Zerbanoo Gifford elected President of the World Zoroastrian Organisation
Being elected President of The World Zoroastrian organisation (WZO) is one of the greatest honours of my life. It will also finally close the circle as I follow in my father’s footsteps. When my father Bailey Irani attended the first World Congress of Zoroastrians in Tehran, I was a schoolgirl at Roedean School near Brighton the beautiful seaside resort in Britain. I still have the photo of Daddy shaking hands with the Shah in a line with other distinguished Zoroastrians who were all men. The former deputy Prime Minister of Iran our own Farhang Mehr was in attendance too. Daddy was chosen to be the WZO first President. It was hoped that the newly formed WZO would be the unified body for Zoroastrians. It was to be our voice on world bodies to protect and strengthen our religion worldwide.
The world has certainly changed over sixty years. Women have now major players in every sphere of endeavour. Our prophet Zoroaster was the first feminist who asked both men and women to live according to their own good understanding of life. Zoroaster did not prescribe does and don’ts because he trusted that we would do what was good and right. I believe we as a global community have lived up to his trust.
This July, the ZASHA website was launched at the 12th World Congress in New York. It was the first time the brilliance of our women who excel in every field was on view for the entire world. What is so wonderful is not just that our Zoroastrian women shine in every field of endeavour but their sense of giving back to others.
A key mission of my Presidency will be to engage closely with our sisters, actively engage with our young to ensure they have the resources and encouragement to excel as is their destiny and to work with organisations and dedicated Zoroastrians that tirelessly work for the good of our global community.
Today the young are openly questioning those in power. Deference to hierarchy is ignored. They demand change. To listen to them is an education in itself. They know what they want and if we do not adapt to their needs and ideals, they will just pass us oldies by. I am confident that all of us and especially those with great wealth and a great heart will invest in the education and inspiration of our young. The young must be our first priority. Some years back before the dreaded covid bought the world to rest, the ASHA centre in Britain hosted the first Young Zoroastrian Leader’s Forum, and the results of that wonderful 10 days speaks for itself. Today each one of those that attended the course are admired leaders in their own right. The remarkable Arzan Wadia, the chair of Fezana is an example of the excellence. As importantly those special individuals have now a lifetimes connection with other Zoroastrian leaders across the world. A natural unity which we lack among us oldies!
At the ASHA centre we also hope to soon host and work closely with the Global Young Entrepreneur’s campaign. Led by journalist Dilnavaz Shroff and Yazdi Tantra of Zoroastrian net. They both have a vision and charm to see their passion realised for our young to be great innovators. Our forefathers were great entrepreneurs which enabled them to be great philanthropists. Our community is known for its innate generosity of spirit not just to our own but the wider communities in which we live peacefully and are loved. It is so inspiring to know that our Sir Jamshedji Tata is now claimed as the greatest philanthropist that ever lived giving away $ 102.4 billion equivalent in his lifetime. What an inspiration for our young. I am in no doubt we have many aspiring young TATAs among us, but they need to be enabled to show their greatness.
I will make it my business to implement the WZO vision of representing us to opinion formers across countries and faiths. We need to be known in the European Union as well as in the UN. To those that are active in the International Women’s movement as well as major NGOs. In every institution of power that maps out the world’s future. We may be a very small minority of minorities, but we have so much to offer to the modern world. When we speak about our ancient faith and how our prophet’s wisdom is so relevant for modern living there is an absolute fascination to know more. We should have a team of Zoroastrians that are willing and able to speak at every organisation that asks us to be present. WZO will invest in those willing to be speakers with voice training and knowledge of our faith. We will add to the list of qualified speakers active in the Interfaith Movemen and assist those already active with our support.
WZO will support campaigns to ensure the acceptance of our women who wish to train as female Mobedeyars. With the blessing of the WZO chair Rumi Sethna and the whole committee our resident Dastoor Fali Madon is training Navaz Vatcha to become a Mobedyar. This is controversial, but WZO have led on many issues that were regarded unacceptable and today are accepted. The welcoming of children of mixed heritage, the welcoming of non-Zoroastrians who wish to give respect to deceased Zoroastrian they knew and were related to. The welcoming of all those that wish to respectfully learn about our faith. It takes courage and kindness to be open hearted and open minded.
It is said, ” a great deal of talent is lost to the world for a want of a little courage.” WZO will work with Armita Dalal of California and team to engage our community as to the benefits of allowing women to be train as Mobedyars. As someone who has been at the heart of the Women’s Movement, I have experienced the agony with my friends in the Church of England to have women become ordained. Today they are Bishops. The same divisions in the Jewish community before their women were allowed to become rabbis. It is only time and good sense before women take their place in religious life of our community.
WZO will invest and lead in the greening of our planet. It is a moral duty for all Zoroastrians to protect and beautify our earth. We will start with the greening of our own surroundings. WZO headquarters in London in Freddie Mercury Close will to be planted with roses, a Persian plant which originated in our ancient paradise gardens. The WZO Ecology and Environment committee chaired by the horticulturalist Zinnia Khajotia with such with distinguished WZO members as Homi Khushrokhan will work closely with Behram Pastakia of Washington DC and Ecologist Rashneh Pardiwala on planting trees and helping to restore our shared planet with new life.
As the newly elected President of WZO I will work closely with the Zoroastrian Global Educators chaired by the dynamic Persis Driver in Chicago and the team from every part of our diaspora who teach our young about their faith in fun ways. There is a plan to bring out a guidebook written on how to teach and enthuse the young. In this way we can ensure that the young have access to our faith knowing that the experts have shown us all how this can be achieved successfully. The young need to mix with each other and feel pride in our community. How wonderful for them and all of us to be a part of a world religion that in our prophet’s words ” Seeks happiness in the happiness of all.”Zerbanoo Gifford