Haiti Reforestation Project
The Haiti Reforestation Project was born out of a need to rehabilitate the environmental crisis in the country. Estimates suggest that 98 percent of Haiti’s forests have been cut. The Republic of Haiti is the least-developed country in the Western Hemisphere and ranks 154th of 177 countries in the UN’s Human Development Index (2006). Haiti is the only country in the Americas on the UN list of Least Developed Countries. Already, ninety-eight percent of the forests have been cut down, as most the overcrowded population is dependent on charcoal-based energy (derived from wood), to survive. Deforestation has meant that 70% of land is not cultivable there is no more lumber to sell and feed the family extreme soil erosion and deforestation have made Haiti’s environment one of the most devastated in the world. Experts say that the most effective way to reverse the situation is through grassroots efforts through local communities.
Art of Living Action
In November 2007, a team of five volunteers (two from Canada, two from US and one from Egypt) went to Les Cayes, in the South Western part of Haiti to give a special 10-days Youth Leadership Training Program (YLTP) to 35 Haitian youth and eight community leaders. The program was a complete success and initiated a long-term relationship between Haiti and The Art of Living. Our YLTP program is designed to revive and enrich communities through the upliftment and transformation of youth. When given the tools to see clearly, young people have the vision to do something positive in their communities. In this case, YLTP Haiti is meant to be part of a larger project vision of helping to reforest the island of Haiti by inspiring its youth to take responsibility. During the last YLTP, the participants, planted more than two hundred fruit trees and sponsored the planting of another 150 trees. The goal of this project – which began in 2007 – is to plant and nurture 1.5 million trees in Haiti. As part of the efforts, The Art of Living is partnering with other local NGO’s to make this happen. One of them, The Friends of Petite Anse Foundation, has secured commitments from both local government and private landowners for over 30,000 acres of land to be used in reforestation, soil conservation and education for the future phase of the program. The project empowers youth to bring about socio-economic development by conducting Youth Leadership Training Programs (YLTPs) which:
- Remove individual stresses through stress-elimination programs
- Strengthen the individual by personal development techniques
- Impart technical training on proper and sustainable reforestation techniques
A team from The Art of Living is visiting Haiti every three months to teach more youth and establish permanent reforestation projects in partnership with local farmers and grassroots organizations throughout the country.
Ending the Trauma of Tsunami
On December 26, 2004, an earthquake of magnitude 9.0 shook the western coast of Northern Sumatra. The earthquake spawned a series of tsunamis that traveled across the Indian Ocean from Indonesia to Africa’s Eastern Coast leaving over 30,974 dead, 4,698 missing and 553,287 displaced in Sri Lanka. (Source: Government of Sri Lanka, Center for National Operations, 2/1/0 5). One-third of those affected are believed to be children, many of whom have been orphaned.
The Art of Living embarked on a major initiative to help the victims of the Indian Ocean Tsunami reclaim their lives. Within hours of the disaster, more than 500 volunteers swung into action distributing food, clothes, medicines, and other relief material in areas affected by the devastating tsunami, including Indonesia. Art of Living provided around 250 tons of relief supplies and 100,000 litres of drinking water to Sri Lanka. In coordination with the ASPIC Benevolent Foundation for Children, food, water, clothing and blankets were distributed to the affected children.
What the deadly tsunami washed away was not just homes and livelihood of hundreds of thousands of survivors, but also their sense of security, resulting in endless anxiety and related complications. Realising trauma care as the most vital step for survivors, the Art of Living, along with its sister concern, the International Association for Human Values (IAHV), took up the major initiative of providing trauma care using traditional holistic techniques such as meditation and breathing techniques and processes.
It conducted workshops that helped people overcome their shock and trauma, offered emotional solace and provided immediate relief from deep anguish and depression. Many reported that they could sleep properly and experienced an inner calm.
In Nagapattinam, southern India, over 50,000 people have benefited from the programme. The Art of Living Foundation was officially declared the head of trauma relief operations by the collectorate of Nagapattinam. In Sri Lanka, hundreds of Trauma Relief Programmes and counselling sessions were conducted providing relief to more than 25,000 people in over 20 cities in the country.
Significantly, the foundation also initiated long-term rehabilitation measures for the victims. In Nagapattinam, the Art of Living has built 120 houses, set up many vocational training centres and also a primary school to provide free quality education to the tsunami-affected children. Already one orphanage-cum-school is operational in Sri Lanka.
Almost four years after the disaster, the rehabilitation work still continues.
