The Art of Living has been conferred with the Geospatial Excellence Award for Water Resources Conservation as part of the India Geospatial Awards at GeoSmart India 2019, for the use of advanced geospatial technology and innovation in reviving 40 rivers and tributaries across 4 Indian states benefiting 49.9 lakh people

Leading transformative initiatives in the water sector, Art of Living has been recognized as one of the India’s leading NGOs in using geospatial technologies towards reviving rivers and fresh water sources across India,” the organizers said in an introductory note, “The organization (The Art of Living) has built key platforms and solutions needed to support a robust Resources Management System. Initiating leading technologies and related engineering, Art of Living has managed to enhance the capabilities of the Indian people in responding proactively and efficiently to water scarcity situations and is constantly striving to build a robust and sustainable water resources ecosystem in India.

Dr Lingaraju, The Art of Living River rejuvenation Project Director says

Now the time has come to put back the water in the ground. Five to six decades of surface water mismanagement has brought us to this level. The methodology that we use is to revive nature and bring back the rivers by copying nature to fill the dried up aquifers which will eventually help the river to flow once again. Our model has worked well and can be replicated in other states as well.

The Art of Living experts use remote sensing and satellite mapping to identify long-buried rivers that have dried up either due to lack of sufficient groundwater or because of silt accumulation, owing to deforestation and industrial waste that lands up in our river ecosystem. Once the catchment areas are identified, network of recharge structures are planned to increase storage of water and raise the water table. Technology is adapted to the topography and the geology of the region and a unique approach is undertaken for different projects

Another aspect of the project, is engagement with local communities-through Art of Living capacity building measures, the individual is empowered, and the community is brought together, resulting in a harmonious environment. Volunteers on ground are trained to interpret remote sensing data, to take the project forward.

Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar founded The Art of Living has also been included in the Limca Book of Records 2019-India At Her Best for the ‘Most extensive river rejuvenation by an NGO’ for the organization’s effort to resolve the country’s severe water problem by reviving 40 rivers and its tributaries in four Indian states and making more water available by raising the water table especially in drought prone regions, benefiting 49.9 lakh people in over 5000 villages.


Limca Book Of Records for ‘Most Extensive River Rejuvenation By Any NGO’

Bengaluru, 8 February 2019: Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar-founded The Art of Living has been included in the Limca Book of Records 2019- India At Her Best for the ‘Most extensive river rejuvenation by an NGO’ for the organization’s effort to resolve the country’s severe water problem by reviving 40 rivers and its tributaries in four Indian states and making more water available by raising the water table especially in drought prone regions, bene ting 49.9 lakh people in over 5000 villages.

The Limca Book Of Records India stated, ‘In January 2013, Art of Living an NGO, launched a campaign in the river basin of four states (Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Odisha) to revive 40 rivers and streams, and 26 lakes and ponds of nine river basins…The project will benefit 5,055 villages and impact 4,993,840 people.’

The environmental, social and economic impact of The Art of Living’s river rejuvenation project has been far reaching and sustainable, bringing communities together in the common goal of mitigating the crucial water crisis.

Shweta Singhal, District Collector of Satara has shared, “Wherever The Art of Living has worked, conflicts have stopped, people have come together and worked for the project. There is a lot of work done in watershed by The Art of Living in Satara where villages dependent on tankers are now tanker free.”

Results of third party impact assessment indicated that the ground water levels in areas with Art of Living interventions are 20% higher than those without. Ground water recharge mechanisms have been reinstated leading to availability of water even in peak summers.

“For the last 8 years there was no water,” says Dayanand, a farmer from Kalaspur village, “Farming was dependent only on rains, hence had only 1 crop a year. Now water is available throughout the year and I grow 3 crops a year. Earlier my income was Rs. 30,000 to 40,000. Now it is over Rs. 3 lakh. My family and me are very happy.”

The project works on the philosophical principle that individual transformation alone can bring social transformation. As a nodal agency, The Art of Living collaborates with local communities, corporations and government to get the massive task of river rejuvenation underway. First, geological scientists and environmental experts carry out extensive scientific assessment of the area using geohydrological surveys and remote sensing technologies. Then, with the help of community participation programs, contribution of Art of Living volunteers and over 5000 locals, ground water recharge structures are constructed and desilting of pollutants carried out. For the long term, steps have been taken to encourage afforestation and shifting to cropping patterns for climate resilient farming practices.


