International Association for Human Values (IAHV) volunteers offered their homes and hearts to children who had lost their parents and their homes in the 2005 Kashmir earthquake. IAHV is Art of Living’s partner organization founded by Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in 2000.

In October 2005, a major earthquake shook Kashmir and left an estimated 3.3 million people homeless. Within 48 hours of the earthquake, IAHV volunteers began relief operations in Uri, Baramulla, Srinagar, Kamalkot, Tangdhar, and Kupwara.  

Creating safe havens for vulnerable children

Every morning I used to wake up with a jolt, my whole body used to ache and at night I was very scared of noises, and I missed my mother who died in the earthquake. Now I am feeling very relaxed and no longer afraid of noises.

Shared by an Art Excel graduate

Many children had lost their parents and were left homeless. They urgently needed shelter and our IAHV volunteers immediately came to the rescue. Our volunteers rented a house and furnished it with basic necessities, assembled a large number of winter beddings, set up the kitchen, and obtained cooking gas (a scarce item in the winter). And all of this was completed in less than a week!

Soon, 150 Kashmiri children arrived at the IAHV Child Care Center, Srinagar. Dilraj Bedi, an IAHV volunteer, reminisces about the day the children arrived at the center. The children were   frightened, cold and hungry – clinging to each other – scared of what was in store for them. Dilraj felt her heart reach out to these kids. “No words were spoken – all I could do was assure them that they had reached home”. By mid-January, our center took in 100 more children on an emergency basis; we hired another shelter to accommodate them.

Dealing with the tragic loss and trauma via breath work

The children suffered from fear psychosis due to years of continued violence, the memories of the recent earthquake, poverty, and domestic tensions. To alleviate this trauma we taught these children to use their breath as a tool to overcome stress and fear via our Art Excel  (now called Medha and Utkarsh yoga) program. This is a program designed by Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar to impart life skills like managing one’s mind and emotions to children between the age group 8 to 13. 

Our education initiatives are driven by a committed team of volunteers who draw their inspiration and energy from a powerful breathing technique for children taught in our Art Excel (Medha and Utkarsh yoga) program. Learn the tool from the comfort of your home.

Hilal Ahamad Bhat and Ishfaq Dhare, students of Apna Ghar, share their joy when their solar lantern project was selected as the winning entry among 4,500 entries at a Science Fair. “It was a big achievement and a matter of great pride for us,” they shared. They received the scholarship from the Chief Education Officer and a cash price.

From trauma relief to providing education and healthcare

Gradually this first house was converted into a day recreation and education center for about 150 children as the children housed here were shifted to another residential space. At this recreational center, classrooms and a computer laboratory with 20 computers were set up. A television set provided entertainment and kept the children in touch with their mother tongue, Kashmiri. Thus, the first school started in this rented house with small grounds.

Our local volunteers not only provide a comfortable home, warm clothes, nutritious meals, education, and recreation facilities to these children; but also ensured that kids have regular access to quality healthcare as kids underwent regular medical check-ups free of cost. We employed local teachers who conducted three-hour tuition sessions daily for our children. An Art of Living trainer, a specialist in providing stress-free education, trained the local teachers. Based on the children’s request, daily English classes were also arranged for them.

By the end of February 2006, 120 children in need remained and the Winter Shelters transformed to Child Care Centres with separate hostels for boys and girls and a school established in hired premises. 

Around 70 children – girls from Kazikhand, Bulvama, Bandipura, and Uri and boys from Bramulla, Anant Nag, and Manasbal – studied at the school. Training in tailoring was provided free of charge to these girls. As part of the social outreach program, some girls also taught tailoring to other affected women in the area.

Setting up the Apna Ghar school with the help of the local government

Omar Gudoo, another Apna Ghar student, received a medal in a football match in Srinagar. He joyfully dedicated this medal to IAHV.

Understanding the urgency to sustain the project on a regular basis, we collaborated with the Education Department of the Government of Jammu & Kashmir to run the school. The government sponsored and renovated an unused building which had got impacted due to terrorists attack for setting up a permanent school. The school is Apna Ghar (meaning ‘Our Home’). Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar inaugurated the new school in May 2007. The government provided salaries for the Headmistress and eight teachers, while IAHV supported the remaining teachers and ran and maintained the school by generous contributions.

Culmination of Project

Our project was completed in November 2011. All the children who were sheltered in the last six years have been successfully rehabilitated back  to their families and schools.