Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The End


It is the final day of my 29 day gift giving challenge and I would like to share some insights gained through this experience. You could divide my month-long adventure into three parts. In the first phase I physically participated in acts of charity. Next, I gave gifts both large and small to friends, family, employers, and even "enemies". In the final chapter of my experiment I made small donations to a variety of causes of interest to me and suggested by others.

My acts of giving included things like giving up my subway seat and giving change to the homeless. I determined my pledge in the morning and kept it in mind all day. During these days I was often reminded of how many little things I do already. Smiling at a stranger, holding a door, and helping with a stroller are all gifts easily given in this city; but now that I had one task in mind I wondered if I should also continue with these other gifts. I found my pledge had the potential of causing me to do less.

However, there were many positives that came out of this phase. One of the my favorite days was when I filled my pockets with change and looked for people to give it to. I'm sure I was helped more than the recipients of my pennies. It was such a different mindset and healthier feeling to look to give, rather than shifting my gaze and avoiding contact. I am now convinced that giving heals the giver.

The clich├ęd "joy of giving" continued as I entered phase II. I found it so exciting waking up each day and choosing someone to surprise with a gift. And I could tell that although my presents were often small, they truly touched their recipients. In all cases the feeling between myself and the receiver was enhanced; and in one instance I found the ritual of choosing and offering up a gift to completely shift a relationship dynamic.

My last days of giving were more remote, but very educational. I learned about my friends and the causes they support. Here are a list of some of the organizations I made donations to: Shoes that fit, International Rescue Committee, Child's Play, Sweet Baby Zane, Vitamin Angels, Bent On Learning.

As with most things in life, the end of this project is really not the end, but actually the beginning. For me it is the start of a new approach to giving. It is in this spirit that I have decided to commit myself in this next month to keeping a pocket full of change and to standing on public transportation one day each week so that someone else can have my seat.

Want to make your pledge? Go to www.29gifts.org or simply post your goals here.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

29 Days of Giving

I recently read about a 29-Day gift giving challenge and decided immediately to participate. The premise is very simple and doable and a great way to focus ones attention outward on helping instead of getting trapped in any "whoa is me" winter blues. A gift can be anything from loose change, to clothing, to a smile. What makes it fulfill your daily pledge is your intention. I have only just begun and already I have learned a great deal about my tendencies in giving and receiving. To join me in this incredible endeavor, please sign up at www.29gifts.org. You can start at anytime.

Below is an account of Day One of my 29-Day pledge:

Taking the Long Way Home
Day one of my 29-Day Gift Giving Challenge and I almost didn't make it. I left my house eager and excited to give a packed lunch to a needy New Yorker, but had a hard time finding just the right recipient. Early this morning the homeless I saw were sleeping on subway benches. I asked myself if leaving the package near someone would fulfill my personal pledge and concluded that it would not. So, I trudged through my day with my purse exploding container. Later a man on the train was asking for money in the form of a sort of song. I couldn't stop him chanting long enough to find out if he wanted the food, so on I went. At 2PM I finished teaching my last yoga session and my gift was still in my bag. I had two subway options for heading home. One would let me off directly across from my apartment with little chance of running into anyone in need and the other would let me off way across town. I went with the later, vowing to walk the distance and keep my eyes open for the kind soul who would help me fulfill my obligation. Just a few wet blocks and I found him. It was a great relief and perfect conclusion to my day. He was very polite and happy for the food, but he still wanted some change. I was about to walk away, but changed my mind. I don't know why he also wanted money or what he'll do with it. And I'm not sure it matters. He saw someone willing to stop and give and he asked and I gave. I'd been saving up all my giving for this man and even taken the long way home.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

It's chocolate time!


I'm just going to say this simply: women need chocolate, crave chocolate. love chocolate. And you guys out there love it too. As some of you know, I have one of the simplest, pared down diets around, and I rarely desire any food, but even I still have that little ache for chocolate. And now I understand why:

The seeds from the Cacao tree used to make pure chocolate have the highest level of antioxidants of any naturally grown product. The problem has always been how to turn the seeds into chocolate that tastes good (not bitter) without altering the antioxidant levels. Now that this has been accomplished through cold pressing you can eat your daily dose (of the right stuff) and feel good about it.