IAHV Rehabilitation and training program provide trauma relief to 14,000 refugees

Emirati Woman spreading peace and happiness amongst war victims and refugees of the region

Over 14,000 war refugees living in Jordan and Lebanon have found new lease to happiness and hope through recently-concluded training programs conducting by the International Association for Human Values (IAHV) and its sister organization The Art of Living. The Project which started in 2016 aims to reach out to another 4000 vulnerable, at-risk and high potential Iraqi and Syrian refugees by mid of next year, accomplishing the task of providing relief to a almost 18,000 people on completion.

Focused towards war victims, youth, women and children, the tailor-made programs comprised numerous workshops in the region to help people cope with trauma of war, loss of lives and possessions and of being

Besides children and youth, over 2000 parents were also trained for Healing, Resilience and Empowerment Program in Jordan and Lebanon so that they are able to provide support to their children. Moreover, almost 400 teachers and social workers were trained for Personal Care.

The IAHV and The Art of Living (AOL) was founded by humanitarian and spiritual leader Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who has been globally active in spreading the message of peace and humanity. Gurudev will be visiting UAE this week to conduct a big Yoga and Meditation event by the name Illuminate Peace in Fujairah on 15th November and a two-day Meditation Master class, ‘Unveiling Infinity’ on 16th and 17th November in Dubai.

Talking about the peace and rehabilitation efforts and her own journey from being a successful investment banker managing money to managing traumatized minds, Ms Mawahib al Shaibani, CEO of Art of Living, Gulf and Middle East said, “I am proud of my Emirati roots and the values we have imbibed as UAE nationals.Our country is home to over 176 different ationalities who live together peacefully and harmoniously and that’s the message I want to spread to the world.

“Meeting Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, was a big turning point in my life. Inspired by his mission to serve humanity, I decided to take a sabbatical to travel across Iraq, teaching the Art of Living Happiness program and what I saw there changed my life irrevocably. Since then I have been working to provide trauma relief to refugees and victims of war in Syria and Iraq spreading the message of peace and humanity.

It makes me really happy that Gurudev will soon be visiting UAE to conduct a massive peace program through the masterclass. It’s a rare opportunity for the residents of this country to benefit from his presence and find the real purpose of their lives. I strongly suggest everyone to attend his sessions to re-discover themselves and find inner peace and happiness in true sense”, added Ms Shabani.

Implementing its popular 5H Program (Health, Hygiene, Homes, Human Values, Harmony in Diversity) in Iraq that empowers communities to rebuild and take responsibility for their own development, the AOL has made a marked difference to the lives of people. In Iraq alone, their Rehabilitation program provided relief to over 10,000 people, training 4000 in tailoring and computers and over 300 in hospitality and finance.

IAHV programs are designed to address specific problems faced by the affected groups in Lebanon and Jordan. These are tailor-made to suit the situation and the sensibilities of the region and culture. Selected youth in the region are specially trained as Youth Peace Ambassadors who are responsible for designing and implementing awareness and peace building projects to prevent and reduce violence in their families, schools and communities. So far, 60 Youth Peace Ambassadors have been trained.

As a long term plan, IAHV will be conducting regular follow-up sessions for Personal Care graduates, which will prepare them to take the Training of Trainers (TOT), another bold step in the project that will ensure multiplication and sustainability across the most vulnerable schools and communities in Jordan.


Dubai inmates gain new prison smarts with yoga, breathing

IAHV aims to train 1,000 inmates in a year.
Hundreds of Dubai prisoners learn meditation and yoga to heal trauma

Dubai: Hundreds of prison inmates in Dubai have found fresh optimism to turn their life around with yoga, helping them breathe in positivity and breathe out the trauma.

Aided by a unique programme, the Prison Stress Management and Rehabilitation Training (Prison Smart), an initiative of the International Association for Human Values (IAHV) and supported by Dubai government’s Community Development Authority (CDA), many prisoners in Dubai have had life-changing experiences.

Applying healing methods such as yoga, pranayama and other breathing techniques to help prisoners improve their mental and physical health, the programmes aim to help people caught up in the criminal justice system.

Over the next year, IAHV aims to train at least 1,000 inmates in Dubai in new skills, imparted by Prison Smart. Globally, more than 700,000 prison inmates in 60 countries have benefited from the programme, helping end the repeated cycle of violence, abuse and return to prison.

The programme has been a success with prisoners in Dubai who now sleep better, think more clearly and are beginning to take responsibility for their actions, say social workers involved in the programme.

Course participants have reported a decrease in depression, anxiety and interpersonal conflict; clarity in thinking; increased alertness and resilience to daily life stresses and improved immunity and physical well-being.

Sausan Mahmood, specialist social worker at CDA, said the authority has received great feedback from prisoners who have attended the Prison Smart programme.

