I remember coming to this country feeling very nervous that I didn’t have much to offer. I didn’t come here with very many real life experiences in the developing world, and my international travel was limited to intern experiences and practicums. Health and Wellness Promotion is a degree that I will never ever regret obtaining, but I wasn’t sure if I was ready or even qualified to promote health in a place that I knew so little about. The last thing that I wanted to do was come in acting like I knew everything when in reality, I knew little to nothing about The Gambia and how the health system works, here.
Fortunately, Peace Corps does an amazing job of changing that very quickly. The organization forces you into a very uncomfortable but incredible situation where you learn everything right in the midst of it and from the people who know their country the most. After a year and four months, I have learned so much and I can still say that I am learning more and more every day.
Probably one of the most valuable take aways that I have…well…taken away from this experience is that I am most useful when I am invested in the activity or project that I am aiding in facilitating. This may seem obvious, however, there is this pressure to do certain things, because you are a “development worker”. For instance, building new school buildings, constructing fences, building wells (all three projects that would probably have me ending up writing a grant for), are three projects that I am not very interested in doing AND know that my village has the means to do it themselves. Also, keep in mind that I am one person. It isn’t easy being that one person in your village that is assumed to have the power (and finances) to give the world.
The most successful things that I have been able to do here have all turned out to be areas that I am so very passionate about. Right now, I am working with a group of about sixteen girls in grade eight to ten. Two of the girls had previously gone to a yoga camp with me and now have started their own yoga club at school. We meet two to three times a week and discuss topics that normally are not discussed, such as: self-love/care, body awareness, emotional health, community, where we ‘fit in’ as women, and the like. Then, we spend time practicing yoga and meditation, all while relating it to bettering themselves, having improved self confidence, and spreading peace in their school and community.
This hasn’t been an easy endeavor, but it has been a very visible and powerful transformation with these young women. Two days ago, the girls came in and we spent about twenty minutes doing sun salutations. No one laughed, no one was talking, the girls were all breathing and moving without me having to tell them every step of the way, and by the end, two of the girls volunteered to come up and lead the last few flows. I probably have never felt so proud in my life.
Yoga for international development is not something that I thought that I would be doing here. It has been so fun and so valuable, I have found. Sharing concepts such as mindfulness has been difficult, but it has challenged me to really step back and think about what it all truly means and present it in a way that these girls are able to grasp. Maybe it all sounds a little kookoo to you, but I have quickly learned, here, that these women (and men) have little room for self expression and movement. They are taught to learn by memorization and uniform processes. When asked “how are you?” the answer is and has to be “I am fine.”
Teaching breath-work introduces the concept of thinking before doing. The work is difficult here, and emotional health is not a concept on anyone’s radar. To slow down, think about your actions, and have the ability to release anxiety is learned.
There is a fire in these young women, but they can be painfully shy. Having a safe space for them to be individuals, each class we have journaling time, and allowing them to share feelings that otherwise are never, and I mean never, spoken about has visibly cultivated a sense of confidence. We yell affirmations every class! I AM CAPABLE! I AM SMART! I LOVE MY BODY! I LOVE MY MIND! I APPRECIATE YOU AND YOU AND YOU! We discuss things such as disappointment, anger, sadness, joy, excitement, and so many beautiful emotions that we should be allowed to feel and allowed to acknowledge!
Grounding. One of the most beautiful moments, here, has been meditating with the girls. At first, what seemed so silly to them has become our every meeting end routine. Last week we practiced smile breathing after discussing emotional health. The girls all sat in a circle and breathed with their eyes clothes and soft smiles on their faces. Kids were running around outside, school doors were opening and closing, naughty little kids were jumping up and down looking into our class, and these girls still kept their composure and were able to breath through the chaos. Honestly, it was moving. It is hard to have concentration when you are doing a hundred different things a day at the age of sixteen or seventeen. Homework, cleaning, sweeping, cooking, fetching water, taking care of your siblings, your neighbors children, or maybe even your own infant, remembering to pray, studying for exams..all in a day. They love that moment to be still and quiet now.
So what is the point of all of this? I actually didn’t write this as a yoga promotion, although I do think that it is a wonderful use of time and brain power. This is just one example of a passion of mine that I have been able to spread in a place where I thought it to maybe be useless or not accepted. This also goes for my passion for sports, nutrition and hypertension education. These are all things that have worked well here, because my heart has been in the work.
What are your passions? I hope that you never feel the way I did. That you had little to offer. You have so much more to offer than you know! I hope you never limit yourself.
If you are interested in learning more about how I structure my classes here, I will be writing another post near the end of our curriculum. We are following the Roots Tribe Yoga curriculum, and it is absolutely incredible.
You are amazing. You are capable. You can do so many things in this world and in this life. Find your passions, really find them, and let them soar.