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RTR Fellows 2015

The Class of 2015 of the Zoroastrian Return To Roots Fellows was made up of James Darius Ball, Ruxshin Cyrus Dinshaw, Zubin Gheesta, Pardis Gheibi, Farah Minwalla, Kayras Darayush Irani, Khushchehr Italia, Arash Jahanian, Natalia Karanjia, Farzan Mazda, Anushae Parakh, Perzen Patel, Veera Rustomji and Kersi Shroff.

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“[RTR] gave me a feeling of belonging and acceptance in our global Zoroastrian community.”

James Darius Ball

James Darius was born and raised in New Jersey with his parents and two sisters. His diverse extended family and wanderlust took him all over the world during his upbringing. It wasn’t until his late twenties however that he finally arrived in India and started to reconnect to his Zoroastrian roots.

James Darius sees his career as an extension of his Zoroastrian beliefs. Upon graduating with a Masters in Environmental Management from Yale James Darius hopes to work with thought leaders in the green housing industry to usher in the next wave of innovation to the design and construction of our built environment.

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“…the tour reminded me that I’m proud to be a Zoroastrian, and as an added bonus, I made some incredible friends along the way.”

Ruxshin Cyrus Dinshaw

I was born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan as an only child (and bookworm), and completed most of my schooling at the Convent of Jesus and Mary. I’m currently in the middle of pursuing a bachelor’s degree in international development through the University of London’s external programmes, and am looking for- ward to a career in environmental management. I’m also a keen amateur pianist.

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“The most important thing I learnt from this trip is that I am a Zoroastrian first and not a Parsi as I always used to believe.”

Zubin Gheesta

Hi, I am Zubin Gheesta, born and brought up in Bombay. My job includes transform- ing people into better and healthy bodies as a fitness consultant. I was always in- clined to do something in sports. So even after my graduation in commerce I pursued fitness as my career. I am an American College of Sports Medicine certified health fitness specialist.

“I have always been a religious and community oriented guy but this trip has made my roots stronger which in turn makes my feeling of belonging to the com- munity much more.”

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“…now that I have had the experience, I choose to put on my Sedre-koshti because I find it to be a much richer, both religious and spiritual experience.”

Pardis Gheibi

My name is Pardis Gheibi. I was born in Iran and moved to California when I was eleven years old. I currently live in California, and am a student at UC Berkeley. I hope to attend law school in the future. In my free time, I enjoy dancing and spending time with my family.

“…one of the great benefits of the Return to Roots trip, was being able to familiar- ize myself with the numerous religious as well as cultural similarities and differ- ences between the Parsi community and the Iranian Zoroastrian community so that I can work closely with these communities here in Northern California and unite the two, because even though our cultures and traditions might differ, we all share the same religious roots.”

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I don’t feel as lonely within my faith and religious community as I have for most of my life. By being a part of the RTR program I have finally found a wonderful group of young adults who I hope to stay in touch with as life-long friends.”

Farah Minwalla

Farah was born in Olney, MD, where she lived until the age of six, before moving to Las Vegas, NV. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from Marymount Manhattan College. Currently, Farah works for Peterson Management, LLC, which is the family office for the Peter G. Peterson Foundation located in New York City. In her spare time, Farah works freelance for music festivals while volunteering in her community.

“Youth are more in- spired to come back to the community to in- fluence inter-communi- ty dialogue and change if they feel connected to their lineage and faith. This trip achieves simply that.”

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“I just hope that more of the community can learn to be charitable to both Zo- roastrians and non-Zoroastrians, and not just rely on the wealthy Zoroastrian professionals like the TATA’s and Cyrus Poonawalla to be the only ones to give to the needy.”

Kayras Darayush Irani

I was born in Abu Dhabi, UAE and moved to Ontario, Canada at the age of six with my parents and younger brother, where we resided for five years before moving across the country to Richmond, British Columbia. I am a Paramedic with the British Columbia Ambulance Service and have been a Paramedic for seven years. I enjoy volunteering for the Zoroastrian Society of British Columbia and have been actively doing so since 2009.

“Zoroastrians have always been known to be respect- ed, loyal, and trustworthy people. Observing the com- munity in India live to those standards was truly refresh- ing and reassuring. Its not a rumor, it is definitely true.”

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“I have come back with a newly founded love for my community and who I am. I have shared my experience and my love with all my friends, Zoroastrians and Non-Zoroastrians. I feel so proud to be a Zoroastrian.”

Khushchehr Italia

Khushchehr “Khush” Italia was born in Mumbai, India, but grew up in Los Angeles, California since the age of 5. From the age of 7 to 24, she played competitive tennis on the national, international, collegiate, and professional circuits through the years. Khush graduated with Honors with a Bachelors in Business Administration, while on a full athletic scholarship, from the University of Cincinnati, majoring in Finance and International Business. After her successful collegiate career, she decided to turn pro and played on the WTA Tour for two years, finally retiring due to a career ending shoulder injury. Khush currently resides in Los Angeles, California, where she has been working as an Analyst in the field of Business and Operations.