The benefits of raw Cacao are numerous, and I have been experiencing many. The two strongest effects I have noticed are a tremendous boost in a long lasting, non-crashing type of energy and a major curb to my appetite. Since adding this chocolate to my diet I feel an overall upgrade in my wellness on every level. I highly recommend this product and look forward to hearing the positive effects it has on you!

To buy a box of Xocai healthy chocolate visit my web site: http://www.mxi.myvoffice.com/laralauchheimer/

Or to learn more about the health benefits and distributing opportunity you can also visit: www.thefivereasons.com and www.mydrchocolate.com

Contact me directly at LaraLovesChocolate@gmail.com to attend a tasting!


Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Yogic New Year



As we look deeply within, we understand our perfect balance. There is no fear of the cycle of birth, life, and death. For when you stand in the present moment, you are timeless. Rodney Yee


Every culture has its way of marking the passing of time. Some see the opportunity for a new start linked with the seasons and some with the introduction of a newborn brought into this world. Each year I am awed by the cameras documenting the transition from one year to the next in countries all over the world. How similarly silly we all look counting backwards the final ten.

Beginnings and endings are certainly a part of daily life. And one's personal New Year could start at any moment. Many say 'today's the day' or more often 'tomorrow's the day' on a daily basis. And for some a rebirth really does come in that instant. However, unmasking, uniting, and restarting are more easily done in the presence of others striving that way during an energetically opportune period. This is the holiness of the month of Elul.

I have designed a unique four part workshop called A Yogic New Year for this special month. All are welcome and invited to sit, move, breath, and learn with me and speaker Howard Katz on Wednesdays September 2, 9, 16, and 23 from 8PM-10PM at Centerpoint/Atmananda Yoga Studio as we ignite the body, mind, and soul in preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. No matter how limited or advanced your Jewish or Yoga background is, you will undoubtedly benefit from this opportunity to detox and reboot. Although best experienced as a four part workshop, you are welcome to come to any of the sessions.

This is a FREE event brought to you by the Birthright Israel Alumni Grant Initiative and Romemu. Your RSVP is encouraged to guarantee your spot and can be sent along with questions to laracorinne@gmail.com. For more on my schedule visit www.adventuresinyogaland.com designed beautifully by Cameron Northey.

Please learn more about the Birthright Israel NEXT Alumni Grant Initiative at http://next.birthrightisrael.com.

Romemu is a holistic center in Manhattan that seeks to integrate body, mind, heart and soul in Jewish practice. Our offerings are designed to inspire an openhearted and intellectually stimulating community, and individual spiritual path, leading to a more connected and compassionate daily life. More information: http://www.romemu.org



May all sentient beings enjoy happiness
and the root of happiness.
May we be free from suffering and the root of suffering.
May we not be separated from the greta
happiness devoid of suffering.
May we dwell in the great equanimity free
from passion, aggression, and prejudice.

Monday, April 20, 2009

"We are the world"



Firstly, I would like to thank you for your patience as I resettled in New York.  I have been blessed with an easy transition thanks to the love and support of so many.  Those of you who know me, have witnessed the ceaseless way I attacked this city from day one of my return. Many recommended rest and a slow shifting into spring, but right now a great flow urges me forward, and I am deeply invigorated.  

Some of the best times I had abroad were working with children, so I accepted immediately when I was invited to teach a Kindergarten class at Bedwell Elementary School in Bernardsville, New Jersey.  You never know what kind of mood a class will be in, especially the day before a school break, so I had a lot planned.  In short, the kids LOVED doing yoga and continue to talk about the experience with their parents and regular teacher.

I am now hoping to get involved with a remarkable non-profit called Bent on Learning.  Bent on Learning brings yoga and meditation to New York City public schools.  They reach kids in grades K-12 and give them a chance to reduce stress, increase concentration, and improve overall health.  This is an organization I strongly believe in.  Yoga teaches naturally how to breath in challenging situations.  Slowing the breath gives time for increased clarity and this provides all of us with an opportunity to make more thoughtful choices.  What a gift for today's youth!

