Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Ros and I had the great joy and privilege of being among the 300 attending the 50th anniversary of the MRA/IofC centre in Panchgani, India. Ros was in India soon after construction began and was helping behind the scenes at the official opening. Returning after 47 years, she was overwhelmed by the growth of the centre and the abundance and beauty of vegetation that now surrounds it. There is a beauty also in the simple but strong message lived and communicated by the Asia Plateau community that invites people to welcome and embrace change, first in themselves, through listening to the voice that speaks within. As ‘senior citizens’ we were struck by the respect shown by the younger generation and their eagerness to learn anything they can from our experience. We learned much from them through our two weeks at Asia Plateau.

It was at Asia Plateau in 1968, that Daw Nyen Tha, a Burmese educator who had travelled the world with MRA, spent her last days. Ros used to gather with others outside her room to sing her favourite hymns. ‘Ma Mi’, as she was affectionately known by friends, had a genius for illustrating the need for change through such memorable images such as ‘When I point my finger at my neighbour, there are three more pointing back at me’. In the third phase of the Asia Plateau centre’s construction, a beautiful circular meditation room was dedicated to her memory.

It was appropriately in this most inspiring space that a group of 15 from Myanmar (Burma) met during the 50th anniversary conference. The group included representatives of seven ethnic nationalities and Myanmar’s three major religions. One of those representing the majority Burman or Bama community was Daw Than Than Nu, daughter of Burma’s first Prime Minister, who visited Asia Plateau with her father and older brother in 1969. Ros was among those looking after them at that time and both of us were fortunate to be part of the intergenerational team to fill that role with this group, getting to know them better and helping to ensure their experience was a fruitful one. We were happy to do this on behalf of IofC Canada and those who generously donated to make it possible for the group from Myanmar to participate.

An ever-present backdrop to their conversations was the appalling crisis faced by the Rohingyas who have fled in their hundreds of thousands from Rakhine State and now await a precarious future in refugee camps on the Bangladesh border. Also of much concern were other consequences of these events, such as the negative impact on Myanmar’s transition to democracy and the fate of the national peace process with its hope of creating a more genuine federal union. Members of the group appreciated the atmosphere at Asia Plateau, which was most helpful in providing encouragement and perspective. “The hurts run deep”, said one, “and cannot be healed by politics”. They looked forward to further engagement with Asia Plateau in the future through various programs, such as Caux Scholars, internships, governance and business initiatives. They were greatly challenged and inspired by the presence of a delegation from North East India. A dynamic group of young people from Nagaland, whose people span the India-Myanmar border, touched their hearts through their music and drama.


This was an important part of our Panchgani experience in January, but by no means everything. We were able to reconnect with friends of long standing, to be inspired by the younger generation, and to absorb the evaluations by people in business, education, government and local village life of the outreach of Asia Plateau.