“We are getting there slowly, but I know we will,” says Kia Scherr, whose husband and daughter were killed in the November 26, 2008 Mumbai terror strike on the Trident hotel.
She co-founded The One Life Alliance after the attack to preserve what she calls the “sacredness of life,” and to counter terror with love. From a mere idea to spread tolerance, the Alliance is now on the verge of being a registered organisation in Mumbai. “This is the city where it all happened. I lost my husband and daughter here. There is a connection, I am so comfortable when I am here,” she explains in an interview.
Ms. Scherr has been spending a lot of time in the city working with various groups including businesspersons to popularise the Alliance and she has formulated a pledge where one would be a part of a 30-day programme focusing on a single aspect of life every day.
She has been distributing copies of the pledge and even in the hotel where she lives some of the staff seem to have read it and made it a part of daily routine. On day one, you sit and think and slow down. “I took the pledge when my mother was ill and I kept thinking why did I rush around so much. When you slow down you can do so much more,” she smiles.
Day two of the pledge is about smiling. “It's amazing what responses you will get in return. It goes with different themes for 30 days and it culminates in a total experience where you feel compassion and love at the end. It's all about being more conscientious, more patient, sharing and caring. If you spend time forgiving people you haven't in the past and move on, people change."
For starters the pledge has been taken by eight top students of St. Andrew's college in Bandra from December 1. After their experience they plan to start a community project in a slum area to counter what they describe as “Muslim mania.” The students would dispel myths and explain that “Muslims are not the enemy.”
Another school in Worli, which runs a child-centred education programme, is planning to use the pledge for their teachers.
“Everyone I meet is very encouraging and I feel that eventually this will lead to training One Life Alliance ambassadors who can go around talking about tolerance,” Ms. Scherr says.
The aim is to create young leaders. The experience of the survivors of the attack has been documented in a new book titled Forgiving the Unforgivable by Master Charles Cannon and Will Wilkinson. In 2008, Mr. Cannon led a group of 20 members of the Synchronicity Foundation, a spiritual group, who were staying at the Trident. Ms. Scherr and her family were part of that trip. Even after the attack the families of the victims were compassionate and forgiving as the book shows.
A leading social science institute is helping the Alliance with the registration process, which can then raise funds for the projects. There are also other plans to incorporate the pledge into the school curriculum.
Ms. Scherr has created a website which has the pledge and a space for sharing experiences and people feel it is transforming their lives. “The idea is to create a one-world family and keep this conversation going. We want our One Life ambassadors to conduct camps to offset the terror camps,” she says. She is also talking to inter-faith leaders in Pakistan, but the focus for now is Mumbai where it all happened.
She is also keen on running the pledge programme in schools in the United States later. Indians get the idea since they are already spiritual and they understand the need for tolerance, she says.
“People were fairly composed when confronted with a traumatic situation and the first thing all of us who had lost loved ones in the attack felt was ‘what is the good that can come of this'?”
The St. Andrews programme, its experiences and follow-up could become a working model for other schools. “These young people will lead the way. They will go global and make history. It's human nature, we want to be the best and when we are living in such times, we want to make that connection with other people everywhere. It's more fulfilling for all concerned,” Ms. Scherr avers.