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Asia Focus:


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What happens when 40 people from 20 countries discover India together?

Jyothi Subrahmanyan:

Last year I was in North-East India. There I saw how desperately my country needs to help all our communities, cultures and races appreciate each other. I felt this could be true for many areas of the world.

As a result, I decided to co-ordinate a course called "An Experiment in Learning to Live Together". It took place at Asia Plateau, the MRA centre in Western India. We invited widely, and 40 people attended from 20 countries.

It proved to be a road we all walked together, sharing not only the joys and beauty of the journey but the pain and struggles of one another.

It was not an easy experiment. Some came from situations of great suffering. Their very presence challenged all complacency. As Mr V C Viswanathan from New Delhi put it, "The future of the world depends on the choices each of us make, the values we live by, and our willingness to listen and obey the still, small voice within, which urges us to take responsibility. We cannot change our yesterdays but we can change our tomorrows. We cannot wipe out the painful memories of injuries we and our people have done to others. But we can ask forgiveness, and dedicate ourselves to healing the hurts."

The first six weeks of the course were mainly spent at Asia Plateau. We taught each other about our countries, our religions and our culture. Distinguished Indians came and spoke. We discovered the joy of working together and serving in the kitchen. We met industrial workers and managers who came to Asia Plateau for a seminar on Creative Leadership. In a neighbouring village we worked with villagers to improve an approach road to the water hole, then spent the evening swapping songs with them.

We had many glimpses of a global community being built. A Taiwanese said that she had learnt so much because "here people are colour-blind". A Korean spoke bitterly on arrival about the way Japan had treated her country; but before she left, she and the Japanese participant had found wholehearted reconciliation. A Tibetan headmaster said, "Coming to this course meant missing religious ceremonies which are very important to us Tibetans. But I don't regret my decision." An Australian said, "I have been totally blown away by the past six weeks!"

After the time at Asia Plateau we set out on a 6000 km journey to Bangalore, Salem, Hyderabad and Jamshedpur, meeting a vast range of people. Some went to Varnasi while the rest went to Delhi, Calcutta or Bhopal. Everywhere people opened their homes and hearts and went out of their way to make us part of their family. Many said Jamshedpur was the cherry on the cake. There they saw how ideas learnt in the Creative Leadership seminars at Asia Plateau had been incorporated into management training in the industries, had improved worker-manager relationships and had inspired a range of rural development projects.

Often during their travels the course participants told of new insights they had gained through the course. Insights such as:

If we search for truth, we must start with honesty in our own lives. Instead of constant self-protection, I have learnt to accept criticism. I have discovered new dimensions to my character.

Elspeth Herring, Australia

We need forgiveness in Cambodia. That is the way we will turn enemies into friends so that we can all work to solve our problems. Lord Buddha said, "Hatred does not cease by hatred, conquer the angry man with love, conquer the miser with generosity, conquer the liar with truth."

Chiv You Meng, Cambodia

I came to the course with many expectations, but at first was disappointed and frustrated. Then I realised it is easy to be critical. I had to ask myself, 'Am I going to be a bystander or try to make a difference?' During our travels, living with Indian families, I have been touched by their sincerity and hospitality. Although India has more poverty than Taiwan, the spirit here has a lot to teach us. My time in India has made me feel responsible to care for the people in Mainland China.

Hsu Show Feng, Taiwan

I have come to understand that freedom comes with responsibility. To live is to grow, and to grow is to change, and to grow fully involves changing many times for the better. This is possible if you have a direction to follow and the determination to stick to it with discipline and divine help.

Duma Nqono, South Africa

One night a friend told me that he had cheated in his exams, then had decided to be honest. I thought of my professor and my cheating in his exam. I couldn't get rid of the thought. I felt ashamed and sorry. So I have written him a letter of apology.

In my heart I discovered hatred towards Japan. After a Japanese friend apologised to us for the hurts her country had inflicted on Korea, I was able to change and to love the Japanese. I have written to a Japanese friend I had lost touch with, and he has written back.

Park Young Ho, Korea

I have found this an enriching, painful and challenging time. I found it hard to interact with people from other parts of the world. There were many fears and conflicts within me and I wanted to be free. I prayed hard, crying to God. One night I had a deep spiritual experience. I felt a warm electricity in my whole being. I felt at peace. After this I prayed every day for strength and learning. In times of quiet I have begun to see what I should do about my life.

It was not easy to decide to stay for the second phase of the course. But my great grandfather, Chief Walking Buffalo, said that you learn from people, from God and even from trees; trees make room to grow side by side without crowding. The beauty of this country made me see beauty inside myself that I didn't know was there.

Traci Crawler, Stoney First Nation, Canada

Last update: 2000-02-12 17:20:13 (EEST).
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