Africa Yoga Project: global wellbeing in and from Africa
Tell us about your journey. How did you get where you are today?
Originally from New York City, I was probably the person that my high school yearbook would have voted “least likely to move to Kenya to teach yoga”. My life was consumed with the pursuit of success and, in turn, had some reckless failures of that pursuit. I felt empty, lonely and unhealthy. During University, I started practising yoga. Through my training with my yoga teacher Baron Baptiste I realised that anything is possible if you come from a place of being open to what's next. Baptiste Yoga transformed my life and I was compelled to learn how to share that with others. In 2006, I was on a safari with my family in Africa when I saw some Kenyan acrobats doing handstands in the bush. Although I was told to stay in the jeep, I couldn't help myself. I got out and showed them that I could stand on my hands too. After the safari, I came back to New York and kept receiving calls from the Kenyan acrobats pleading with me to come back and teach them more. Finally, after lots of thought, I decided to go back. This trip is what changed it all for me. What I did not realise was that I would be staying in the informal settlements of Nairobi, Kenya, where most people live on less than $1 a day. While teaching, I met five teenage girls; Catherine, Anita, Irene, Leah and Hadijah. They called themselves the “Ghetto Girls.”
The “Ghetto Girls” ranged in age from 13 to 19 years old, and were living in a small room made out of iron sheets with one mattress. Each and every day they travelled over two hours to come to yoga class. They said it made them feel clean, strong and happy. From here, a connection was born with Kenya, and with the amazing young people who were coming to class. After doing some research I found out that one of the root challenges that causes such abject poverty is youth unemployment. Over 80% of youth in Kenya are unemployed. I turned this challenge into an opportunity by forming Africa Yoga Project with Baron Baptiste. We now train girls and boys, like the Ghetto Girls, to teach yoga as an avenue to education, empowerment and employment.
Co-Founder and Executive Director Paige Elenson
What is the Africa Yoga Project and what does it do?
From the beginning Africa Yoga Project focused on training and developing local leaders who had their own communities that they are passionate about reaching out to. We act as the catalyst and support our teachers to lead the change they want to see. Our mission is to Educate, Empower, Elevate and Expand Employability with youth in Africa using the transformational practice of yoga. Our vision is to create opportunities for youth to step into their greatness and become self-sustaining leaders in their communities. Today, over 6,000 people participate in more than 300 community yoga classes weekly in 80 locations across 13 African countries.
More than 200 young people trained as teachers, are earning a living wage by teaching yoga to people who otherwise would not have had the opportunity. Every week up to 360 people from all walks of life in Nairobi gather at our community centre to practice yoga for 2 hours together. We also create cross cultural exchanges giving opportunities for people from around the world to experience yoga and service in Kenya and for our teachers to travel and experience the world.
What has the response been so far… has the concept been a success?
The numbers speak for themselves. We just completed our 200 hour teacher training with over 100 participants including 51 scholars from across Africa. The fact that people still want to join shows that they can see the success of those who have gone before them in transforming their personal lives and their economic opportunities.
What is the potential for growth for the Project – do you plan to expand to more countries?
I see Africa Yoga Project as a model for creating diversity and accessibility of yoga as a tool for social change. This model could be used anywhere in the world and we are already actively working in 13 different African countries. In terms of expansion, we expect to continue expanding as every year we get more applications from more countries to join our teacher training.
Who can get involved in Africa Yoga Projects, and how?
Anyone and everyone can get involved. From a donation based class every week day at 1pm and Saturday at 10am in Nairobi, to hiring a yoga teacher to teach at your company or private home, to becoming a certified yoga teacher through our training, or coming to Kenya for a service trip with one of our local communities. Visit our website to learn more and register for one of these opportunities!
All opportunities are listed on the Africa Yoga Project website, which includes the contact details of the centre - definitely worth a visit if you are Nairobi!