In the next month I will be doing a number of workshops triggered by my experiences abroad. Proceeds from these presentations will go to Bent on Learning.  Contact me if you would like to attend one of these events, or click here to donate directly.

Sunshine is my quest.  ~Winston Churchill

Monday, March 16, 2009

Planning my return


There are under two weeks left until my return to the states and the planning has begun.  What energizes me about going back to New York is all the great opportunity I will have to continue on with the kind of work I have begun abroad.  Only now I have a chance to enrich my home community.  

Here is where you will find me in the coming months:

1) Starting May 2nd I will be assisting Authorized Ashtanga teacher, Zoe Slatoff, every morning except Saturdays and Moondays at Ashtanga Yoga Upper West Side.  You will also find me there on Sunday evenings at 5pm teaching Led Primary Series.  Please check out the site for details.

2) I will be giving a workshop presentation on the Rwanda experience tailored specifically to the unique needs and interests of each audience.  Stay tuned for information on the first event hosted at the Fair Lawn Jewish Center on May 7th.  Please contact me if you are a yoga studio, school, or community center interested in booking this one-of-a-kind seminar.

3) I have been awarded the Birthright NEXT Alumni Grant and will be using it to actualize a long dreamed about project.  In the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah, I will be teaching a class once a week that will demonstrate how yoga can enhance the Jewish experience specifically in relation to the new year.

4) I will be teaching yoga to an HIV positive support group in NYC.

5) I will be teaching a yoga workshop to a kindergarten class in New Jersey and working with the teacher on how she can continue to use yoga in her classroom.

And finally, I will be available for private classes.  

Of course, before all that can happen I have two more weeks in this beautiful country!
More next week.  Lara

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Weekend of Karma Yoga

This weekend was busy with joyous giving.  On Saturday Alia and Bruno, hosted a fundraiser at their home (India Song House) for an organization called Odanadi.  Odanadi rescues and rehabilitates the vulnerable women and children sold into illegal sex trade, bonded slavery and domestic servitude here in India.  Through the practice of semi-classical Indian dance, song, drama, art, karate and yoga, the women and children of Odanadi are gradually able to rebuild their confidence, self-respect, physical and mental strength.  Self-expression is of vital importance to their recovery.  In addition, Odanadi goes into villages and educates in hopes of preventing the continuation of human trafficking. 

There was a huge turnout for this event which was designed not only to raise money, but also to educate about the human trafficking still prevalent today.  We watched the Odanadi members perform and heard some of their stories.  In the end over 60,000 rupees was raised.

On Sunday I revisited the children at the Asha Kirana HIV clinic. Many familiar faces greeted me as I entered.  The smiles widened when they saw the great gift of yoga mats I was able to provide due to so many generous donations.  After a gentle yoga practice the children sat down to make drawings for their sponsors.  They didn't know what to draw at first, but slowly their creativity emerged.  I am still collecting mat donations for the 70 children that pass through this clinic each month.  You can support one HIV positive child's yoga practice by making a $7.00 donation to my Pay Pal account under BebiTaurus@aol.com.

Thanks for all of your contributions!

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Practice


I have avoided writing much about the yoga practice since many of you are yoga practitioners and already have your own experience of the day to day coming to the mat.  This week I will make an exception with the hope of reaching those of you who wonder what it is this yoga thing is all about.  Perhaps some of you are already taking asana practice at home and wonder why come to India year after year when these days it's hard to walk a block without seeing a yoga studio in the states.

Here in Mysore we sit down each Sunday at KPJAYI (Shri. K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute) for a weekly conference.  When my teacher Sharath takes his cross legged seat on the stage the room grows quiet with anticipation.  What will he speak about?  For one hour we will be blessed with some new knowledge often attained through old stories.  Just one glimmer of understanding can make the yoga practice feel completely new in upcoming week.

This Sunday I was reminded of the opportunity practice presents for delving into ones relationship with G-d.  In hebrew, the word for soul (nephesh) and the word for breath (neshamah) share the same root.  In this tradition we understand words with identical roots to be connected and look for what their relationship can reveal.  The relationship between the breath and the soul is one that can be intellectualized but is much better understood through direct experience.  It is this happening that I delve into each morning in the stillness of the pre-sunrise hours.

