An inspiring tale of a dynamic Art of Living teacher who has spent the last 13 years setting up Art of Living centers in different parts of Africa. This is her life… her journey…
“In teaching others about life, you learn so much about your own life. I never knew who I was until I started teaching,” chimes Vanishree Pavadai, an Art of Living teacher from South Africa, who has spent the last 13 years setting up Art of Living centers in the remote corners of Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi, amongst other African countries, as well as South Africa. “When you teach about life, everything about your own life unfolds. Being a teacher is not about other people, it’s really about you learning about yourself. This has been my biggest lesson.”
The Humble Beginning
Coming from a fairly affluent background, Vanishree’s friends and family were aghast after she chose to become a full-time Art of Living teacher at the age of 23. “I used to stand on street corners and make these little flyers that said, ‘Breathe in, breathe out’ with my contact number and I used to call people up and tell them about my experience of the course. And people would put the phone down on me and when I’d give them the flyers, they’d squash it up and say, ‘What nonsense, such rubbish’. So, the initial years were very humbling,” smiles Vanishree, her velvety voice clear over a skype call. Turns out, she stood on these street corners with her future husband and best friend, Sanjay.
'I used to stand on street corners and make these little flyers that
said, ‘Breathe in, breathe out’ with my contact number and
I used to call people up and tell them about my experience of the course'
When she began taking courses in 1999, there were only four or five teachers in Africa, “I first started in small African towns, all in Zimbabwe. I used to make my little flyers and walk house to house and talk to people about the course. And that’s how I would start the courses. And we’d stay with Indian families all through referral. Somebody in Zimbabwe would know someone in Malawi and tell them that there’s an Indian girl coming to teach a breathing course. And then, I would end up in Malawi. Once, I had to go to another place in Central Africa. So, I go to the airport and I’m looking for the plane to take me. And the airport is like a small room. Then, they tell me, ‘Madam, that’s the plane’. And the plane was so small – me and my bags took up the whole plane,” laughs Vanishree, who was a professional dancer who traveled the world, a holder of two university degrees, and worked for an embassy before she became an Art of Living teacher.
The first course she took in Mozambique was with a translator explains Vanishree. “I took the bus to go to Mozambique to start courses there and I was so innocent, I didn’t realize that everyone there speaks Portuguese and no one speaks English. Anyway, I went to the embassy and started telling them about The Art of Living and took the first course with a translator.”
Involvement with Seva Projects
In 2002, Vanishree was asked to set up and head IAHV (The International Association for Human Values), The Art of Living’s sister organization. “So, I set up a constitution and built three houses in a township (African settlements). That was my first attempt at a major service project – building houses,” giggles Vanishree and continues, “And I learnt about building and contractors, dimensions and it was an incredible experience.”
'I was disturbed by that level of violence and
Guruji said, ‘The only thing you can do is teach
young people an alternative because
unemployment can lead to desperation, which can lead to violence’
Since 2002, she’s been the chairperson of IAHV, shares Vanishree, “I’ve been in the forefront of organizing the first Youth Leadership Training Program (YLTP) in South Africa. One day, I told Guruji(Sri Sri Ravi Shankar) that there’s so much crime here. My sister was attacked in her house in South Africa three times – she was burglarized and held up at gunpoint. And I was disturbed by that level of violence and Guruji said, ‘The only thing you can do is teach young people an alternative because unemployment can lead to desperation, which can lead to violence’. So, we organized our first YLTP for a 100 people and that was my 1st attempt at a major service project.”
The first Women’s Conference in 2005 in the Bangalore Ashram hosted 80 women from South Africa, making it the biggest delegation for the conference. Vanishree’s involvement also extended to Mission Green Earth – an initiative to plant over a billion trees in 157 countries and the Stand-Up (against poverty) Campaign.
Explains Vanishree, I have been involved consistently in seva projects through out the last 13 years in South Africa.I’ve taught a lot of Breath-Water-Sound workshops (to release physical and emotional stress), especially in the African countries, where there is limited formal education. I was one of the first teachers to teach Prison Smart (Art of Living course taught to prison inmates) as well. But I got to tell you, my inspiration has been Guruji and nothing else. I came from a home that had everything, but I never felt complete until I was in his presence. And I was inspired by the way he related to people and people related to him. And I felt that if I could just be one drop of that in terms of relating to people. Then, I’ve accomplished my role on this planet.”
Happily married, self employed now, and still a beacon of love and light in South Africa, it has been full circle for this young African woman.