There is a significant change in inmate attitudes, especially those with longer sentences such as life imprisonment. There is a perceptible decrease in instances of violence and fighting, and they have become more organised and responsible. With people from so many different nationalities, cultures and backgrounds under the same roof, yoga and other breathing exercises help them to get along, maintain a sense of harmony and be nicer to one another, said – Mahmood.

Inside every culprit, there is a victim crying for help. That person is also a victim of ignorance, small-mindedness and lack of awareness. It’s stress, lack of a broad vision on life, lack of understanding, and bad communication that leads to violence in society, said Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, IAHV’s founder.

Prison Smart is an internationally renowned rehabilitation programme that empowers inmates with skills needed to heal trauma.


Sri Sri on countering violence: We need to help people move beyond their prejudices

The Brazilian Government conferred Sri Sri Ravi Shankar with the title of ‘Friend of Military Police of Brazil’, as more than 1,000 military officials have benefited by Art of Living’s meditation workshops.

Marking Mahatma Gandhi’s 149th birth anniversary, global humanitarian and peacemaker, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of The Art of Living, emphasised the need for people to recognise the universal values that connect everyone in spite of the religious and cultural diversity in the country while speaking at world summit on countering violence.

The event was organized by The Art of Living’s sister concern International Association for Human Values along with the From India With Love Project at the Art of Living International Center in Bengaluru.

The Brazilian Government today conferred Gurudev with the title of ‘Friend of Military Police of Brazil’, as more than 1,000 military officials have benefited by Art of Living’s meditation workshops.

“Violence free society, inhibition free intellect, trauma free memory, sorrow free soul is the birthright of every individual,” said Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. He is said to have convinced the FARC about the strategic importance of following Gandhi’s principles of non violence, that played a crucial catalyst in ending the 53-year old civil conflict between FARC, one of the largest left-wing guerilla movement, and the Colombian government.

Gurudev has also been actively involved in helping resolve long-standing conflicts and provide crucial post-conflict trauma relief and rehabilitation in areas such as the middle east, Colombia, Kosovo, Lebanon, Syria, Africa, Pakistan, India’s northeast and Kashmir.

While addressing over 30 members from the US National Police Foundation along with global thinkers, policy-makers, law enforcement officials, activists, lawmakers and scholars who came together to deconstruct modern day conflicts and approaches to solving them through Gandhian principles of non-violence, Gurudev said:

We need to help people see beyond their prejudice. We all talk different languages and our cultures are different and so are our ways of worship. Spirituality is recognizing universal values and diversity that exists in our creation.”

Putting India on the global map as the hub of peace tourism, the conference saw the delegation travel from the US to India and immerse themselves in local Indian culture and participate in workshops to understand the wisdom behind ‘Ahimsa.’

The conference played host to the likes of Dr. Frank Straub, and Dean Esserman from the National Police Foundation, Dr. Makarand Paranjpe, Director, Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Dr. Joseph Smith, Mayor of North Miami, Charlie Allen, Institute for Economics and Peace and other lawmakers, peacekeepers, researchers and thought leaders.

“In my 35 years of careers as a police officer, I have seen terrorism, separatism of all shades,” said Padmashri Prakash Singh, former DIG, UP Police, “I believe from experience that corruption is common thread that runs through most of the problem which leads to bad governance leading to discrimination, exploitation, unequal growth which is a cause for frustration, anger and unrest.”

“As Gurudev had mentioned in one of his speech that solution for this is education which is multilingual, multiracial, mulitctural, multireligious so that once you know about other people, other denomination and thoughts you develop respect for them, and resulting in proportion of conflict will go down,” he added.

The conference began with emphasizing the power of inner peace in creating sustainable peace in the world around us. The need for peace activism was also emphasized. Experts shared their unique perspectives to the complexities and nuances of creating a world of non-violence. They discussed the causes of strife ranging from religious dogma to repression, shared personal stories of how witnessing violence led to a resolve to make a difference and explored how conflict goes beyond what’s visible and obvious.

Delegation dove deep in the solutions part of the conference- interfaith dialogue, protecting women and children, strategies for gang interventions, preventing recidivism in correction centres among others were discussed.


Youth find it fashionable to lose temper, says Sri Sri

Art of Living founder Sri Ravi Shankar, Director of Strategic
Studies, Police Foundation, USA, Frank Straub and Union Minister of State (MoS) Home Affairs
Hansraj Ahir at the photo exhibition of Mahatma Gandhi as the part of 2nd day of CVE summit at Art of Living International Center.