Re-integrating Indian Maoists into society
The region of Jharkhand was earlier part of the state of Bihar. It became an independent state on the 15th of November 2000. Jharkhand shares its border with the states of Bihar to the north, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh to the west, Orissa to the south and West Bengal to the east. It has an area of 28,833 sq miles (74,677 sq. km).
Jharkhand is famed for its mineral wealth and forestry products.
The people in Jharkhand have the advantage of being culturally vibrant, as reflected in the diversity of languages spoken, festivals celebrated and variety of folk music, dances and other traditions of performing arts in the region.
Mayhem of the Naxals
Jharkhand has also been at the forefront of the Maoist uprising headed by a guerilla group known as the Naxalites. Since their uprising in 1967, 6000 people have been killed in the insurgency and counter insurgency operations by the Indian Army and its paramilitary groups. The state of Jharkhand is also part of the “Naxal Belt” comprising 92,000 square kilometers. This area harbors the highest concentration of the groups estimated to be about 20,000 combatants. It is hard to imagine how Jharkhand and other naxal infested regions are a part of the same India which got free due to the principles of non-violence and peace and Satyagraha. The naxals operate mainly in the rural and tribal areas.
As mentioned earlier the state harbors a rich abundance of natural resource, while its people live in abject poverty and destitution. The impoverished state provides ample recruits for the Communist insurgents, who argue that they are fighting on behalf of the landless poor who see few benefits from the resource extractions. The law of the land states that the federal government holds a monopoly on sub-surface resources in the state, and therefore the tribal population is prevented from staking any claim on the resources extracted from their land. In retaliation, the insurgents have thus begun a campaign of targeting infrastructure related to the extraction of resources vital for Indian energy needs, such as coal. Ideologically, the naxals claim they are against the system and therefore target politicians, police and forest contractors and village landlords. But they are also known to tax the tribals. One therefore wonders if the movement has lost its vision and the naxals are compromising on their starting principles.
Art of Living Initiatives through their YLTP
Neither the rebels, nor the government have been able to resolve the problems of the people of the land all these years. Voluntary groups such as The Art of Living and other similar thinking organizations joined together to pacify the Naxal methods of justice and bring some kind of peace to the region. The camps teach them yoga and meditation techniques. Over a 100 naxals, of which 30 have been hard core rebels, and 20,000 village folks have participated in The Art of Living courses. Some youths who took The Art of Living Course have now taken up the YLTP and are seen to be working in remote parts of Jharkhand.
They have tried to:
- Maintain a continuous dialogue with the naxals
- Reinforce non violent means for resolving problems
- Create avenues to help the rebels to reintegrate into mainstream society
- Counsel people to cope with the trauma of violence and terrorism unleashed by Naxals
- Conduct trauma relief programs in affected areas including remote villages
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar visited the naxal-infested regions of Jharkhand in Feb 2009. He said, “Maoists are good at heart. They are fighting against corruption and disparity. There is a need to bring them into the mainstream of society. The country needs their service.” He added, “If these committed youth take to politics, they can use their energy to bring a change in society.”
As a consequence of this appeal by Guruji to “shun the bullet and take the ballot” two ex-maoist leaders, Ranjan Keshwar Yadav and Shree Kameshwar Bhaita contested the 2009 Lok Sabha elections in Jharkhand.
The Indian border state has been perpetually caught in a web of tension, violence and instability ever since the partition of India in 1947. Today, Kashmir is counted among the world’s most volatile hotspots. The Art of Living has been pursuing a multi-pronged approach to bring peace in troubled Jammu and Kashmir.
For the last five years, The Art of Living has launched several initiatives aimed not only at restoring peace, but also at alleviating the suffering of people. Its intervention spans four broad areas: trauma relief courses for all sections of society, bringing a sense of harmony by opening avenues for dialogue between people of diverse viewpoints, working to alleviate the plight of people in migrant camps, schools and child-care centers for children affected by the trauma and initiating programs for the youth.
To wean away youth from violence and isolate them from the web of uncertainty, The Art of Living has been conducting its Youth Leadership Training Program (YLTP) since 2003. The program has been so popular with youth of the state that the participants of the first program which was held in Doda in 2003 with about 70 youths in attendance generated over 10 such program within a very short time. The program has been extremely successful in turning misguided youth into physically strong, mentally alert and morally responsible individuals who are ready to cross all their comfort zones and become role models for others. About 2200 youths from 12 districts in the region have been trained through the YLTP program. These youth take up rehabilitation work of the valley under the umbrella of the welfare programs undertaken by The Art of Living organization. They perform diverse activities like:
- Cleaning camps
- Medical camps – Patients treated
- Toilets constructed
- Tree plantation