In July of 2010, I had the honor of participating in a mission trip to Masindi, Uganda. Never having been to any part of Africa in my travels, I looked forward to experiencing this culture. The Rock Foundation School, where we did most of our work, consisted of several hundred youngsters, ages 5 to 15, whose parents had died from complications due to AIDS, malaria, or childbirth. What immediately struck me about these children was their enthusiasm and their ability to express great joy amidst great poverty. They took such good care of each other, especially in the absence of adults. The older ones watched over the children and supervised their activities. The children themselves, having nothing much in the way of material things to fight over, were content to use a pair of rolled-up socks as a ball, or carry around a tricycle frame, because it was a treasure, even without wheels.
Because I had completed Teacher Training 1, I was always looking for opportunities to share yoga with others. As a former high school English teacher in the United States, I tried to introduce my students to breath awareness, especially as a calming technique before tests. Most weren't very interested, though; their inability to sit still for very long hampered the process. But in Uganda, when I mentioned that I would like to teach a yoga class at some point during our time there, I was met with instant curiosity and interest, especially from the young teenage boys. Their eight hour school days were spent preparing intensely for their exams, which are based on the British educational system, so I knew they could use some stress relief! Our first class met outside the school in the open air on the dusty, dirt-packed yard. Standing in a circle, we practiced some Pawankuktasana series 1's and natural breath awareness. I was struck by the students' openness to learning something new. They were attentive and obviously enjoyed the practices. We weren't able to spend much time with yoga because their school day went into the evening hours, but several days later, a few of the young men approached me and asked me if I could teach them more! We were able to get together briefly once again, but sadly, we weren't able to continue due to their obligations and mine. But I am eternally grateful for the opportunity. As is often the case when experiencing a different culture, one can learn as much as one teaches. Their openness and willingness to learn was a lesson for me to remain a student as well as a teacher as I travel the yogic path.
Deb Drew is a YANA Teacher Training 1 graduate and Yogic Studies 2 student. Deb generously provided the photo used for this article.