Share the Love for the Practice: How giving can give you more. A field story from Life Equals Ambassador – SARAH TEDDY KLEIN
After seeing Innocent, a 14-year-old Ugandan taking notes while I was teaching his P7 (equivalent to 8th grade in the states) yoga class, I had my eye on him.
My husband and I traveled to Tanzania for our honeymoon, followed by a month volunteering in Uganda. I taught English, Health and yoga at Lakesite Primary School and worked with street kids in an after-school program. While my husband, a physician, worked at the local children’s hospital.
Innocent would watch me demonstrate the pose, vigorously write in his notebook, then drop onto the floor and try it; return back to his notebook to record his experience. Innocent came to school each day with no shoes. He sat in the front row, eager to raise his hand to answer any questions. He voluntarily re-handed in assignments with all his edits. Motivation and personal drive are understatements to explain his thirst to learn.
Innocent stood out to me. However, it is important to note that many of the children shared this drive to learn. Here is an example—One afternoon about halfway through my lesson plan, the classroom across the courtyard started blaring hip-hop music. Being the clueless mzungu (the name given to any and every white person)
I yelled to compete with the noise “What is happening, should we be joining this event?”
Their reply “No, no teacher, please keep teaching.”
Could you picture this scenario in the States? The substitute teacher asking the students if they should leave class and the answer being NO… with a please —Ya right! This moment stood out to me. Pair that with the fact that the kids all show up 30 minutes, or even an hour before the teachers. They walk miles to school and often skip lunch just to be in class. With all odds against them in their educational system they want to learn. They are determined and dedicated. Learning is a privilege, not a requirement or expectation. It is moving and humbling to witness.
My yoga teacher, Larry Schultz, would always say, “Share the love of the practice.” I knew that was what I would be doing at this school. The truth behind giving is, the giver gains much more. I will share one of the many lessons I took home and carry close to my heart.
Every Saturday morning, the beautiful Layla and Emily, two x-pat yoga teachers living in Uganda, practice Larry’s words—sharing the love. They teach a free community yoga class, with a complimentary breakfast after. Located on main street in Jinja, Uganda; the intention is to spread this practice to the locals and build a community around the beauty of yoga. The class majority has grown (and continues to grow) to mostly local Ugandan men and women. It is a beautiful site to see tourist from around the world, local Ugandans and the x-pat community all sharing their Saturday morning in a moving, breathing meditation.
Layla and Emily have both completed training with the Africa Yoga Project and are committed to spreading yoga to Uganda. Not an easy task. One that requires breaking through cultural boundaries and religious beliefs. But doing they are!
Our last Saturday in Uganda the community class was taught by two Kenyan yoga teachers, from the Africa Yoga Project. They had made the trip, by plane, to see the yoga community growing in Jinja. They had found yoga through the Africa Yoga Project, dedicated themselves to the practice and have a story of success from it. Teaching yoga for a local Kenyan or Ugandan can provide a steady stream of income and employment with the growth of yoga tourism.
During my last day at Lakesite Primary School, I decided to invite Innocent to the community yoga class. I gave him some money, so he could get a bota-bota (the local transport all over Uganda—a motorbike). I knew transport would be a hurdle for him. When handing money to a poor 14- year-old boy, I knew it was 50/50 in seeing him in class. I told myself I would not be disappointed if he did not show.
One inner struggle that seems to always bubble up for me when traveling in the 3rd world —trusting the good in people. You witness corruption from top to bottom, greed and suffering in a way that makes you question humanity. This connection of oneness or goodness within each and every one of us is a lesson yoga teaches. The asana allows us to feel it on a tangible level; meditation whispers the message in our ear. I like to live from this place, from this belief. However, on this trip it was put to question and handing over the money felt like a moment where this question would be tested.
Saturday morning arrives and the class begins. The high energy African style yoga kicks off with smiles, hip shakes and sweat. No sign of Innocent. I try to not let it get to me and fall into my practice.
“How could I blame him; I should have picked him up… back to your breath Sarah”.
“Maybe his Mother would not let him go, maybe she needed the money, and maybe she needed his help…. Let it go, you’re tired”. I felt a surge of disappointment, not in him but in something bigger.
Halfway into the class, through my downward dog, I spot him! Standing against the back wall. Dressed in a white, pressed, button-down shirt, three sizes too big; a black vest over top, ripped at the seam and held together by a thread; a belt wrapped around him twice and shoes! Shoes you would not even find at a garage sale, but shoes. He had come and he proudly wore his best.
My smile stretched ear-to-ear as I felt tears well up. I ran to the back of the room, hugged him and set him up on a mat. He jumped right in, proudly holding the poses he knew and studying the ones he had never seen.
There he was, he had come. A feeling of faith in the good, a feeling my heart has always known to be true rushed over me.
After class I quickly ran over to Patrick, the Kenyan yoga teacher and shared the story of Innocent. Asking him if he could chat with him for a minute or two.
On my first day at Lakesite Primary School, the head teacher pointed out that what students need most in Uganda is positive role models. After spending one day with the kids, I could see the truth behind these words.
The beauty of watching Patrick pull Innocent in for a huge hug moved several others and myself to tears. These two share a connection through their circumstances, one I will never truly understand. They both demonstrated to me a willingness to rise above boundaries and work hard with passion and determination. Patrick was the perfect role model for this amazing child. My heart was full as Patrick sat Innocent down to joyfully inspire, as Innocent nervously listened with excitement. These two represent the story of the lotus flower, blooming with beauty out of the muck.
This moment will be one I hold dear to my heart forever, the cherry on top to a month full of lessons and truths. Once again, I am grateful for the power of the yoga practice, it’s ability to bring people together and the space it provides us to see the truth. It is the silent teacher in all things.
Share the love and trust the good!
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