Through focus on the breath (neshamah) I come to know my true self (nephesh).  And through knowledge of my true self I come closer to knowing the one truth, the higher power I call G-d, but who is known by many names.  This is one of the reasons breath is a main focal point of the practice.  Concentration on breath is crucial to attaining yoga- a yoking of the individual and universal consciousness.  Too deep?  Don't worry.  Concentration on breath can also help release muscle and mind tension and bring you into the present moment, which of course is all there really is!  It links the spirit, mind and body so that you can live with more awareness and experience less friction.  Great benefits come from this such as being able to make decisions more easily and with less regret.  There is also a decrease in covetousness, anger, and anxiety and an increase in overall health and sense of peace and calm.  All this from paying attention to the breath!

The beautiful thing is that it works the other way too.  If you are a practitioner having trouble connecting with the breath, don't underestimate the power of surrender.  Give the practice up as an offering to a higher entity and watch as the breath spirit fills your body and mind.

So why wait?  Start practicing now.  As my teacher says, only lazy people can't practice yoga. All others can.  You don't have to put your feet behind your head to be a yoga practitioner.  And if you can put your feet behind your head, that doesn't mean you are doing yoga.  So, don't be discouraged.  You can try for yourself and observe what changes in you.  Nothing happening? Don't worry, "all is coming".  

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Making Progress



Well, it has been three weeks since I arrived here in Mysore and I must say I have made some progress. This is very exciting, especially considering that this is not a country that works at a New York City pace (or even a Savannah, Georgia pace for that matter!).

So, here is what is happening and what steps are next:

Today I made my fourth visit to Asha Kirana, an HIV clinic here in Mysore. On the second and fourth Sundays of each month, HIV positive children come from all over India to get blood tests and medicines. By 11 am the waiting room is full of kids and their guardians waiting for their turn to see the doctor. To ease their anxiety during this time I have started teaching them yoga. They are very receptive and even excited to practice yoga together. Afterward they are so quiet and calm. They all crowd around to say personal thank yous and shake my hand.  It's an outpouring of love that is beyond anything I have earned.  

The program is so successful that Asha Kirana would like to make it an ongoing practice. I will be here through March, but am looking for someone to come with me and continue to teach when I am gone. I am also looking for yoga mats so that each child can practice properly. Many of the yoga students here leave their mats when they return home. I am hoping they will donate these used mats to the Asha Kirana program. Another option is to donate the cost of a new mat. They are sold here for Rs 250 or about $6.25.  I have set up a table at OM Cafe here in Mysore so that students who leave after breakfast can make a donation on their way out.  Please email me at laracorinne@yahoo.com if you would like to buy a child a yoga mat.  I will send you updates on the child you have sponsored.  

A slightly more complicated project is to set up a sewing organization for women in need of employment. My hope is that they will eventually make mat bags that will be sold at the shala, as well as cloth shopping bags that will replace the plastic so many use to carry their fruits and vegetables. This is going to require workspace, sewing machines, materials, and hard workers, but it can be done.

Finally, I am also helping Chethana Trust, a mental health facility, to sell their chocolates. These goodies are made by the mentally challenged and the profits go towards making these men and women financially independent. They take great pride in their work and look forward to becoming productive members of the community as their earnings come in. So far Anu's, Tina's lunch place, and Edelweiss Austrian Cafe have agreed to sign on.  I am also in negotiations with a wholesaler who may sell the chocolates as gifts for corporate events.

As you can see, there is a lot to be done. Not everyone can get away for long periods of time, or part with large sums of money, but everyone can contribute something, whether it be time, knowledge, or helping to form a new connection.  Pick one thing you are good at and make a pledge to make a difference!

Find out more about small commitments that bring big change soon at www.thepledgepage.com.
Also coming soon: www.adventuresinyogaland.com

Practice, Practice, Practice



Saturday, February 14, 2009

What is it about this place?



What is it about India? Stepping off the plane I recognize the smell. It's incense mixing with the dry air. The ground is dusty dirt. Bollywood songs blare out of rickshaw speakers. I know I have arrived, and I can't stop smiling. The streets are crazy. "No one at home would believe this," I always think. A picture would not do it justice. You need all five senses to set this scene. Cars and Motorcycles driving in every direction with no regard for lanes. We squeeze through impossible spaces to get ahead. A cow sits gracefully, serenely in the middle of the road as buses whiz by. Only in India.

