Published: Feb 05, 2013 07:00 PM
Modified: Feb 03, 2013 07:23 PM
My partner, Jeff, and I just returned from our second adventure to Kenya to volunteer as ambassadors for the Africa Yoga Project.
The Africa Yoga Project (AYP), founded in 2007, is a nonprofit that uses yoga to empower and transform lives, based in Nairobi, Kenya. It was formed shortly after the post-election violence in 2007 and 2008 and focuses on cultivating peace through training folks from the slums who formerly didn’t make a living wage to be yoga teachers. The 60 or so AYP teachers, who are natives of the slums they work in, teach free classes to, on average, 5,000 students per week. In addition, AYP responds to community needs by building schools, community centers, and providing other needed services.
I first heard about the project through Franklin Street Yoga Studio, which mentors a teacher through AYP. I saw a three-minute film about the project and immediately went home and told Jeff that we were heading to Africa.
To visit Kenya as ambassadors for the project we had to raise $10,000 to donate directly to the project, and commit to two weeks of volunteering. We raised over $10,500 the first year and left on New Year’s Day 2012. We had such an amazing experience that we made a lifetime commitment to raise $100,000 for this project, and each time we raise $10,000 we will return to Kenya.
To date we have raised $22,500 and are well on our way to our lifetime fundraising goal. We just returned from our second trip to Kenya, and we fell in love with the work of the project all over again.
This year I continued my work with the yoga teachers on understanding trauma. I am a trained clinical social worker and yoga teacher and I was able to use these skills the first visit to provide a definition of trauma, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, to offer some coping skills, and to create a safe space for sharing with the teachers. I also taught yoga to kids in Gracious School in a slum community called Huruma. Jeff taught music to the kids at Gracious. They made musical instruments from found objects and engaged in an activity called sound painting where they learn to conduct one another through hand signals making interesting musical compositions.
With the awareness that an election is coming up on March 4, 2013, I continued to work with the teachers on the specific trauma they experienced after the last election. In 2007 and 2008 there was political unrest due to corruption in the election and in the slums there was unprecedented tribal violence. The teachers were all impacted by the violence which included stealing, killing with machetes, tribalism, and assault.
The teachers are very scared about the upcoming election and we were able to process these feelings and also discuss options for their roles during this campaigning season and election. Since collectively the teachers have the capacity to connect with 5,000 people a week, they came up with presentations that they will lead in their yoga outreaches which focus on peace. They said over and over while we were visiting “if you want peace, be peace.” They believe this because many of them reference that yoga has saved their lives and provided them inner peace.
Jeff continued to work in Gracious School teaching music and documenting the project through photos. Over the past few months the small classroom building at Gracious School had been taken over by a political campaign. It was locked up and the kids were forced into small offices to hold classes. The government later provided a small piece of land to the school and AYP was able to quickly construct a new school while we were there. The money that we raised from our community was able to support the building of this new school for Gracious. It is two stories, made of wood and corrugated metal and has fourteen small classrooms. It was an honor and privilege to teach in the new school and to see the real impact of our fundraising work and communities support.
We are already fundraising for our next trip in 2014, and then in 2015 we plan to take a group of people from the Triangle to Kenya to work with the project as part of a yoga teacher training I will be leading. Moving in our bodies in an intentional, mindful way connects us to our power and allows us to transform on our mats and off of our mats. In addition to being a yoga instructor, Michelle Johnson is a member of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen.
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