Violence free society, inhibition free intellect, trauma free memory and sorrow free soul are the birthrights of every human, said Sri Sri Ravi Shankar on Tuesday. The spiritual leader and founder of the Art of Living said that people should see beyond their prejudice to end violence.

While speaking at the ‘World Summit on Countering Violence’ he expressed concern about today’s youth turning aggressive at little matters. “Losing their temper has become a fashion among the youngsters recently. This is due to the influence of films and media. If they don’t have the strength to tackle a problem, they turn aggressive and that finally leads to depression,” he said.

Over 30 delegates from across the world participated in the summit organized at Art of Living International Center in Bengaluru. The conference began with emphasizing the power of inner peace that helps sustain non-violence in the world. Experts shared their perspectives on the complexities and nuances of creating a non-violent world. They discussed issues from religious dogma to repression causing strife and shared personal stories of how witnessing violence led to a resolve to make a difference.

“In my 35 years as a police officer, I have seen terrorism and separatism of all shades. Corruption is the common thread that runs through most of the problems leading to bad governance. This in turn leads to discrimination and exploitation causing frustration and anger,” said Prakash Singh, former DIG, Uttar Pradesh police.

As part of Mahatma Gandhi’s 149th birth anniversary, they also discussed approaches to solve modern day conflicts through Gandhian principles of non-violence.


Delegation from US National Police Foundation visits Mani Bhavan

Delegation of members of the US National Police Foundation from departments such as NYPD, LAPD, Miami PD along with global thinkers, policy makers, law enforcement officials, activists, lawmakers and scholars who are in India to participate in the World Summit on Countering Violence and Extremism being organized by the Art of Living and International Association for Human Values and the With Love From India project, have been touring Mumbai as part of their cultural immersion program to learn about the Gandhian principles of ‘Ahimsa.’

60 years after Martin Luther King visited this place to learn about the ways and influences of Mahatma Gandhi who started a resistance movement with the tool of non violence, the delegation of top cops and former police officers from the US visited the famous Mani Bhavan, which was the head quarter of Mahatma Gandhi’ activities during India’s freedom struggle. “(The visit) presents a unique and important opportunity to explore Gandh’s principles of nonviolence and work with police and community leaders to counter violence and extremism,” Chief (Ret.) Jim Bueermann, President of the National Police Foundation said while interacting with media here.

The delegation is touring Mumbai from the 28th to 30th of September, and will learn about Indian spiritual wisdom and techniques like Meditation and Sudarshan Kriya.

“With increasing violence in today’s world, Gandhian principles of Ahimsa are more relevant than ever before,” said Darshak Hathi, director, International Association for Human Values, “They teach us to choose love over fear and hatred. In all of The Art of Living’s peace missions, our approach has been to transform the individual, setting up the foundation for a peaceful society. Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has inspired many people to follow the Gandhian principles of Non Violence, and it is only fitting that we honour Mahatma Gandhi on his 149th Birth Anniversary by taking his message to more people around the world.”

In the second leg of the trip, marking Mahatma Gandhi’s 149th Birth Anniversary, the delegation will come together to brainstorm solutions to modern day conflicts through Gandhian principles of Non-Violence at the Art of Living International Center in Bangalore.

The conference is all set to play host to the likes of Dr. Frank Straub, and Dean Esserman from the National Police Foundation, Dr. Makarand Paranjpe, Director, Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Dr. Joseph Smith, Mayor of North Miami, Charlie Allen, Institute for Economics and Peace and other lawmakers, peacekeepers, researchers and thought leaders.
The forum’s interesting line-up of sessions features discussions on topics such as ‘Making Peace Profitable,’ ‘Foundations of Peace and Non Violence in India’s culture,’ ‘Creating Positive Peace Frameworks’ and includes a Masterclass in Non Violence with Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of The Art of Living and International Association for Human Values, known for his role in brokering the historic peace deal between FARC and the Colombian Government.


War, violence and resilience with Syrian refugee youth

Recently I was jolted out of my everday cynicism at the current situation in the world today by a surprising and touching conversation with 2 young men living with their families in the most difficult of circumstances. Their home is in the huge, troubled and impersonal Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. They had fled there a few years ago with their families from their Syrian homeland. Their positive, warm and mature approach despite the hardships of their lives was heart warming and impressive. Surprisingly they attributed their current cheerlful and positive outlook to having been taught breathing and meditation techniques there on the largely EU funded Peacebuilding programme of a UK registered charity offering trainings in empowerment, resilience and stress management to thousands of troubled and traumatised young Syrians, as well as their host communities in the refugee camps of Lebanon and Jordan. The programme is funded by the EU.