“I gained not just knowledge, but greater self-confidence in myself, in my community, and in the idea that one person can truly impact the world.”

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“The increased understand- ing of the Parsi experience will hopefully help me and the other Return to Roots Fellows serve as unifying bridges for our own Zoroas- trian communities as well as the larger community.”

Arash Jahanian

Arash Jahanian is a civil rights attorney in Denver, Colorado. Originally from Kansas City, Kansas, he is a graduate of the University of North Carolina and Georgetown Law, and he taught in Chicago’s underprivileged schools with Teach For America. His loving family include his parents, Daryoush and Mahin, and brother Keyarash.

“Part of the uniqueness of the Return to Roots journey was that it was at once an in- dividual and a shared experience. We each explored our religion and ourselves through our individual lenses, yet the group experi- ence fed into and informed each journey.”

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This trip was fabulous, there are some moments which I would never ever forget, like the orphanage where we met the children and we spent quality time with them by dancing singing with them.”

Natalia Karanjia

I was born and brought up in Karachi, Pakistan. I am 21 years old and currently doing my Bachelors in Commerce. I was always shy from my childhood but as I grew older I gained confidence and learnt how to make your own place in this world. My Navjote ceremony was done at the age of nine. I am a very fun-loving person who loves partying, socializing, talking to people try my best to make others laugh and I am a crazy animal lover, other than that my hobbies are acting, dancing, singing, swimming, cycling. My dream is to open a dance institute in my country which will be free so that everybody can get a chance to excel in their talent even if they can’t afford it.

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“Its given me the privilege of viewing our living heritage before it withers away for good.”

Farzan Mazda

Born and brought up in Dahanu (which lies within the geography of 18th-19th century Parsi settlements in India), I have been active- ly involved with the UNESCO PARZOR mission in documenting Zoroastrian heritage of the region since the age of 15. Currently a Professor with the Symbiosis College of Arts & Commerce, Pune, I teach undergrad students Entrepreneurial skills. I’m also pursuing a PhD from Symbiosis International University in Tourism Management.

Note: Farzan was one of the Fellows from India who also acted as a host for the RtR 2 in Dahanu where he led the tour of Zoroastrian Irani farming heritage.

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I did not have a very strong connection to our community. After this trip I have learnt to cherish my community because we have such a vibrant culture which should be preserved.”

Anushae Parakh

I was born and grew up in Karachi, Pakistan. I studied at the Karachi Grammar School till I was 18 and then spent four years in the UK for my higher education. I obtained my bachelors degree from Durham University in Sociology. I then went on to pursue my masters from the London School of Economics in Environment and Development. I recently started working for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and am based in Bangkok, Thailand. I am a program assistant for a regional coastal development program called Mangroves for the Future (MFF) and focus on the effective integration of gen- der into the process.

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“[RTR has] shown me the struggles my ancestors re- ally went to set up in India increased my sense of pride of being a Parsi.”

Perzen Patel

Bawi by birth and a food-lover by life, Perzen Patel is Mumbai’s Bawi Bride. While she didn’t know how to cook even a simple Parsi Dhandar until she got married, Perzen is now on a mission to spread happiness through Dhansak. When she is not writing about food and travel, Perzen runs a full-fledged Parsi catering service, organises food experiences and also offers Parsi cooking classes. Perzen cooked a delicious Navroze lunch for her fellow participants in Mumbai.

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The RTR program is a very real- istic approach to religion…. it en- courages dialogue and creates an avenue for your opinion to matter and to be valued as a young Zoro- astrian.”

Veera Rustomji

Growing up in Karachi has had a paramount influence on the person that I am today. It is extremely difficult to reconcile with a city that increasingly becomes hostile to differences and freedom of expression. However as a Fine Art student, I have grown to see and appreciate so many different aspects of my home because it has immense talent and so many open hearts. Being a minority woman in Karachi may seem to be a dead end for a successful career but the social responsibility of an artist and a writer is immensely important and moreover, as a privileged educated member citizen I think it should be a natural inclination to give back to the country that desperately needs her cultural ambassadors.

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“This program does literally what it promis- es. Makes sure members feel a stronger and deep- er connection to their cultural heritage, making it more likely that they will value and keep up long-lasting traditions.”

Kersi Shroff

Kersi Shroff is an MBA student at Columbia University in New York. Kersi grew up in New Delhi, India where he was extensively involved with the community both through religious classes at the Delhi Parsi Anjuman and by volunteering for the UNESCO Parzor project for several years. He moved to the US to attend college at Yale University where he graduated with a degree in Economics & Computer Science.

Prior to starting at Columbia, he worked as an economic and financial consultant at Cor- nerstone Research in New York. After graduating from Columbia, he plans to work as a management consultant. In his free time he enjoys running, golf and traveling to interest- ing cities!

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