Categorized | Books, Entertainment, Featured

Petals and Blood supports children in South Africa

Roya Sabri | Hawaii 24/7 Reporter

Gavin Harrison, recipient of the Unsung Heroes of Compassion Award by H.H. the Dalai Lama, has completed his second book Petals and Blood: Stories, Dharma and Poems of Ecstasy, Awakening and Annihilation. The book braids vivid prose with ecstatic poetry to convey a message about “One love, One ground, One goodness.”

“I endeavor to affirm that,” Harrison said. “What I’m endeavoring to point to in the book is the Fundamental Ground where there is no division in a world that is so divided.”

He has dedicated his book to the orphaned and vulnerable children of South Africa, where he was born.

Proceeds from the book’s sale will benefit the Group of Hope and Woza Moya, model organizations supporting families struggling in poverty due to HIV and AIDS.

Harrison has lived with HIV for more than half his life and endured bullying and sexual abuse in boarding school 300 miles away from home. “Because I was sexually abused as an infant, I hold a fundamental impulse to do everything I can to serve children everywhere as an instrument of love and goodness,” he said.

The Group of Hope feeds, clothes and supports the schooling of local children by selling jewelry fashioned from recycled paper. The unique prisoner initiated program resides in Western Cape’s maximum-security Brandvlei Prison.

One of the members said, “Yes, there has been some resistance (by prison gangs) but we have unbeatable weapons – joy and hope.”

Harrison said, “They are off the charts. In circumstances that would cripple and floor anyone they maintain incredible goodness and kindness and love. They are some of the more inspiring and evolved people I know.”

Woza Moya is a grassroots nonprofit in South Africa’s Ufafa Valley. Its team of 30 serves 8,000 people in the surrounding rural community with services including emotional support, home-based food, paralegal services, early childhood development programs and water and sanitation.

Harrison lived in the Ufafa Valley before he knew he was HIV positive. He returned after his diagnosis to discover a valley decimated by the disease.

“I came back from that face-to-face encounter. I shared what I found with my communities. They ended up making a significant difference,” he said.

In 2008, Harrison managed a fundraising campaign that raised almost $130,000 for the construction of a Children’s Play Therapy Center at Woza Moya. The campaign also sponsored 106 children for school fees, provided food for 111 families and funded the drilling of a well.

Harrison has a gift for inspiring action. Whether faced with struggling children or endangered sea turtles, Harrison said, “I’m not given the opportunity to turn my eyes away.”

Yet his rich personal relations are symbiotic. “I probably would not be perpendicular and breathing were it not for the support of loving friends and community who have held and cheered me on as I’ve grappled with health challenges over the last 30 years,” he said on his blog <>.

Harrison has again kindled the courage to ask for support – this time for the production and promotion of Petals and Blood. Before the book’s sales can profit its charities, Harrison must fund its publication costs.

Harrison started an Indiegogo campaign July 17, 2013. The campaign ends Aug. 26 and has yet to raise around $60,000.

On the campaign page, Harrison describes the book as “an interweaving of ecstatic poetry, gorgeous images and gritty humanity.”

Harrison conceived the seven chapters of poetry in public gatherings he held in his South African and Hawaiian homes. In the introduction to each chapter he shares personal stories and reflections: basking in moonlight as a child, struggling with sexual abuse, surviving two near-death experiences.

With help from designer Tim Dubitsky, Harrison carefully paired the poems with stunning images of serene landscapes, delicate flowers and quiet faces captured in his two homes.

The images set the tone in the absence of the music that usually accompanies his poems.

“Music prepares the ground of the listener so they’re more available to the words. It softens the reader’s heart,” Harrison said. Ecstatic poetry is often recited with music.

Harrison was introduced to ecstatic poetry when he visited Iran. He said the poetry of the Sufi tradition, from Rumi and Hafiz in particular, “opened a door within me to be as passionate and as adventurous. Who they were was an invitation.”

He added, “Poetry can take us beyond masks and pretentions that can imprison us rigidly and without solution. Ecstatic poetry is a celebration of remembering or coming home to innocence that was never lost. And it can be playful at times.”

Harrison currently lives in North Kohala with his two dogs. He leads groups for meditative walks into the forest, organizes retreats and enjoys gathering friends for poetry nights. A few of his poems such as “Prayer to Pele” draw on Hawaii’s unique nature and religion.

“One of the hallmarks of Awakening to essential nature is to see the same truth and the same love at the heart of every spiritual tradition,” he said.

In the introduction to his chapter titled “The Indescribable,” Harrison describes his spiritual journey from within the context of his homes:

“It’s not unusual to find oneself drenched to the bone while walking in the early morning mists of Waipio Valley in Hawaii or the Ofafa Valley in Africa.

“For me, the adventure of Awakening has been mostly like that – a gradual soaking with intermittent bolts of clarity, just like lightening piercing the depths of an African thunderstorm.”

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