In our last edition, Parsi Times was delighted to share that Zerbanoo Gifford, founder of the ASHA education centre in Flaxley, and one of the leading icons of our Zoroastrian community worldwide, was unanimously elected President of the World Zoroastrian Organisation (WZO) at its Annual General Meeting in London, on October 17, 2022.
Her extensive humanitarian work includes serving as director of Anti-Slavery International and of the Charities Aid Foundation. A former ‘International Woman of the Year’, Zerbanoo was an active figure in the movement to end apartheid in the 1980s, including the presentation of a key petition to then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Downing Street calling for mandatory sanctions against South Africa and the release of Nelson Mandela. She made history in 1982 when she became the first British Asian woman to be elected as a Liberal councillor in England. She went on to establish the ASHA Centre in the Forest of Dean in 1996 as an international education centre for young adults of different nationalities and religions, with a focus on real-life skills and confidence, sustainable living and the arts.
More recently, Zerbanoo was presented with the ’Social Entrepreneur Award’ for 2022 at the 12th World Zoroastrian Congress in New York. There, she launched a new online resource the ZASHA website, which highlights the lives and work of hundreds of inspirational Zoroastrian women. She has also recently published a book about the religion called ‘Z to A of Zoroastrianism’, featuring a forward from former Leader of the House of Lords Janet Royall, Baroness Royall of Blaisdon.
Following in the footsteps of her father – Bailey Irani, the founding President of the WZO, Zerbanoo Gifford shares her joy, her plans and her vision, as the new President of the World Zoroastrian Organisation, with Parsi Times…
“Being elected President of The World Zoroastrian organisation (WZO) is one of the greatest honours of my life; it will also finally close the circle as I follow in my father’s footsteps when daddy was chosen as WZO’s very first President. It was hoped that the newly formed WZO would be the unified body for Zoroastrians. It was to be our voice on world bodies to protect and strengthen our religion worldwide.
The youth needs to be our top priority. A few years before Covid struck, the ASHA centre hosted the first 10-day-long ‘Young Zoroastrian Leader’s Forum’, and today, all our attendees are inspiring leaders in their own right! Those special individuals have a lifetime’s connect with other Zoroastrian leaders across the world – a natural unity which lacks among the older generation. The ASHA centre will soon host and work closely with the Global Youngpreneur’s Academy led by mentors Dilnavaz Shroff and Yazdi Tantra. Global Youngpreneur’s Academy conducts life-skills and entrepreneurship workshops for children from ages 10 – 18, as also other workshops for young adults.
I will implement the WZO vision of representing us to decision-makers globally, with a presence in EU, the UN, and in every institution of power that maps out the world’s future. We may be a very small minority of minorities, but we have so much to offer to the modern world. When we speak about our ancient faith and how our prophet’s wisdom is so relevant for modern living there is an absolute fascination to know more. We should have a team of Zoroastrians that are willing and able to speak at every organisation that asks us to be present. WZO will invest in those willing to be speakers with voice training and knowledge of our faith. We will add to the list of qualified speakers active in the Interfaith Movement and assist those already active with our support.
As someone who has been at the heart of the Women’s Movement, WZO will support campaigns to empower women. It is only time and good sense before women take their place in all aspects of community life. A key mission of my Presidency will be to engage closely with our sisters to ensure they have the resources and encouragement to excel in life.
As it is the moral duty of all Zoroastrians to protect and beautify our earth, WZO will also invest and lead in the greening of our planet via the WZO Ecology and Environment committee, on planting trees and helping restore our shared planet with new life.
As the newly elected President of WZO I will work closely with the Zoroastrian Global Educators chaired by the dynamic Persis Driver in Chicago and the team from every part of our diaspora who teach our young about their faith in fun ways. There is a plan to bring out a guidebook written on how to teach and enthuse the young. In this way, we will ensure that the young have access to our faith. The young need to mix with each other and feel pride in our community. How wonderful for them and all of us to be a part of a world religion that in our prophet’s words, “Seeks happiness in the happiness of all!”