Men huddle around a tiny counter sipping steamy chai out of little glass cups. Every couple of minutes someone lifts the a jug into the air and lets the water fall into his mouth without ever touching the spout. A man smokes cigarettes and pees by the side of the road. This is India.

The women are in dancing sheets of color. Rolls of belly flesh peek out. Their hair is long and braided. Some sweep streets with brooms made of twigs. Many are hidden inside. They smile and the sun shines off their gold nose and ear rings. This is India.

And this is India: In the morning I wake up and I am happy. I give thanks for another day my soul, my consciousness has been returned. I lie on the floor and breath for a moment letting the night's grip on my body slip away. I go to yoga practice. As I raise my arms in the first movement of Surya Namaskara A (Sun Salutation A) I give thanks again, this time for this miraculous instrument I call my body. Each day I really am amazed at the arch of the arm, the picture of the hands in prayer before me.

Each day another opportunity to use this gift of life for good. A chance to ease suffering and increase freedom. A chance to honor the earth by not taking for granted her many offerings. So many chances to do good. So many choices to make.

And this is India too: Today a man I see everyday has a blockage in his heart, and though he works long hours and with constant kindness, he can not possibly pay the 200,000 to 300,000 rupees -- $4,500 to $7,000+ it will cost for his surgery. His name is Guru and he is the corner coconut man here in Gokulam. This too is India.

If you've been wondering what you can do to make a difference, help Guru. Maybe that's why you happened to read this blog today. Click here and scroll down to give any sized donation.

What is it about this place? Nothing. This is a place like all others. You can leave it or you can touch it. You can make it better or you can make it worse. This is a place like all others. A place where anything is possible.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Moving Up

There is a shared concept in Judaism and Yogic Philosophy that a person is either moving towards his goal or away from it.  The idea that he is standing still is an illusion.  I don't want to lose all the good momentum I built up in Rwanda, so I am making the choice to go forward with work I did there and see how I can best incorporate it into my new setting.  It is my third trip to India, but I am seeing Mysore with brand new eyes.  As I look around, I wonder how I could have been here twice before and never asked the questions now running through my mind.  I never thought of India as a place with AIDS even though, all places are touched by this problem and traditional cultures clearly face issues of stigma for those infected.  It has been a fight to get doctors to treat infected patients with compassion and equality.  And just in the last couple of years has India developed the laws needed to safeguard its HIV positive school children against discrimination in the classroom.

Thanks to the help of my friend Tracy, founder of Operation Shanti, I was able to visit three HIV-Aids clinics yesterday and was glad to hear that progress is being made. The individual staff members were excited to show me around and eager to answer my many questions.  I knew I was truly welcome when they wouldn't let me leave without first having a cup of sweet chai.  It will take a couple follow up visits at least to find out more about these different communities and how I can best serve them with my skills and resources.  But I am up for the challenge.

It is yoga that has brought me here and yoga that has opened my mind and heart and allowed me to see beyond my own needs and desires.  It would be thoughtless of me not to mention my great teachers, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, Saraswathi, R. Sharath, and Acharye Hema.  I give thanks to you and pray that through the practice of selfless action, constant analysis and devotion, I will never have the chance to foolishly believe I am standing still.  I will always be moving up.


Saturday, January 31, 2009

How to be a Warrior


Be like Sean Casey.  Sean Casey believes in something.  He believes that gay people around the world should be safe.  Since in many countries gay people are in danger of being killed or arrested for their sexual preference, Sean Casey goes to countries such as Rwanda, Pakistan, Lebanon, and coming soon, Afghanistan to help those people who live in constant fear.  Sean Casey doesn't sit around in his pajamas watching TV and thinking about what he could be doing but what a pain it would be to actually do it.  He just does it.  I want to be like Sean Casey.

Sean Casey is a suspected spy in some parts.  He's now in Rwanda where the general line about homosexuality is, "Oh, we don't have that here."  He is openly gay in a place where it is basically illegal.  He is a warrior for a cause he believes in, traveling a good 80 percent of his year to help people who live with out protection.  Sean Casey is pretty cool.

