Monday, 28 November 2011

Two Continents, One Love

This is an article that I wrote and was featured in the Whistler Question. I'm so honoured that my community is behind this great project!


During my visit to Kenya this month to work with the Africa Yoga Project, a U2 song rings in my head: “We are one, but we’re not the same. One.”

As I witness hopeless poverty, children’s ill eyes, a population living with and dying of HIV/AIDS and unbearable stories of rape and violence, I question the concept that we all suffer. I’ve never seen living conditions like the slums of Nairobi, let alone being able to relate. It’s impossible for me. I am merely a witness. A voyeur.

I tread lightly, taking photos and documenting life as we do not know it. And then, out of the blue, a new perspective hits me. I see love, sincerity, generosity and grace amongst the endless mounds of steaming garbage and open sewers.

It is possible to believe that we are one because we all love.

I’ve lived a comfortable life, attending good schools, spending summers at the cottage and now living a dreamy life in Whistler with my husband and two children. My parents were sure to raise me with a grounded sense of self and an importance in education and in giving back.

I didn’t expect that my greatest education would come in an unorthodox form. When I took part in Baron Baptiste’s yoga teacher training a new world opened up. Through my training, an intense program of both physical and personal growth, I met two young Kenyans who were sponsored to take part in the course through the Africa Yoga Project, founded by Paige Elenson in 2007.

Catherine and Moses came from two different slum areas in Nairobi. While sharing their experiences, challenges and most of all their desire to lead the change in their communities, I received an incredible education.

I had no idea that yoga could bring immediate peace to communities that had suffered from tribal violence, poverty and political frustration. Yoga had simply been an activity, an indulgence even. A world of possibility opened up to me as I emerged from my training as a teacher ready to share yoga with my own community.

Motivated to support Moses and Catherine, I began a $5,000 fundraising pledge through my Yoga Jam Events in Whistler for the organization that engaged, employed and empowered them — Africa Yoga Project (www. africayogaproject.org).

Yoga Jam Events started in Whistler in September 2010 and thanks to the gorgeous and powerful space generously donated by the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre (SLCC) there have been 11 events here to date.

One year later and $12,000 raised, I’m still fundraising and fully engaged in giving back to this amazing project.

From Nov. 3 to 21 I visited Nairobi, home of the Africa Yoga Project, to take part in their Ambassador Program. For two weeks I immersed in their world, witnessing the life of these teachers and the impact they are making.

A vigorous schedule was navigated despite the many obstacles with grinding, chaotic traffic, random police intervention and unsettled weather. The many challenges showed me just how unstoppable the Africa Yoga Project is at reaching the unreachable.



Whistler photographer Robin O’Neill joined me and we were paired with two young Kenyans, James and Irene, as our “brother and sister” who graciously guided us deep into every corner of their outreach programs.


Forty-three teachers have established a weekly schedule of 200 free classes in unlikely areas — orphanages, prisons, HIV/AIDS centres, slum area social halls, schools and facilities for special needs.

As I heard the personal stories of James and Irene I began to understand how these classes came about. James lost his father when he was 7 and by the age of 12 he was out on the streets hustling, gambling and pick pocketing to help feed his bedridden mother and three brothers. Life was lived close to the line with many near-fatal close calls.
When a random opportunity to join a yoga teacher-training program came about he felt he had nothing to lose. “I thought why not? It’s free and they are taking us to the coast,” he told us. He now declares that Baron Baptiste saved his life.

A powerful shift from hopelessness to a life of opportunity. When he realized he was given a tool to not only earn a living but also be able to give back to his community, a huge slum called Kangemi, he jumped at the chance and never looked back. Still living in the same dark, depressing and dangerous area, James now sees life in a very different way thanks to yoga.

As a woman, Irene’s story was hard to hear. Domestic violence, abuse and abandonment had left her defeated and cynical. As a single mother the only thing she was certain about was protecting and providing for her young daughter and unwell mother.


Her inner strength had been expressed as anger and moodiness until she found an outlet for release — yoga. Her employment had been performing as an acrobat, paid minimally to work long and arduous hours. Project founder Elenson discovered Irene and her troupe of Ghetto Girls and encouraged them to join her yoga class. Soon after Irene and her friends joined the Baptiste teacher-training program.

Today Irene is a leader, a born humanitarian, a fearless warrior — a woman who knows what she wants, fighting against all odds to live a life of service.

