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Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Exposing the Africa Yoga project : Yoga and Children in War Ravaged Northern Uganda

But were mingled among the heathen, and learned their works(Psalms 106:35)


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Deut. 18:9 ‘“When you come into the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations.”

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Dear African Born again Christian, be ware of the dangers of yoga. Yoga has nothing to do with Christianity. Even when given a Christian mask, yoga is essentially Hindu occultism. There is the so called Africa Yoga project that aims at spreading yoga in Africa. The woman behind this project targets vulnerable persons like children affected by war. She has conducted Yoga classes for War affected children in Northern Uganda. Yoga is already in many Christian churches, have nothing to do with it.


Africa yoga project
Upon my return to Nairobi, I had the bright idea of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Because I felt like it. I trained of course, but nothing can really prepare you for this kind of trip: climbing the world’s highest free-standing mountain, returning to Nairobi – and Kibera - at the end of it’s political riots and civil unrest, then venturing off into the rebel territory of war-ravaged Northern Uganda with an unknown local contact meeting me in Gulu after a 7 hour bus ride from Entebbe. According to all travel advisories and news updates, I was sure to be shot, kidnapped, so on and so forth on the way up. As usual this didn’t quite mirror the truth, but it was a challenge nonetheless. The trip overall, from mountain to Kibera to Gulu was physically, mentally, and emotionally draining and demanding…and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

First mountain climbed. Literally. Before I left Tanzania, I stayed a few days to recuperate at Ngare Sero Lodge in Usa River. The eco-friendly lodge is run by Tim Leach and his wife Stacia. Stacia, an American yogi, mentioned a friend by the name of Paige Elenson that was doing yoga with street kids. She said “she’s a crazy woman just like you, chasing after street kids, getting them to play with her. Love her to death. You guys are nuts, awesome but nuts.” She gave me her number and it was off to Nairobi I went.

The reaction from taxi drivers when you ask them to take you into Kibera is always amusing. But that’s another story for another time. I was living and working – well supposed to be – at Mama Tunza’s Children Centre. A very crowded orphanage in the heart of Kibera with children ranging from infants to 16 years of age.

Mama unfortunately only wanted hand-outs, and on a regular basis. It was questionable if the funds were going to the children. Actually, most often they weren’t. And there was no work to be done. Rather it wasn’t allowed. I was discouraged from interacting with the children in any meaningful way. I was instructed to just relax and “hang out”, watch TV with Mama, the kids would take care of everything. Locks were put on the door to my room and to the “volunteer only” washroom and shower. Disgraceful but sadly not uncommon. It’s a sad situation and one where I don’t’ have the means to sustain or support in any way as an individual volunteer and now as the founder of an NGO. This definitely wasn’t the project for CH.

I had contacted Paige my first day at Tunza’s. Little did I know Paige would be my angel and co-conspiring kidnapper. She invited me to join her the next day while she worked with this group called Sarakasi at this place called GoDown. Sure why not? Anything to get out of the orphanage and be useful AND find a project for CH.
So day one with Paige began at a Java Hut. I met with her and an acrobatic and magician/set designer she brought over from the US to create a circus to tour the IDP camps called Amani. Amani is Kiswahili for peace. She explained what she was doing with Africa Yoga Project - her non-profit organization, what Sarakasi was, and what she was doing with Amani. We grabbed a taxi and headed to GoDown.

The rest is history. Paige told me to pack my bags and live with her, which I did quite happily. There was of course some PPCS (Passive Polite Canadian Syndrome) guilt created over leaving the children of the orphanage – which I’m still at odds with, but it was the right thing to do.

As an artist, I fell head over heels in love with GoDown – I can’t wait to see Sarakasi’s new home as it sounds amazing.

As a human being I fell in love with Paige and the youth of her Amani Circus.

Africa Yoga Project
Paige is outstanding. Let me just say that right now. Africa Yoga Project (AYP) has a beautiful mandate that encourages you to “explore the possibilities” with a vision to develop and support initiatives that empower the youth and encourage well-being in East Africa.

Paige teaches her students yoga both on and off the mat. Yoga isn’t just a series of stretches and some cool body contortions; it’s a way of life. One doesn’t need a big religious or academic background of the vastness and complexity of the integrated system that is yoga to get it. The most basic principles of yoga are to live a life that is clean, positive, and for the benefit of the self and others – mind, body, and soul. Yoga teaches you that it’s all connected: if you’re stressed mentally, it affects your day to day activities as well as your physical health and your relationships with others. Yoga teaches you to respect yourself, not just what you have to offer mentally and emotionally, but also respecting your physical body, making it strong and healthy.

The problems Africa as a continent face are vast and complex, dating back hundreds of years. They can’t be solved over night. Positive change is always a gradual, slow-moving curve that is initiated by people like me and you. The change-makers – the leaders - of our time have never really been the “official leaders”: government heads and the like. The true leaders have always been the artists, the philosophers, the spiritualists, and the every day people like a 43 year old Rosa Parks that refused to give up her seat for a white person in 1955.

With that in mind, we all have a choice. We can sit around and wait for our “leaders” to do something, or we can take the wheel and support the small grassroots organizations like AYP that are working right now, TODAY, to make a difference. It starts with small seemingly insignificant gestures starts slowly, but with support and genuine compassion, it will grow and multiply.

“Almost everything you do will seem insignificant, but it is important that you do it” – MK Gandhi