Sitting next to him I wonder to myself what, if anything, I feel that strongly about.  To go to Afghanistan you have to really freak your parents out.  You may even be just a bit scared yourself, and you would have some valid reasons to feel that way.  Afghanistan is a place you go because you have to.  You go there because what is driving you is so strong it gives you no choice.  If you had a choice, you'd stay home.  Who are these people who risk their lives and distance themselves from their loved ones to go to the most desperate corners of the earth and give help where help is needed?  I want to know more about them.

I left Rwanda this week and said goodbye to some pretty amazing warriors.  Some I met just briefly and others I encountered early on and saw on a daily basis.  Many I've mentioned in my weekly postings though a good deal remain unnamed.  My students are among them. The women I taught are heros.  What they have seen and survived would turn the strongest toward despair, but they carry on with beauty, grace, and laughter.  They are warriors and they are my heros.  They have shared their stories, given their time, and taken a risk by trying the practice of yoga, an exercise they had never heard of, with a young woman they had never met.  I wonder if I could do the same in their position.

How to be a warrior?  Be like Sean Casey, or be like them: take a risk, don't fear, be present, be open, be a beginner, believe in something, make it happen, be persistent, smile, laugh, love... LIVE



(Pictures from Rwanda and Stories from India coming soon.)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I am a humble witness or Let's go Clubbing


Today my Canadian friend Logan (aka Little Bit) said goodbye to Rwanda and began her journey back to her hometown.  I knew this day was coming but I was still sad as the hours approached. In honor of Logan I finally said yes to a night out past 9pm.  On Saturday we sipped drinks at our house and then climbed in a cab to Car Wash, a local bar.  It felt great to sit outside under the open sky and enjoy the company of friends.  I looked around at all the faces surrounding me and smiled.  A chill of sadness at my approaching departure swept through me, but I moved back into the moment and was filled with sense of calm.  

Under the Rwandan sky I had sat just days earlier during a rare nighttime blackout.  The stars so often hidden came out in numbers to play.  Trusty Orion with his three starred belt was front and center, but I was sad to discover the rest of the patterns of light were unrecognizable to me. Where was the Big Dipper?  I made a note to brush up on my Astronomy and then looked up again.  My eyes soft, I limited my vision to the dark arch above and had such a visceral realization of how small I am.  Like the stars above I am a speck of light.  I am the tiniest part of the universe and yet contain the whole universe inside me.  It humbled me to see the big picture, to remember I live on a spinning world floating in space.  It is a world that lived before me and will continue on long after I am gone.  And though my life in this incarnation is short, my actions ripple across continents in ways unknown and my body will do the same.

So, though Logan is in Canada now, at one time we danced at New Cadillac Club in Rwanda. Lights flashed and beats bumped like in any club.  I stood outside the crowd and remembered dancing in Spain, in Boston, in India.  I laughed to myself thinking about how recognizable the scene was before me.  People are dancing in London and New York too.  A girl is turning towards her girlfriend to avoid a predatory dancer.  Someone is spilling a beer.  The songs may be different but the desire is as universal as the stars we share, to let loose and be as big in our movements as we feel in our hearts.  To break barriers.

I danced with Africa on Saturday and I cheered with Africa three days later as we watched Obama take his oath.  All across the world young and old were hanging on to every word, investing hope and faith in a man who has already broken so many barriers.  Though we live in different countries, our desires are the same, to have peace and safety, access to food and shelter, freedom to speak and worship as our soul commands.  We dream of a president who isn't afraid to dance.  

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Connections



It's been two months, but suddenly there is a shift and I am making some new connections. This week I met with two people who I have been wanting to link up with since I got here.  These two new souls have expanded my world exponentially.  They are beautiful, kind, and full of knowledge and experience.  And I am eager for the weaving patterns that describe their lives. I first met with Richard Niwenshuti who is Managing Director of Business Council for Peace. His organization helps female entrepreneurs in post-conflict countries to expand their businesses. Richard is working with twenty businesses here in Rwanda.  

