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 Director of Development, Zelda, shares her reflections on the experience:

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

One thing we often say at the Peace House is, “If you’re going to ask someone to put down the guns, you have to give them something else to pick up.” I Grow Chicago has been using yoga and mindfulness, along with other holistic strategies, for the past four years to heal our community from trauma and provide positive community building opportunities. Through our two-week training with Africa Yoga Project, I witnessed how these therapeutic healing tools can also be used powerfully for economic empowerment. By providing Yoga Alliance certified, well-respected, and effective yoga teacher trainings to our community, we can equip individuals with job skills and opportunities as well as self-care and healing strategies. I left Kenya feeling inspired and ready to build something magnificent in Chicago, to make Englewood and the entire city of Chicago a hub for healing justice, empowerment, and wellness opportunities.

What was your favorite part of the trip to Kenya?

By far, my favorite part of our trip was getting to meet people from all across Africa and the world. This opportunity for cultural exchange really showed me the power of connection. Not only did we meet people from 22 different countries, but we were also vulnerable, honest, and authentic with each other. We shared aspects of ourselves that are hard to even share with our closest friends and family, and together we grew beyond our limitations. I witnessed members of my team transform, become the people we had always known they could be. I Grow Chicago’s vision is a world where everyone can grow into their unlimited potential, and this trip was a huge step towards making that vision a reality.

How did this experience impact your own life?

This experience helped me see where I was stuck in my life and start to take tangible steps towards more healthy habits and self-care. I am finding more balance in my life, which has allowed me to be more open to the things I truly love – being with community, mentorship, teaching and practicing yoga, and making big, exciting plans happen.

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

Most tangibly, I am excited to move forward with building Englewood’s first yoga teacher training workshops. We are currently working with Africa Yoga Project, Baptiste Yoga Foundation, Radiant Child Yoga, and local studios to create a series of training workshops at the Peace House this summer and fall. I’m also looking forward to our partnership with Africa Yoga Project continuing to deepen and expand. More broadly, I’m happy to see our team growing together and moving forward confidently. I believe I Grow Chicago is up to big things, and I am honored and humbled to be a part of this global effort to bring hope and opportunity to all.

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

I Grow Chicago and Africa Yoga Project are doing similar, interconnected work, despite being separated by an ocean. I see the power of connecting our organizations and growing together. In particular, the Englewood community suffers from wide-spread isolation, which adds to the harm of trauma, poverty, and violence. When we are able to meet people from across the world and see we are all connected as one, the chains of isolation begin to break down. I hope for children and adults in the “ghettos” of Chicago to be able to share and interact with residents of “slums” in Nairobi, truly building a global wellness community and breaking down barriers together. Specifically, I would like to see the Englewood yoga teachers we train at the Peace House assist trainings at the Africa Yoga Project Shine Center in Nairobi, and vice versa. I believe that this is only the beginning!