Holiday Giving Idea: Africa Yoga Project

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In the spirit of the holiday season I thought it would be appropriate to share one way you can give back to others in the final week of 2015. One of my dear friends and favorite yoga teachers, Dana, is embarking on a pretty incredible trip in a few months to help a group of people in East Africa embark on their journey to become yoga teachers with the Africa Yoga Project. Having recently completed my yoga teacher training at BIG in June, I can completely relate to the empowerment and personal transformation that can come from this process. What’s even more impressive is that the Africa Yoga Project does so much more than teach yoga, they work to change lives.

I had the chance to chat with Dana about her experience with AYP and why she’s going on this adventure. Read more and consider donating to the organization (click here)!

Lindsay: What is Africa Yoga Project?
Dana: Africa Yoga Project (AYP) is a non-profit that uses the practice of yoga to empower communities of East Africa. AYP currently employs approximately 100 yoga teachers, teaching over 300 yoga classes each week. This impact extends to over 250,000 Kenyans each year and it’s only growing! AYP does more than teach yoga – the organization also provides clean drinking water at outreach classes, provides yoga and a free lunch in prisons, builds schools for communities in need, and provides HIV/AIDS education among other things. As stated on their website, “We connect those who want to make a difference by sharing their skills and strengths to those who can benefit from that teaching.”

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Photo credit: Africa Yoga Project

Lindsay: Why are you volunteering and fundraising for them?
Dana: My interest in community service and making a difference started at an early age and was very much a direct result of my mother. In fact, she’s instilled the idea of helping those less fortunate than myself in both my brother and me. At an early age I participated in Habitat for Humanity and other community service programs, and this continued through my college years. At Villanova University I participated in my first “service trip” which took me to Costa Rica, to a community that Villanova had been visiting for several years. This lit the fire in me to assist abroad, but I also saw the downfalls in such programs. After Villanova I actually went and worked for four months in Costa Rica on a sea turtle project, working directly with the turtles and with the local community. That helped me see the importance of being in a place long enough to really get to know the community and its needs. Since then, while I’ve traveled abroad, I’ve kept my community service more local because I haven’t had the time to commit to really BE with and from there, help, communities abroad. However, AYP is different. AYP is up to empowering Kenyans and other East Africans so that the change comes from within. And that is exactly why I am volunteering to assist their teacher training.

As part of my volunteering, I’ve committed to fundraising $4,000, all of which goes directly to AYP and does not in any way fund my trip. My fundraising page can be found here.

Ten dollars can provide clean drinking water for five free outreach classes, $75 provides a yoga class and free lunch for 30 female prisoners, $125 provides a month salary for an AYP teacher, and $1,000 sponsors four Kenyan youth in a comprehensive week-long yoga teacher training. Truly, any amount is helpful!

Lindsay: How long have you been teaching yoga?
Dana: I’ve been teaching yoga since 2012 when I completed BIG Power Yoga’s first Teacher Empowerment Program. Since then I’ve also completed BIG Power Yoga’s SUP Teacher Training, Baptiste Level One and Level Two and Art of Assisting. The next step for me as a teacher and student is to receive my Baptiste certification, which I’m currently working on (and aim to complete prior to my 30th birthday).

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Photo credit: Dana Overcash

Lindsay: How long have you been involved with AYP? How did you learn about/get involved with AYP?
Dana: I had heard about AYP through the yoga grapevine, but my interest in AYP increased at my Baptiste Level One training in 2013 when we watched a video about AYP and the impacts the organization has in East Africa. After that my involvement consisted largely of donating/participating in fundraisers for individuals going on Seva Safaris (a service trip-like adventure with AYP) and attending classes on the AYP Handstands, Hugs, and Highways tours. This year, however, all of that changed when I went to Baptiste Level Two, led by Paige Elenson, the founder of AYP. Paige discussed the upcoming teacher training and the need for assistants – I immediately knew I had to go assist as it is the perfect combination of my favorite things: travel, yoga, and helping those less fortunate than myself.

Lindsay: You’re an avid traveler, have you ever visited Africa before?
Dana: I haven’t! And I’m so excited! I’ve traveled quite a bit – all of Central America, most of South America. My last big trip was in March/April 2015 and took me to Thailand, Bali, Cambodia, and Vietnam. I tend to focus my travels on a certain area and focus on completing that. Clearly, I was working on Southeast Asia, but I couldn’t turn down this awesome opportunity to experience Africa.

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Photo credit: Dana Overcash

Lindsay: What are you hoping to get out of this experience?
Dana: I’ll be assisting the AYP Teacher Training immediately prior to my 30th (eek!) birthday. My hope is that this experience re-ignites my passion for helping and empowering others and making a difference so that I can bring this into how I live my 30s! And I’m 100 percent sure that I’ll get things out of the experience that I haven’t even considered – that’s part of the excitement!

Lindsay: How will you share your experience with others when you get home?
Dana: I take a lot out of my travels and they really impact my everyday life – they make me more appreciative, kinder, understanding. My actual way of being gets altered when I experience the world and when I help those less fortunate that me, so that is one way that I’ll share my experience with others. I also plan to keep a blog of my travels (www.danawanders.com), from my time with AYP in Kenya to the additional adventure I’m planning afterwards. I can’t say blogging is a forte of mine, but I attempt it every time I travel and was relatively successful during my time in Southeast Asia. Additionally, upon my return, I plan to send a hand-written thank you note to each person who donates towards my fundraising goal, possibly including a few photos from my trip and definitely sharing my experience! And I’m always up for coffee, wine, or ice cream to chat about it all and life in general!

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Photo credit: Dana Overcash

Just in case you missed it, you can donate to Dana’s fundraising site for Africa Yoga Project here. 100 percent of your donation goes directly to AYP…how’s that for ending 2015 on a high note?

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