In my slower days I have been doing tons of reading about aid in Africa.  Many people have written recently hypothesizing as to why the millions in aid sent to Africa seems to have done so little for the people who so desperately need it.  Writers like William Easterly, author of The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Effort to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good" talk about some of the major mistakes that have caused this money to end up either in the wrong hands or in unsustainable projects.  Issues include corrupt governments, bad planning, and our failure to ask the people we are helping what would most benefit them. The most successful projects have been those that include the input of the people we seek to be of service to, and that give them the resources they need to succeed once aid is not as prevalent. Micro-Lending, invented by Muhammad Yunus, has helped the poorest of the poor to get out of debt and grow their businesses.  His book, Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle against World Poverty, is an excellent read.

Richard's company, Business Council for Peace, understands the mistakes that have hindered so many well intentioned do-gooders from making real change.  They have thoughtfully analized the the programs currently available and found the group they believe will most benefit from the kind of aid they provide.  Business Council for Peace is designed with the knowledge that it is the success of small and medium-sized businesses that will revive suffering countries and keep their people employed.  They believe "MORE JOBS MEAN LESS VIOLENCE".  And they specifically focus on female entrepreneurs because women are known to pass their skills on to the next generation, creating a legacy of knowledge.  Please see the business for peace website at: www.bpeace.org.

I was connected with Richard through Anne Kellett who is the sister-in-law of Marilyn Zeigher who is a pre K assistant at the Jewish Community Center in Tenafly where my mother works as Program Supervisor.  Being this far from home, I was eager to pursue any connections, however thin, that I could make out here in Rwanda.  The other person I courted with more than a couple emails is Savannah Keith.  Savannah is the Country Director in Rwanda for a non-profit called The International Education Exchange (IEE), www.educationexchange.org.  One of my yoga students knows Stephen Paletta, the founder of this extraordinary program.  He connected me to Savannah.

Savannah is overseeing the program from here in Rwanda.  International Education Exchange pairs schools in the U.S. with schools in developing countries.  Their mission is to "prepare the next generation for the global community" through these partnerships.  The IEE is also helping the Rwandan government to build classrooms, set up high speed internet, and construct athletic fields.  In addition, they are erecting libraries and even training teachers.  You can read all about what Savannah is doing on her beautiful website, www.savannahkeith.com.

This past week I read a book called Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.  It tells a true story of the unbelievable difference that just one person can make. Richard and Savannah present yet another example of what the faith and persistence of a single being can accomplish.  They are not superhuman, but rather much like the rest of us.  Their only difference is they don't give up.  They are present and energetic in their approach to life and because of that they are able to touch people and make positive and lasting impacts.  I hope you will look at their websites and support their missions.

Richard and Savannah, if you are reading this I thank you.  This week you shared your time, thoughts, and stories with me.  You fed my mind and body as we exchanged ideas over Rwandan buffet.  You touched my heart and gave me the boost I needed in order to continue giving to others.  I am so glad that our paths have crossed and our stories are now connected.

Namaste

Monday, January 12, 2009

Slow

slow slow go the rainy days in Kigali.  The new year has brought with it some new challenges, but with each one a lesson is learned.  I think the long Christmas break caused some set backs in our progress here.  Our seamstress women are backed up with a large order and can not break for yoga twice a week in the middle of the day as they once did.  They are also now being payed by piece instead of by hour, so many choose to continue to work instead of participating. In fact, we don't want them to break for class if it will mean taking away from their small income.  So, we look for solutions.  Perhaps it would be better to schedule class in the hour before work and offer a breakfast after.  (Do we have the budget?)  Maybe we can have class during an already established break or after work...  All of these ideas will have to be discussed with one of their English speaking supervisors so we can root through problems that may arise with these time slots, such as cooking the daily meal, or picking up children from school. Finding answers to these questions takes time in Africa where things move very slowly.
In the spaces I am able to document my findings.  Every hurdle here is one I will be able to avoid should I design a program like this one in the future.  I am learning how different NGOs work by meeting with members from many of the non-profit organizations here.  It is such a blessing to have access to people who are willing to share their knowledge.  I don't think there is a better way to learn!

When things are slow, I feel like a bear that is devouring everything.  As I take in the wealth of information surrounding me I am consciously storing up for my return to New York, a place too fast for days like these.