Through my work, I was lucky enough to be talking to and working with the Peacebuilding unit of IAHV, a non-profit, United Nations- Affiliated organisation who are helping refugees, young children and students in Jordan and Lebanon to empower their own lives. The International Association for Human Values (IAHV) Peacebuilding Unit is a remarkable organisation whose goal is to build sustainable peace by promoting the development of human values in individuals and societies globally, teaching the importance of working together to become effective peace builders in their own communities.

The IAHV run many programmes all centred around the clear goal of peace building and bringing people closer together in what are undoubtedly unpredictable, scary and incredibly difficult times. The programme that I have been focusing on, with the help of these incredible young people, is the Youth Anti-Violence and Ambassadors for Peace Programme, a programme aimed at mobilising youth for peace by addressing the symptoms of war and conflict through a holistic approach which includes special breathing and relaxation techniques, teambuildling games, powerful processes, and peace building modules. I have been working closely with Christian Matta, a trainer in the field who works with the refugees and young people, teaching them these unique breathing exercises as a way of dealing with the stress, fear and traumas that you’d expect from a war-torn area of conflict. IAHV works on all sides of conflict, with rebels, militants, gangs and prisoners to break the cycle of violence and support nonviolence to reach their goals. They work with people and communities affected by violence and war to provide trauma-relief, resilience and empowerment. A special focus is young people who want to become leaders for peace in their communities and schools; in order to prevent violence and radicalisation and to strengthen the mindsets, attitudes and wellbeing of individuals and communities for peace.

It’s helping my relationships and changing my life. – ASSEM

As you can tell, it’s an incredible organisation and it’s a fascinating concept to get your head around isn’t it? I have to admit when I was researching the programme and first talking to Christian I was slightly sceptical. Don’t get me wrong, as someone who has undergone CBT therapy and meditates two-three times a week, I completely understand the benefits of learning to control your breathing, but, I was eager to find out more to see whether this practice could really transform the lives of those living in such terrifying times and in such a fragile and fractured part of the World.

The two students that Christian introduced me to were Assem and Mohammed. Both are 18 and both are from Daraa Syria. Assem has been living with his four siblings at the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan for 5 years after escaping his war-torn village through the Jordanian borders in 2013. After struggling through many hardships to reach the camp, Assem realised the camp itself had its own challenges and so he took the responsibility to search for educational workshops where he could learn and help build a community for future generations. Mohammed was 12 when he reached the camp and was with his mother and three younger siblings. His father stayed behind in Syria. At the start of his time at the camp, Mohammed took on the incredible responsibility of looking after the whole family, helping them adjust to the new and different lifestyle of the camp and trying to help them all forget the past and move forward to the future until his Father joined them in Jordan. Once the family were reunited, Mohammed was able to concentrate on his studies and education in a bid to not only look after himself and his family but also the community by volunteering in the Road Safety Committee and Syrian Youth Committee.

Picture courtesy of The IAHV

Finding out and discovering their stories was a huge eye opener for me. It was inspirational to understand just how much these boys have already had to deal with in their lives and what they’re doing towards their futures. Both are 18, which means they have spent all of their most formative and important years in Zaatari Camp and they’re both currently studying hard in their final few months in high school.

As is quite often the case when I meet new people, the conversation immediately headed towards football. Assem supports Real Madrid and yep, you guessed it, his favourite player is Cristiano Ronaldo. After a brief chat about football, video games and their studies, I wanted to find out if they were able to describe the feelings and sensations that the fair of them get when practising the techniques. “I feel relaxed” said Assem. “Definitely relaxed and I feel that all the stress is gone after I finish my breathing. Sometimes when I’m very upset, I want to hit something, break something. I do my breathing, and I calm down. I also feel a lot of comfort on a physical level”.”Do you feel better immediately?” “Not immediately, but after half an hour to an hour I start to feel better”. Mohammed agreed, “I feel relaxed and I worry less”.

I asked how these techniques helped their day-to-day lives. Speaking from my own experience, whenever I meditate I feel completely calm, relaxed and level headed and wanted to know whether the unique breathing techniques gave the boys a similar sensation. Mohammed explained “The techniques help me to focus. I am very hot-headed usually, but once I do my breathing I don’t react. I accept other people’s opinions and I connect with them. The breathing techniques help me to give advice and I love to help find the answers to problems”. “You mention your hot-headedness, when was the last time you really lost your temper and have these techniques helped you keep your aggression under control?” “The last time I lost my temper was with a teacher! He wasn’t respecting me, disrespecting me and had I not done my breathing exercises in the morning, I would have answered back. Maybe even hit him back”. Assem added the exercises have affected his day-to-day life by helping him to study. “I do them every morning when I wake up as it helps me study better and also at the end of the day. I do them twice a day, in the morning and in the evening”. “Do you feel that gives you a more clear-headed approach for during the day?” “Yes, definitely.”