Africa Yoga Project trains, employs and empowers many others just like James and Irene. Their stories are unique and powerful and they share one common link — yoga as a means to transform their lives and those in their communities. Yoga is not a way out for them; it’s a way in.

Two of my greatest teachers came unexpectedly. These two strong, brave and compassionate people taught me how to listen, how to see people not from pity but from generosity, how a hug is more powerful than words, how true vulnerability inspires.

I am forever changed and grateful to these two peaceful warriors.

From my continent to theirs — one love.

People in Whistler can continue to support the work of the Africa Yoga Project with ongoing Yoga Jam Events. The next one is planned for Dec. 30 from 3 to 5 p.m. at the SLCC.

Also coming up on Dec. 3 from 10 a.m. to noon at the SLCC is a special Yoga Beyond Boundaries workshop that will provide more info about the recent trip to Kenya. Go to White Gold Yoga Page on Facebook for more info. 

Visit yogajamevents.com for more Yoga Jam Events in other locations around the world. 

Monday, 21 November 2011

Stillness

I'm waiting for my flight home and using these long travel hours from Nairobi Kenya to Whistler to process the many images, experiences and emotions imprinted on my heart. 17 days has been like a lifetime. I've wanted to bail, wail, wanted to stay, felt frustration, sadness and pure love.

After a year of fundraising for Africa Yoga Project I had a speech fairly down pat about the charity I had been passionate about. 17 days on the ground with them has left me speechless.

I have wanted to blog during my visit but I found myself getting into my head while witnessing a life I have only ever seen on a UN commercial, wondering how I would put it into words. This was taking me out. I love to write, I love to share, this is my way of processing. Yet every day I experience so much that my brain and heart couldn't connect in a sensible way. Oh and even saying sensible I felt stuck in "trying" to make sense of everything.

I'm a "doer" and have always been praised for this quality. But what I discovered on this trip is that doing and being are not the same. I was deeply challenged to access a quieter more present side of myself. This was tough to do as I picked up bare bottomed babies sitting in garbage and heard stories of rape and poverty. The arrogance that I could possibly make sense of this left me quiet.

The greatest gift I received was simply the presence and acceptance of a group of young Kenyans who are leading the change in the world. They have taught me what it's like to receive and what it's like to be seen.

I'm still left with brimming emotions and some confusion but I'm sticking with it and can only hope to become more still.
Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Africa and the service of love!

Tonight I read a book to my kids called "Give the World a Hug" all about a little cat named Jules who said goodbye to his owner Doozy to go through his list of hugs he wanted to give away. He traveled the world to hug the unusual and seek out the secluded. I explained to my 4 year old daughter that I'm living up to Jules' mission. I'm leaving behind my adorable kids and loving husband to offer up whatever I have to give to the Africa Yoga Project in Nairobi. I know I have hugs, I have love, I have yoga to share and I have great desire to elevate the world. That's what I'm going on and I feel it's enough. Jules' mission was simple and he was unstoppable. I'm inspired by a little fictitious cat, I can't imagine what I'm in for when I touch African soil.

I've had lots of opportunities to be stopped. I'm pushing through personal safety fears with high terrorist attack warnings and war with Somalia. I have no idea what lies ahead but I do know that the one thing that helps ground me in times of uncertainty is yoga. Yoga gets me out of my own way, gets me to a place of letting go of my imagination and puts me directly on the door steps of service. I'm ready.

My yoga mat and a year of support and awareness are packed up and ready to go to Africa. I acknowledge each person who has attended a Yoga Jam Event, who has come to my yoga classes and who has supported me on this trip. Empowering people through the gift of yoga is important work, it's peace work!

I will be back with lots to share. Robin O'Neill, local photographer extraordinaire, will be documenting the trip and I will be writing frequent blog posts. Please stay posted and I look forward to sharing all our experiences with you!

Photo by Dina Rudick

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My name is Erin Anderson, I'm in love with yoga. I found out how to love deeper, live lighter and reach further through yoga. I'm passionate about sharing just that. In order to do that, I created The Yoga Jam Events as a means to elevate spirit, cultivate community and generate abundance. Coming together in play, breath and movement we can make real impact in the world, starting in Kenya with a possibility that knows no bounds. Each Yoga Jam Event donates proceeds to the Africa Yoga Project www.africayogaproject.org. This blog is dedicated to what I've learned along the way.
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