A Peace Campaign for Africa
An Art of Living teacher who has spent the last 15 years teaching meditation to people across South Africa - Meet Vanishree (Vani) Pavadai. Inspired by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's vision of a stress-free, violence-free world, Vani, initiated a global peace initiative for Africa, by Africa, on Africa Day on May 25th in 2013.
In its second year, the peace campaign has reached over 50 000 people, and united 22 African countries. In conversation, Vani, shares her passion for meditation, peace and Africa..
1. What is "I Meditate Africa" about?
It’s a very simple campaign promoting peace in Africa, encouraging the use of meditation as a mainstream peace building block. I was actually inspired by a story on "African leadership & meditation". Three years ago I went to teach an Art of Living course in Mozambique; on the course was the Mozambique former minister of Foreign Affairs who served under Former President Joachim Chissanos' cabinet. I learnt that meditation was not new to people in Mozambique, in fact it was something that they had been practicing for some time. I quickly discovered the story of the Meditating President.
The Former President of Mozambique, Joachim Chissano, was a rebel leader who came to power as a president after a devastating civil war. He learnt meditation in 1992, and quickly came to understand the vast benefits of meditating every day. He encouraged his family, his cabinet ministers, and his wider government to meditate. He further encouraged, under his presidency, military and police personnel to meditate daily for 20 minutes. Chissano has no doubt, and credits the power of mass & individual meditation as being one of the factors for peace and prosperity in his country. This has been so inspiring to me.
2. How does "I Meditate Africa" differ from other Peace Building efforts?
Talking about Peace building is one thing, and doing something concrete towards the growth of peace is another thing. As a teacher of the Art of Living, I know too well the power that the subtle tools of meditation, has over one’s mind, thoughts, and life. I have been always been inspired by how Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has taken meditation, yoga, and breathing techniques out of the spiritual path, corporate wellness sector and shared it at the table of peace building. Sri Sri visits to conflict areas, war torn countries, and his simple message of a stress-free and violence-free world, has always left an indelible impression.
There are close to 500 studies from over 200 Universities in 33 countries that scientifically validate, both, the beneficial effects of meditation and how mass meditation improves the quality of life for everyone.
So then in tackling the challenges Africa is facing today - from issues around violence, crime, corruption, trafficking - I believe that the benefits of meditation should definitely be given more serious consideration, as part of peace building. When you have a concrete tool that works, with huge research behind it, embrace it to see what can be achieved from it.
3. What is the vision of the campaign in its second year?
The campaign is a 3-year campaign which we launched on Africa Day in 2013. Last year 10 000 people were inspired from 23 African countries to meditate for peace for Africa, making it the largest peace meditation on the continent, for the continent, led by a voice of Peace and Human Values, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
When we look at what’s happening across the continent in terms of violence, unrest, terrorism, bomb blasts, social fragmentation, we felt the need to focus on getting more people to meditate, and through this, experience peace, stillness and that thread that unites us all. This is the level at which we as ordinary volunteers can effect change at; however having said that, change at the level of one’s own mind, is the starting point to make change at any other level.
We dedicated the entire month of May to educational institutes in Africa; inspiring learners to meditate anytime during the month of May for peace for Africa. We had a special African peace meditation that we used for the campaign for schools, colleges and universities. It is such a beautiful meditation by Sri Sri, with such a simple, yet powerful blessing for Africa. At the time of this interview, our outreach has been over 45 000 learners having meditated for peace for Africa. As we all know, collective meditation has a much deeper impact in the environment and cosmos.
How can that not have an impact on the continent! When so many minds are meditating and focusing on blessing Africa, it cannot but reach out at a deeper level, to the nooks and corners of the continent where it is needed the most. Sri Sri’s words resonate at this time, “Even if one percent of the population meditates, it benefits the rest 99 percent”.
If one drop of poison can kill a person, then surely one drop of ambrosia can heal a person and thousands of minds meditating for peace and love for a continent, cannot but shift that continent.
4. On Africa Day, 25th May, would mother Africa be smiling?
We are very humbled that we have 21 African countries participating in the culmination of the campaign with the global Peace Meditation on the 25th May. We are overjoyed that a leading voice of Peace in the world will guide us in stillness and quiet for the continent. South Africa, Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Botswana, Uganda, Senegal, Rwanda, Nigeria, Angola, Ghana, Togo, DRC, Tanzania, Tunisia, Egypt, Malawi, Cameroon, Mauritius, Namibia, Zambia and Morocco have all through the spirit of volunteers joined hands, hearts and minds to organize peace meditations.
We have volunteers who have arranged big public gatherings - in South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya. Then we have smaller gatherings in Morocco, Tunisia, and Uganda. In some places like the DRC, we have shared the webcast link for people to join in from wherever they are. Over 50 000 people meditating, across 22 African Countries uniting in Peace through meditation, is most remarkable. Ordinary citizens making a positive difference, I think "mama Afrika" must be smiling.
5 What do you credit the success and popularity of the campaign to?
Teamwork. We have the most amazing, dedicated, and visionary team, leading the project in South Africa. They truly encompass the spirit of leadership, action and respect. Our African team leads are so incredible as well; we all have not met personally, but chat over email, Facebook, Skype, & Whatsapp. We have language barriers, like in the Ivory Coast & Togo, however despite that, volunteers have been so willing to be part of the campaign, in whatever way they can, big or small, and pulling together as one African team in achieving something bigger. Everyone is looking to dive inwards to themselves and be at peace.
The father of our nation, Nelson Mandela, who was a meditator himself once said, "I dream of an Africa, which is in peace with itself". I think that is a dream that all Africans carry in their hearts, and "I Meditate Africa", allows the ordinary person to play a small part in making that dream a reality in some way.