In Nairobi’s Mathare 4A neighborhood, the yogic mind-body-spirit connection transcends poor quality yoga mats, an uneven ground, and even communication barriers, giving the term ‘outreach community class’ a whole new meaning.
Africa Yoga Project (AYP) teacher Loreen Akumu was born deaf but she does not let her inability to hear keep her from achieving her dreams on and off the yoga mat. Loreen started her yoga teacher training with AYP two years ago and has developed tools to empower herself, to interact and connect with others, as well as to learn and to teach from the heart.
Over the past year, Loreen has met weekly with ‘Mathare Beads Work,’ a group of local young people. Every Monday at 4 pm, not very far from her house in the yard of a community art center called ‘Stone Throw,’ Loreen and Chris, another deaf AYP teacher, meet with the young Nairobians for yoga practice. Even though they lack a comfortable yoga space and typical yoga tools, clothes and equipment, this lively group of about ten people share a meaningful practice full of spirit, music and live drumming! The teachers share the power of smiles and elevate the class flow to another frequency. Transcending voice, the teachers and ‘Mathare Beads Work’ communicate through hand signals and presence. Together, they share smiles and dedicate an hour of work for the mind, the spirit and the body.
During a recent outreach class, Loreen was especially happy, her face lit up with shining eyes and a wide smile. It’s typical to see Loreen so positive, but during this community class, she had an extra source of her happiness: Sarah Hill, Loreen’s AYP Mentor, was in Nairobi and in the class – in fact she was even leading the yoga!
Sarah is now in Nairobi for three months, and this is the first time that she and Loreen are meeting face to face. The AYP Mentorship Program is a twelve-month commitment, during which an individual anywhere in the world, like Sarah, is paired with an AYP Academy member, like Loreen, and offers mentorship and support to help the other grow as a yoga instructor and leader. Mentors and AYP teachers usually only see each other on a computer screen during monthly Skype calls. Thus, Sarah’s real, live visit is something truly cherished and exciting! In fact, it’s a unique opportunity for Loreen to show Sarah her life and the work that she is doing in her neighborhood as well as get in-person feedback to strengthen her practice and their friendship.
In the words of Loreen, she feels grateful to have the opportunity to have a mentor, “I feel big love for Sarah and I appreciate her smile and positive attitude. Always the conversations with her by Skype empower me and remind me that I’m not alone.”
At the end of the class, Loreen, Sarah and the rest of the ‘Mathare Beads Work’ sat in a circle as Christine, an AYP team member, and interpreter helped aid a conversation between Loreen and Chris (another deaf AYP teacher) and the group. Even though several languages and different forms of communication were used that afternoon in Mathare, words, gestures, smiles and nonverbal language built a solid connection and respect for one another.
Loreen’s community class shows that material things are not necessary for creating an impressive community connection. Through passion, time, dedication, and love, we can build a meaningful community. Loreen’s outreach class can be a source of hope, teaching us that a solid foundation is the most important aspect of development as it is a fertile ground to sow and harvest over time.
Thank you, Loreen and Chris, for sharing the community you have built by following your conviction and your heart. You are leading by example: demonstrating that a disability is not an inability; showing that through hard work, you can at achieve your dreams; and using your actions to inspire all who are around you. Thank you for showing how a community can connect and how the unlimited power of smiles can weave us all together.