Martin Luther King said it best when he noted, “Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better”.
Certainly in the case of the Africa Yoga Project, which came about as the result of one young native New Yorker’s passion, this is definitely true.
The Africa Yoga Project (AYP), which was established as a non-profit organization in 2007, currently enables close to 5,000 people to participate in over 200 weekly workshops throughout Nairobi. It also provides a viable livelihood for local yoga teachers who a few years ago may have had little hope of finding any job that would help them to feed and take care of their families. Now, the 98 AYP teachers share their knowledge and love of yoga, teaching in prisons, schools, special need centers, HIV/AIDS support groups, deaf schools and rural villages throughout Kenya.
AYP Co-Founder, Director and human dynamo Paige Elenson, who now lives in Africa, is constantly busy, working out of the AYP community yoga center in Nairobi (known as the ‘Shine Center’).
However, we were thrilled that she was still able to put aside some time to discuss with Muuyu how the AYP came into being, its principles and plans for the future.
How did the Africa Yoga Project come about?
In 2006, I was on a safari in Kenya with my family when I saw a group of young Kenyan men doing handstands in the middle of the bush.
As a yoga teacher my first reaction was to jump out of the vehicle and do handstands with these young acrobats. Little did I know this brief connection would forever change my life.
After returning to New York I was contacted by the Kenyan Acrobats and asked to come back to teach them yoga. My heart said yes.
What I did not realize was that I would be staying in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya, where most people live on less than $1 a day.
It seems that the communities of East Africa have really embraced this project – How did you ensure that AYP remained rooted in empowering and enabling local individuals?
AYP staff members and teachers are almost completely from where we work, ensuring we are in touch with the real need on the ground and that we remain true to our vision and mission.
We are also constantly reviewing our activities to ensure we are on track to achieve our goals.
Many of the people practicing yoga through the Africa Yoga Project live in terrible conditions, whether it’s in slum areas, prisons or orphanages. How does yoga actually benefit them and is the environment within which they live integral to AYP’s teaching methods?
We strive to create empowerment and employment for youth from marginalized communities, to open up new possibilities for leadership and self-sustaining incomes.
The outreach programs also reach out to marginalized communities to share health and well-being practices. Through yoga we are elevating communities far and wide!
What is your most memorable moment with regards to the Africa Yoga Project?
I have so many memories and people who are close to my heart it would be hard to choose just one. I consider it a privilege to be part of the process and I treasure every moment.
In fact, just last week a moment that I have been waiting for occurred.
Mainstream media seems often to leave out people of color as representatives of yoga professionals. So I was so excited when I opened last month’s Yoga Journal and saw an Africa Yoga Project teacher as a model!
This means so much to me – that we are able to affect the global community and be a stand for diversity and inclusion, that a young man from the urban slums in Kenya can be a Yoga Journal model. Anything is possible!
What are the future priorities for the organization?
AYP plans on becoming the biggest and highest quality yoga training academy in Africa, where we graduate the best of the best in terms of wellness experts. The potential of the wellness industry in Africa still remains largely untapped, but our instructors/graduates are slowly filling the niche.
If someone wanted to get involved with the project how would they do that and are their skills that are specifically welcome?
We welcome anyone who wants to be involved in AYP!
Anyone can come to the Shine Center in Nairobi at 10 am every Saturday for our free community class, which is always followed by a free vegetarian lunch.
We have studio classes at the Shine Center and in Pop-Up studio locations across Nairobi throughout the week. We update our calendar on the website so do please check here.
Anyone can arrange a private class in their workplace or home with our qualified teachers.
You can also register for our annual 200 hour yoga teacher training by applying on-line, and you can apply to a scholarship if you live in Africa and meet our criteria.
As a mentor, the Mentor Program is a 12-month commitment. The monthly contribution of $125 pays for the salary of an AYP teacher. Mentors and AYP Teachers engage in monthly Skype conversations and email exchanges. In order to facilitate learning and sharing a new theme is presented each month based on the year of the mentee.
One can also volunteer by being part of the Seva Safari team, which is an opportunity for an adventure, service, yoga practice, and building community. We have trips planned all year round.
So you see, opportunities to plug in are plenty! I would encourage anyone interested to visit our website to learn more.
Siobhan is the Head of Communication and Content withMuuyu and a co-founder of the company. Born in Ireland she has close to 20 years’ experience working in the areas of PR, communication and journalism. She is also the editor of the Muuyu blog. Siobhan has been practicing yoga on and off for most of her adult life. However it was while doing a post-natal yoga class when pregnant that she really began to connect with her practice and she has been a regular practitioner ever since.
Connect with Siobhan here.
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