In April 2017, four members of our team visited Nairobi, Kenya for a 200-hour Baptiste Yoga teacher training and observation of Africa Yoga Project‘s Shine Center. Through this cultural exchange opportunity, we learned about the tools used in the slums of Nairobi that could transfer to our own communities in Chicago. Our Co-Executive Director, Erin, shares her reflections on the experience:

What did you learn about yoga, healing, and economic empowerment during this training?

I learned that yoga, healing, and economic empowerment go hand in hand. Practicing yoga can heal the mind and the body. Sharing the gift of yoga by teaching or practicing as a community is healing for groups as a whole. The economic component is what makes the practice sustainable– being able to heal the self and others and getting paid to do it is what can lead to community-wide transformation. Africa Yoga Project has found a way to make wellness a business that starts at the grassroots, community-based level and myself and we were able to learn how to replicate their work in the Englewood community.

What was your favorite part of the trip to Kenya?

The people I met and the connections I made throughout my Kenyan journey was by far my favorite part. The training included about 100 people from 22 countries. Through conversation and sharing, I learned that we are not all that different. Whether someone is from Sierra Leon, South Africa, or the south side of Chicago our hopes, challenges, and dreams are more similar than they are different. People that were strangers to me on the first day felt like family to me on the last and for that I will be forever grateful.

How did this experience impact your own life?

I realized that I had to let go of the thought that I’m not good enough. Since childhood, I have always thought that I’m not enough or not doing enough and have set unrealistic standards for myself others. This experience allowed me to see my greatness and to choose myself and others for the way they are. By dropping my guard and authentically connecting with others, I have been able to really understand the light I have and how I can use the Kenya and AYP experience to connect with others.

How will you apply what you learned to your work in the Englewood community?

Both Kenya and Chicago have poverty. What my team and I noticed though is that Kenya has a community within impoverished neighborhoods whereas Englewood has isolation. We learned that yoga and food are what brings communities together and that together, the community is able to heal as a collective. By having the ability to sit with AYP staff, we were able to not only learn how to teach yoga and how to sustain a yoga business but also how AYP as an organization works and what practices have to lead to their success. I will apply the authentic communication and active listening skills that I was able to expand upon in Kenya to the work we do in Englewood.

What is your hope for the future of I Grow Chicago and Africa Yoga Project’s partnership?

Africa Yoga Project creates economic opportunity and cultivates wellness through yoga and I Grow Chicago is in the business of hope and healing justice. There is a natural, synergistic relationship between our organizations and I hope that we can create a global partnership based off of hope, wellness, and economic empowerment for the communities that both organizations serve. Additionally, the connections made from participants in both organizations can last well beyond the scope of programming. Traveling and meeting people from around the world is what allows us to make an impact on a global level. The world is so big, but we as humans are fundamentally not that different. Both organizations have a lot to learn from one another– I am so excited to see what the future holds.