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How do you counter terrorism? You could do the opposite and love like an extremist, says Kia Scherr.
Even as the horror of the Paris attacks unfolds before us and we are consumed by the tragedy, we cannot forget Mumbai 2008, when the same kind of senseless violence left a shroud of despair in our own home country.
As the seventh anniversary of the attack that killed 138 Indians and 28 foreigners, comes up on 26 November, our thoughts are still with the survivors, and the family members of victims, and we cannot even begin to comprehend how they must be coping.
One of those struck by this personal tragedy, has been returning to India regularly since 2010.
The world came crashing down for American Kia Scherr when her husband and daughter were taken from her in the attack, but she has since found a unique way of dealing with her immeasurable loss.
“I made a choice to forgive the terrorists,” Kia says.
“And to dedicate my life to being the opposite of a terrorist, which is to love like an extremist. If I refuse to be terrorised, terrorism ceases to be. If terrorists choose to hate, I choose to love. If terrorists choose to destroy life, I choose to respect, celebrate and live life to the fullest in every way possible.”
Kia’s purpose in life now is to bring about a positive change in society. Today she is working closely with Mumbai Police to do exactly that.
Kia’s husband and daughter were part of a group of 25 people from the US, Canada and Australia, who took part in a meditation retreat held in Mumbai at the Oberoi Hotel in November 2008.
On November 26, while her husband Alan and 13-year-old daughter Naomi, were at dinner in the hotel restaurant, terrorists stormed in and began shooting at them.
While Alan and Naomi were both killed instantly, the other four people at their table were seriously wounded, but survived. Some others were trapped in their rooms for 3 days, while the hotel was under siege.
Kia, who was visiting her family in Florida at that time, had to watch it all unfold on the news.
Travelling to India in the aftermath of the tragedy, Kia set up the One Life Alliance Foundation, which seeks to bond more with the Mumbai Police and other police forces around India to “restore balance, to deepen commitment to love unconditionally” because, as she says, “love was brutally lacking in the terrorist attack”.
Her work with police personnel involves ‘peace training’ in order to build trust to increase safety and security in community, and help spread cheer and happiness.
A Pocketbook of Peace
Kia has also produced a 30-page booklet called A Pocketbook of Peace to be read one page a day over the month.
“I was inspired to introduce A Pocketbook of Peace as training material to the Mumbai Police after reading so much in the media about lack of trust, lack of safety and security.
To build trust, we need to build harmonious relationships. This requires emotional intelligence. Police training does not include emotional intelligence training.”
Kia shared the idea with Mumbai Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria who immediately gave the nod to begin a pilot program, the first of its kind offered to police anywhere in the world.
Support flooded in from various sources.
Melbourne-based David Rivers, who runs Tandava Press, offered to publish A Pocketbook of Peace so that it would be available in Australia through Amazon and directly through Tandava Press.
Steve Killelea, founder of the Institute of Economics and Peace in Sydney, whose research serves to educate about what makes a peaceful society, came on board.
Kia and Steve
Another Australian connection was Charles Sturt University which co-sponsored and organised the first International Conference for Women in Law Enforcement at the National Police Academy in Hyderabad.
A Mexican businessmen had the book translated into Spanish and a local radio station sponsored a 30-day program based on the book.
Over 5000 people took the pledge for peace.
Cricket for peace
Kia and a group of expat cricket lovers mainly from Australia, England and New Zealand recently played a cricket match against the Mumbai Police, to help build bridges with the police.
“It is a nice way to use the power of cricket in India and in an atmosphere of negativity and sensationalism, maybe someone will be able to highlight this,” Kia says.
According to Kia, the idea for the project – Cricket Match for Peace – came about during a dinner conversation she had with Matt Greenwell, a British businessman who had just moved from Delhi to Mumbai with his family.
Kia adds, “We met with the Mumbai police commissioner Dr Pratap Dighavkar, who enthusiastically agreed to the idea and offered his full support.”
Greenwell says, “Kia and her work was the inspiration, but it’s never difficult to get a bunch of Aussies and Brits to play cricket and support a good cause.”
“But the big plan is for our match next year to be much bigger to help raise funds for Kia’s work.
We would also like to take the Cricket Match for Peace format across the Commonwealth countries – whether that country is experiencing conflict or simply to provide a vehicle to break down barriers between communities,” Greenwell reveals.
Celebrity commentator Harsha Bhogle attended the Cricket Match for Peace.
Kia and Harsha
Raising the Peace Index in India
Kia seems like a bundle of positive energy. She could easily have been the opposite.
Her ultimate objective “is to raise the Peace Index of India”.
According to the Global Peace Index report (put out by the Institute of Economics and Peace, based in Sydney Australia), India ranks 143 out of 162 countries that were measured, based on 23 various factors.
She says, “By working to create positive peace in the community, we develop trusting relationships, creating new collaborations that lead to new ways of educating, doing business and governing.
Ultimate aim – reduce violence, conflict, save lives, raise prosperity and economic sustainability. There is a high cost to violence. A peaceful society requires new ways of working together. We can reach a lot of people through cricket and have a lot of fun at the same time.”
She adds, “I am committed to bringing peace by respecting the dignity of life in everyone I meet. We must respect the dignity of our differences. On the surface we are all different. Underneath, we are simply human. One race, human. We share one life together here on this planet and we each make a contribution.”
It is hard not be infected with her enthusiasm.
“Love is what is needed most. We need to love each other more, this means to live with compassion. This will bring about peace, happiness, joy and prosperity for all of humanity.”