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Global nomad dreams for Kashmir peace ;From Southern Alps to the Himalayas, Emerson searches for inner joy

Hello everyone.Sometime back there was A CALL for Heroes. Here is one of mine.

Diane Emerson had her moment of awakening in the lap of Southern Alps, New Zealand. The 57-year old discovered her new world while reading Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramhansa Yogananda’s masterpiece of spiritual literature.

Five years down the road today, her own autobiography is in the works from somewhere in the lush green slopes and valleys of Jammu & Kashmir, where UN-administered plebiscite remains pending since 1948. For the same reason, she plans to donate profits from her new book to promote peace in the region through various ways. She is currently in New Zealand to help February 22 earthquake victims.

Since 2006, this American with additional citizenship of New Zealand has volunteered in various organizations. From volunteering in the kitchen of Vipassana meditation Centre in New Zealand Diane to serving orphan children in Minneapolis, United States, she has done it all.

Enchanted by the life of a global nomad serving people and causes in her homeland or places as far as Kashmir, the petite humanist sees no lines defining geography or dividing people in the name of state or religion.

She believes: “The more I live with people of different cultures and religion, the more I see the similarities in all people. The understanding of commonality at the core is a wonderful way to increase compassion for people who seem so different to us.”

Emerson’s journey was started with a bit of emotional sacrifice. She had to sell the most prized possession, her house, without thinking twice; only to choose uncertain shade of a tent, forever. “I used to work 16 hours a day in my youthful 20s to be able to own a house,” she recalls. For bigger goals and inner satisfaction, she gives away her favorite paintings, carpets and furniture to neighbours and friends.

Emerson recalls, “I found a wonderful new world opening up to me. I was energized by the sheer idea of traveling on bike and pitching a tent somewhere for night.” Though her language skills were limited to work in remote areas of Asia or Africa, yet Emerson had a pretty long list of services she could offer.

“I could help people without charging for my services. I could help animals. I could work in organic gardens and farms. I could go to a monastery and serve there, and maybe some of their peace would make its way to me,” Diane pondered then.

Hope Disability Centre, an organization working with the disabled people, brought her to Kashmir in December 2009. Meanwhile, the Nobel laureate Handicap International signed up with the Hope Disability Centre for a project. Emerson happily signed up for its first year.

“To me, it was clearly an assignment from God, because I had just the exact skills and experience needed for such a project,” she recalls joyfully.

Diane knows the art of gelling with the local populace. She wears traditional Salwar Kameez and a warm Kashmiri gown, Pheran. “I like the Pheran in winter as we were all dressed alike and it imparted a sense of community” says Diane. With the project in its second year, Emerson has trained two local professionals to run such ventures.

Diane and her team go extra miles to offer physiotherapy and other services to special persons at their doorstep, which are not easy to reach given treacherous tracks on steep Himalayan slopes.Diane’s hike to far-flung home of one disabled woman, Razia Akhter, has become unforgettable for her. Akhter spent three months embroidering a shawl for on Diane’s farewell.

The expatriate volunteer finds herself inundated with compassion and love from all sides.

Rajah Aslam Khan, who lost legs to polio, owns a public service booth now. He gives Emerson credit for his self-reliance.“Without her help, I would not have lived my dream to have a booth with a computer, printer and fax machine in this village,” Khan says with pride.

From her desktop, Emerson has authored 900-page Handbook of Rules and Regulations for the Hope Disability Center, says Sami Wani, a physiotherapist and manager of the NGO.

While in India, she created a website and video for Roshni Society in Jalandhar City, an organization working with people with disabilities in north Indian state of Punjab. “She is a living saint, who serves people without any bias of religion or culture” says Father Thomas of Roshini Society. During Emerson’s stint with in Jalandhar, Thomas found her “a woman of no expectations and very few needs”. He noticed that despite being born and brought up in America, she identified herself everywhere with the local people.

She met Sri Sarthak Kumar, a musician of extra-ordinary skills to play tabla (Indian version of drum), at a concert in Indian capital Delhi. After a concert, Kumar had expressed his desire to hold table classes for children in slums of Gurgaon area. “I have shared my dream with my fans so many times but none came to help except Diane” says Kumar about his first meeting with the silver-haired foreigner.She not only helped Kumar financially for slum-dwelling children but also created a website and produced videos.“Today I am not only teaching music to 20 slum-dwelling kids but also dreaming to start a full-fledge institution,” Kumar hopes.

Diane wants to fight stereotypes at every level.

“When I was planning my travel to Kashmir, I could find nothing about the culture on the internet, only stories about the unrest,” she says explaining the rationale for her book.

For Emerson, life has been peaceful despite ongoing militancy and presence of Indian military. She expects that her reflections “would help the world understand that all Muslims are not extremists; and Islamaphobic trends are not based on facts”.

(For Silent Heroes, Invisible Bridge )

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