“If any country's citizens needed de-stressing it would be those of Iraq. The Art of Living Foundation has a history of taking on tough tasks. It has operated similar de-stressing courses in Macedonia, Kosovo, Croatia, Gujarat and in New York after the 11 September attacks.” - BBC World News, January 14, 2004
The Art of Living Foundation is one of the few non-governmental organizations operating in Baghdad today. In cooperation with its sister organization the International Association for Human Values (IAHV), the foundation has benefited thousands of Iraqi citizens with its trauma relief programs, holistic medical care and women's empowerment projects.
Since September 2003, The Art of Living has contributed to rebuilding war-torn Iraq. The aftermath of two wars led to civil violence, economic breakdown and infrastructural shortage. The World Health Organization (WHO) announced that millions of men, women and children were in need of medical treatment and psychological counseling. One survey suggested heavy addiction to medicines for stress relief. Besides having to cope with individual stress, there was much to be done in terms of rebuilding the nation.
“Iraqis are in a catch-22 situation. In any long-drawn conflict, the victim tends to turn an oppressor and the oppressor becomes a victim. A broader vision and spiritual understanding alone can break this vicious cycle.”- Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
“There are big powers who have big might, but they are not able unite the hearts and mind of people. This work can be done only by a spiritual leader.”
- Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki after meeting Sri Sri
Understanding the needs of this humanitarian crisis, Sri Sri’s Iraq peace initiative has a two-pronged mission: providing stress relief and disaster management techniques to overcome personal stress and helping people pick up their lives through service initiatives. On the invitation of the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, prison programs are being conducted in the country’s correctional homes. Thousands of hardcore criminals are being given a vision of a pacific society. What may appear as a mere ideal is actually being lived. The Art of Living has proven that individual inner peace can be a powerful tool in resolving conflicts, and is spreading the message of peace and non-violence to Iraqis, through its specially tailored programs.
Nation Rebuilding Activities
Volunteers from around the world have been invited to form a multinational coalition of rebuilders under Sri Sri’s guidance. “The provision of aid through a multinational and multi-faith coalition will demonstrate that this is an opportunity to bring greater unity and cooperation to the world,” said Sri Sri.
“We will go back and spread the knowledge of Art of Living in Iraq. People of Iraq need this badly. They are undergoing a lot of mental and emotional tensions. Everybody is harboring revenge in their minds. Only Art of Living can help change people's mind.” - Ali
In August 2007, the collaborative effort between The Art of Living and the Iraqi government resulted in 55 Iraqis undergoing a month-long training at the international The Art of Living center in Bangalore, India. This new initiative was aimed at training the Iraqi youth to combat violence through nonviolent methods and techniques. This joint initiative came as a follow up to a proposal made by Jasmin Mohammed Jafar, the Iraqi Minister for Sports and Youth, during Sri Sri’s visit to the country in May 2007.
The youth participated in The Art of Living's innovative Youth Leadership Training Program. The program focuses on leadership, teamwork and communication skills. Participants also learn stress and trauma relief techniques through breathing, meditation and yoga.
In 2006, 43, mostly women from Baghdad, Basra, Suleimania and Karbala underwent rigorous training to become Art of Living teachers, with the aim of alleviating the suffering of fellow Iraqis. So far, 5,000 Iraqis have undergone The Art of Living trauma relief workshops and training in Ayurveda. In 2005, The Art of Living established the Iraq Women’s Empowerment Program, as an onus for Iraqi women to become financially independent. Over 500 women have undergone vocational training in tailoring and computer literacy.
The Art of Living foundation is implementing its popular 5H Program (Health, Hygiene, Homes, Human Values, Harmony in Diversity) in Iraq, empowering communities to rebuild and take responsibility for their own development. Sri Sri made a decision to visit Iraq in order to rebuild the country.
"It is critical that the world community collaborate on the rebuilding of Iraq. This must be a worldwide effort to help the Iraqi people restore their country," said Sri Sri.
Sri Sri went to the United States after a visit to Lebanon where he met with religious leaders and social activists to discuss the issue of rebuilding Iraq. "Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is hoping to gather leaders of his stature from the major faiths in Iraq once it becomes a little more calm and safe in the country," his aides said. "He wants people from other faiths to come together and say 'yes' to helping the hapless people of Iraq."
Voices from Iraq
“The situation in Iraq is so bad that people do not know how to smile and here we see everybody smiling. We had no hope and we could only pray for some power to come and take us out of the situation. We think the Art of Living is that power.” - Ramia Sagban from Baghdad.
“We knew only death and despair. Now we can smile. This is the greatest gift that the Art of Living has given us.” - Shafiqur Rehman, a trauma-relief program participant.
First published in 2009; Updated as per project updates.