Picture courtesy of The IAHV

Aside from the benefits the programme was having on their schooling, I was intrigued to know whether the programme was helping them become a better person and to see if the programme had changed their lives. “Yes, sure” Mohammed said. “Instead of being someone who is angry and sad, I can be calm and relaxed and composed instead of being isolated and on my own with my thoughts and negative emotions. Mentally, I feel really, really relaxed. The programme has changed my life in multiple ways with my friends and family. My friends especially. I stopped drinking and smoke shisha…” “Really?!” asked Christian as the room enjoyed a joke. “Well, once a week now! I used to smoke four times a day and now I did it once a week”. Assem also agreed, “Definitely (helping me become a better person). It’s helping me in terms of communication between my family and friends. It’s helping my relationships and changing my life. Since I came from Syria I became more angry and violent and stressed but now I can control my emotions”.

“I want to be an engineer, but more than that I want to help people. – MOHAMMED”

As incredible as it was to hear how the programme had changed these boys own and countless other lives, I also had one final question that I was desperate to ask. The programme is geared towards helping to fight extremism and helping prevent the recruitment of young people so I had to know what Mohammed and Assem would say to people who are being lured into radicalisation. Mohammed, who has made so many changes in his life since starting programme said “I would say to them that we are all one. I would also teach them the yoga and breathing exercises that we have learnt”. Assem added “We are peace ambassadors, we are giving advice on how to not to go on the wrong side. We try to bring more awareness to extremism, to show people the danger of radicalisation. The programme will teach people to avoid and to be more conscious of conflict”.

Picture courtesy of The IAHV

It was fascinating to spend some time talking to these incredible young men whose lives would appear to be worlds apart from ours, but the reality is they aren’t. They are eloquent, funny and hard working individuals with plans and ambitions for the future. Assem wants to finish High School, study computer engineering at University and then hopefully study abroad, something that his involvement with the programme has helped with. Mohammed however told me of his plans and honestly, I wasn’t expecting his answer to be so touching and beautiful. “I want to be an engineer, but more than that I want to help people. When I go back to Syria, I want to be a pillar in the community, I want to rebuild my country. After rebuilding Syria, I want to visit and meet people all over the world”. As goals and ambitions in life go, I can’t think of many better than that.

Picture courtesy of Simon Harkness, author


After suffering in ‘own private hell,’ vet gets relief from unlikely source

Vietnam veteran Fred Moffatt, who is part of the honor guard at Wilmington Veterans of Foreign Wars
Post 5422, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He uses yogic breathing techniques he learned through the
nonprofit group Welcome Home Troops. The program has helped him deal with symptoms like flashbacks, nightmares, panic and anxiety. (Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune).

Standing shoulder to shoulder with six of his fellow veterans, Fred Moffatt was honoring the dead at a military funeral, just as he’d done a hundred times before.

But that day last spring at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, something was different. The air was hot and wet: jungle air. The rain hitting Moffatt’s raincoat made exactly the sound the rain used to make when it fell on his metal combat helmet in Vietnam. Ordinary leaves took on vivid tropical hues, and distant trees lined up in the neat rows of Southeast Asian rubber plantations.

Moffatt’s face turned ghost-white, and his body shook as time and space contracted, catapulting him back to 1967. It was all he could do not to shout out a warning when the wind sent a ripple through a bank of tall grasses: “Movement to the front!”

That kind of acute flashback could once have hounded Moffatt for hours, but the 71-year-old former Army medic from Joliet is one of a growing number of combat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who are getting relief from an unlikely source: a yoga-based breathing and meditation workshop offered by Project Welcome Home Troops, an initiative at the nonprofit International Association for Human Values.

(Vietnam veteran Fred Moffatt, who is part of the honor guard at Wilmington Veterans of
Foreign Wars Post 5422, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He uses yogic breathing techniques he learned through the nonprofit group
Welcome Home Troops. The program has helped him deal with symptoms like flashbacks, nightmares, panic and anxiety. (Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune).

Nara Schoenberg   Contact Reporter

Almost 2,000 people, most of them veterans and active-duty service members suffering from the flashbacks, nightmares and anxiety of PTSD, have taken the workshop, according to Project Welcome Home Troops national director Leslye Moore.

Buoyed by a favorable 2014 pilot study at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and a positive portrayal in the 2016 documentary “Almost Sunrise,” which can be seen Nov. 13 on PBS, Project Welcome Home Troops expects to enroll 1,000 people in workshops in 2018, up from 277 in 2016.

