The Africa Yoga Project mission is to educate, empower, elevate and employ youth from Africa using the transformational practice of yoga.
Our vision is to create opportunities for youth to step into their greatness, become self-sustaining and leaders in their communities. Below is an interview with Michelle Johnson, yoga instructor and fundraiser, supporter, and Seva Safari leader for the Africa Yoga Project.
What inspired you to go on your 1st trip? And subsequent trips?
I believe in transformation and the ability to make change. This is expressed through my career as a social worker and in my yoga teaching. It was 2010 when I first heard of the project. I couldn’t actually attend the orientation meeting so a watched the video and by the end – that was it, I was IN.
I told Jeff, my partner, I was going to go and asked if he was interested in joining me. I’m just that kind of person to just jump in and take action. We’d never done anything like that before (asking for or raising money), but we were committed and just made it happen. Once I set my mind on something, I WILL make it happen.
Since that time we’ve done three Ambassador Program trips and one Seva Safari trip (August 2015). I guess that says a lot, because we continue to go. We are already are set for another trip next year.
Tell me a bit about your experiences with Africa Yoga Project
Our most recent trip this August was a Seva Safari. I was a leader along with four of my students from teacher training, plus there were a few other volunteers who joined us. Seva Safari is really more service oriented to support the program. In August, our trip was focused on Social Justice and Yoga as those are my areas of expertise; however, our service was a building project supporting the AYP school.
We worked together and eventually the community children joined us. It is their school, and they wanted to be a part of it. So you see, for Seva Safari, you don’t have to be a yogi or even practice regularly. Our project this year was a building project at the Gracious School. We were painting and doing manual labor to support the infrastructure needs of the program.
There is immersion to the country and the program at the beginning, then 4 or 5 days of a structured project. At the end of the trip there are 3 or 4 days of travel and exploring the country. So you get a mix of service, immersion and exploration. Once you go…you can’t go back to not knowing what this experience is about.
What did you hope/expect to give? And how did that trip meet with your expectations?
I didn’t really have an expectation. I’d never been to Africa and never raised that kind of money. I just knew this was important, and I needed to do it. I’m fortunate that Jeff and I could share in this. Maybe that is why it was so good. I had no preconceived notions and was able to truly be there.
Seeing the impact on the communities and how AYP empowers people and trains leaders. Some of the teachers that AYP has trained told me they used to be the ones stealing and causing trouble, and now they are teaching. They see themselves as leaders and are respected in the community. They set an example showing that there is another way of life.
The slums are busy, loud, chaotic, and dangerous. AYP doesn’t take place in a studio like we know them; often times it is just a room…many don’t even have mats. Still, this one hour of yoga is a time of calm, safety and healing.
Clearly I was moved. I literally woke up in the middle of the night that first week of my 1st trip to Kenya and decided we were going to raise $100,000 to support the program. Again, I have no experience raising that kind of money and no access to those who give large sums. I was that moved by the importance and impact of this program to transform lives and communities. So far we’ve raised $37,000.
What would you tell others considering an AYP trip how can they contribute?
Be ready to receive and be open. Show up for the experience. In my experience with AYP as a participant and leader, you are part of the positive impact by giving and showing up. It’s not about being a big yogi… It’s about showing up and being open to experience. Even if you are not a yogi, you will have an experience where you understand yoga off the mat. To see what it really means to LIVE yoga.
If you’re interested in traveling with Africa Yoga Project, details are on their site or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
If a trip is not in your calling, you can support AYP and Michelle’s upcoming trip by donating here.
Two teachers from the Africa Yoga Project will join us in North Carolina.
- Sunday, November 29th-Tuesday December 1st
They will be teaching two donation classes at Carrboro Yoga Company with Michelle Johnson.
- Sunday, November 29th at 4:30pm
- Tuesday, December 6th at 6:00pm
– As told to Joy Steinberg, 8/25/15