short time there dramatically changed my outlook on life. I was fortunate enough to participate in some of ASHA’s enriching courses that bring an integrated approach to learning through the head, heart and hands. Through those courses, I discovered a lot about myself and the world around me.
ASHA ignited something inside me and I promised myself I would return for a longer period to immerse myself completely and absorb everything this sacred space had to offer. In July 2017, I quit my marketing job in New Zealand to volunteer at the Centre.
During my stint at ASHA, Zerbanoo and I put our heads together to organize the first-ever World Zoroastrian Youth Leaders Forum, where global youth leaders came together for a powerful congregation. It was a dream come true for Zerbanoo who believes that the future of our faith and community lies in the hands of our very dynamic young people. She believes the world has much to learn from Zoroastrians and their proactive approach to life. This big-hearted attitude underpins the ethos at ASHA, a place where the seven Amesha Spentas are honoured and where ASHA Vahishta thrives.
A big reason why I organized this Forum at ASHA was to share this extraordinary place with other young Zoroastrians from around the world who would be inspired by the beauty of the land and the wisdom of the people who work here.Every year ASHA also hosts young Zoroastrians from the UK for their annual summer retreat. The hope is the young Zoroastrians will make lasting friendships, have fun and work on plans to enliven their community.The ASHA Centre is the perfect venue for initiatives that allow the participants to connect deeply with the healing power of nature and their higher selves.
In our fragmented society, the work ASHA does is so imperative in building an inclusive and cohesive future. I have no doubt in my mind, that as ASHA evolves, the Centre will continue to transform lives.This cultivated heaven-on-earth holds a very special place in my heart and I can’t wait to return with my daughter Spenta to show her a promise of a better future.