“Five years ago, people rolled their eyes at us,” said Moore.

“Now I have VA hospitals chasing me down, saying we need your program. I’m going to Manhattan to meet with the Manhattan VA, among other things. We’re showing ‘Almost Sunrise’ at Lincoln Center.”

Fred Moffatt, 71, front, participates
in a military funeral at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood on Oct. 25, 2017. (Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune)

For Moffatt, who took the workshop twice and attends monthly follow-up meetings, the breathing techniques have been very effective.

Counseling, which he started before the workshop, had already helped him, he said. But before learning the Project Welcome Home Troops breathing techniques, he couldn’t walk through the woods before dawn to prepare for deer hunting. The memories of the darkened underbrush in Vietnam, with its constant threat of ambush, were just too strong.

After taking the workshop for the first time two years ago, he still struggled with feelings of panic, but he was able to make it to the hunting site.

He could drive by visual reminders of Vietnam (a particular paving material on the road, a stretch of cleared brush) without having to pull off the road and collect himself. And that day at the cemetery when he had a flashback, he was able to complete his duties at the funeral, retreat to a quiet place for 20 minutes of breathing exercises and then continue calmly with his day.

“It amazed me,” said Moffatt, a retired mechanic with a steady blue-eyed gaze, wire-framed aviator glasses and a neatly trimmed gray mustache.

“I hadn’t had that bad a flashback for years, and instead of it lasting for hours, it only lasted for 30 minutes at most, and then everything was cool.” He clapped his hands to indicate the speed of the change: “I was back up, doing ceremonies. I went back to see (if the flashback would start again), and everything was fine.”

Also a graduate of the Project Welcome Home Troops workshop, Vietnam veteran Orlander Richardson remains, at 70, an imposing figure: tall and broad-shouldered, like a paratrooper from central casting. Two months ago, he tried skydiving for the first time — and loved it. But during an interview in a bright, spacious conference room at the Levy Senior Center in Evanston, he started to freeze up; memories of his time with the Army’s elite 101st Airborne Division were causing a flashback.

Richardson paused to close his eyes and to take the raspy Victory Breaths — sometimes called Darth Vader breaths — he learned a year ago in the Project Welcome Home Troops workshop.

The Victory Breath is part of the yoga tradition, said Pam Brockman, Illinois director of Project Welcome Home Troops. The breath stimulates the vagus nerve, which is linked to emotional resiliency and control. When you stimulate it, you calm down, the rush of energy and emotion that comes with acute stress recedes and you’re able to think clearly again.

That was the case with Richardson, who emerged from less than two minutes of Victory Breaths able to laugh and joke.

“I’m a skeptic,” he said. “If somebody could have told me years ago about trying this stuff years ago, I would have said, ‘You’re out of your mind. How is breathing going to control my emotions?’”

But Richardson, a retired mail carrier from Chicago, said that since he took the workshop a year ago, his blood pressure is down, he’s sleeping much better, he hasn’t had a traumatic combat nightmare and he’s able to slow down and react more constructively to the heightened sense of threat that can make ordinary situations terrifying or infuriating.

“What do you have to lose?” he tells fellow veterans. “Everyone I know has had positive effects, so there’s something to it.”

Fred Moffatt, 71, front,
participates in a military funeral at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood on Oct. 25, 2017. (Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune)

Moffatt flipped through an album of blurry black and white photos from his time in Vietnam. There was a black mountain rising like a pyramid over flat plains, a broad swath of rice paddies and a makeshift camp where a bespectacled teenager in a dusty uniform gazed, unsmiling, into the camera.

Moffatt examined the photo of his younger self: “Look at my eyes,” he said. “They look dead.”

During one battle, he said, he was knocked down with a concussion and taken for dead. A lieutenant had actually bent over him, ready to attach a “Killed in Action” tag, when Moffatt sat up.

But the worst, he said, taking a deep breath, was what happened at the 1967 Battle of Loc Ninh. He’d been assigned to a mortar crew, which, in turn, was targeted by a Viet Cong soldier. Moffatt would spot the man in the moonlight, raising his head to look around, then ducking back into the underbrush. Finally, after maybe 45 minutes, Moffatt spotted the man making his way toward him.

“He stood up, and he was just getting ready to shoot the mortar crew that was probably 25, 30 feet away,” Moffatt said.

“Well, I was quicker on the trigger than he was, and I keep on living that time and time again because it went totally against my nature (to shoot someone). I was brought up that you don’t point a gun at anything that you’re not going to shoot and eat. But it was them or him, so I just did it.”

He was awarded the Bronze Star, in part, he suspects, because of that incident. A few years ago at a military reunion, a member of the mortar crew came up to him and hugged him: “I never got to thank you for savin’ our (butt).” Still, Moffatt said, the memory haunts him.

When he returned to civilian life, he had multiple symptoms of PTSD, including hyper-viligance, in which you’re on high alert for danger. For years, there were embarrassing incidents, such as the time he instinctively ducked under the dashboard of the car his friend was driving, because the brush was pushed back from the sides of the road in a way that would have signaled the threat of snipers in Vietnam. There were sweaty, thrashing nightmares. In the course of a bad one, he said, he could push his wife, Sue, right out of bed. He didn’t even have a word for what he was going through, he said: “It was my own private hell.”

At work, co-workers knew not to surprise him by entering his workspace without warning. Once, taken by surprise while he was thinking about Vietnam, he instinctively moved to protect himself, elbowing the co-worker who had come up behind him.

Still, he did his best to suppress his feelings, and in some ways, he succeeded: “I was like a lot of guys my age,” he said. “We were working. We had families, houses, cars, jobs. Our minds were constantly busy. We were working for the weekend.”

It was when he retired and had time to think, he said, that all the terrible things that happened in Vietnam came flooding back: “I would wake up every 45 minutes or so and scan the room. I couldn’t sleep without facing a door or a window.”

After he went to the Veterans Assistance Commission in Joliet to check on his medical benefits, he was diagnosed with PTSD and offered free counseling. A counselor also suggested the Project Welcome Home Troops workshop.

His PTSD isn’t gone, he said; it never will be, but now he has effective ways to control it. He’s sleeping better. He’s so happy, he said, just to wake up in the night and be able to stare at a blank wall without immediately turning to check for intruders.

During a recent fall morning at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, the maples glowed lemon yellow and cherry red. Moffatt joined in the seven-gun salute at his first funeral of the day, chatted with friends and then walked up a small hill for an interview at an open-air pavilion lined by tall grasses and fluttering flags.

This is where he’d had that flashback last spring, he said, almost casually. During an earlier interview, he was sometimes tense or hesitant to revisit a bad moment, but now he had found his stride. He wasn’t relaxed, exactly, but he was engaged and confident. He still cares deeply about his fellow soldiers, he had said earlier, and he knows many of them are struggling.

“If this helps just one veteran, then it’s worth it,” he said.


Project Dignity empowers girls at Tyburn Primary School

Respective role-players, organisers and staff
of the school are seen with pupils, who could not contain their excitement after receiving the useful packs.

The Subz Pants and Pads (Project Dignity) together with IAHV Activation delivered smiles and joy to the young ladies of Tyburn Primary School, recently.

An enlightening and informative programme was enjoyed by all during the visit to the school, which is situated in Montford.

Since the inception of the sterling programme, thousands of girls have positively benefitted and have learned a great deal about various aspects such as puberty, menstruation and also hygiene and personal care during this time.

The day started off with an address by the principal of the school and was then followed by a prayer and introduction by the International Association for Human Values and the Art of Living Foundation. The pupils were then treated to an enlightening talk and presentation by Sue Barnes and her team from Subz Pants and Pads.

Simple breathing exercises and easy yoga techniques were then demonstrated to the pupils by the Art of Living team. The girls were told that these techniques can assist when experiencing cramps and uncomfortableness during that time of the month.

Once formalities for the day concluded, each young girl was presented with a Subz Pants and Pad menstrual management kit which includes two pairs of panties as well as six reusable sanitary pads, which will last them for the next three to five years.

The pupils as well as the staff of the school thanked the respective role­players for choosing Tyburn as the venue for the amazing initiative, which helps restore dignity and comfort to young women. It was evident that the girls were very receptive to the talks on menstruation and puberty and had many questions to ask.

They were even provided with motivational advice on the importance of looking after themselves and their bodies to ensure that they achieve their own goals in life. The project was a tremendous success.

More about Subz Pants and Pads:

A 2013 UNICEF report found that a tenth of African school going girls were missing 25 percent of their education, or dropping out, because of a lack of menstrual sanitation products.

To reduce school absenteeism and improve educational benefits of these young girls, KwaZulu-Natal resident, Sue Barnes, developed Subz Pants and Pads, a reusable, eco-friendly sanitary pad that clips onto a 100 percent cotton panty which lasts a minimum of five years.

Project Dignity, the non-profit extension of the organisation, distributes sponsored Subz packs to girls in schools and communities in rural areas across the country, empowering these teenagers through education and access to sanitary wear.


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