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When we heard Paige Eleson, co-founder of Africa Yoga Project ("AYP"), was coming to town this week we were super stoked to meet her in person. Paige was passing through London as part of her world tour promoting the new documentary about her social yoga project, AYP. She teamed up with Lululemon UK, who are sponsoring AYP to the tune of $50K. Lululemon has committed to invest $25M in social yoga projects in the next 5 years. In true Lulu style, it was a stellar event drawing 150 yogis to the Broiler House on Brick Lane in East London. We gathered together to hear Paige share her journey, get a first glimpse of the new film, and then join together in a playful yoga session led by Paige. I was so happy to personally congratulate Paige on her amazing achievement in the growth of AYP. I have spent time in Africa and I have been to the slums of Nairobi and so I know how incredible it would be to bring yoga to these impoverished areas and help them gain the confidence, strength and connections to become more empowered and build better lives and opportunities. I really wanted to learn first-hand from Paige about how she achieved all this in only 5 years! Here's what she had to say to om exchange on her inspiring AYP journey. At om exchange we believe any yoga project should be built on the ethos of community. Africa Yoga Project (AYP) is one of the most successful versions of a yoga community out there and it has been built in a very unique way. Can you tell us what led you to decide to start AYP? In 2006, I was on a safari with my family in Africa when I saw some Kenyan acrobats doing handstands in the bush. Although I was told to stay in the jeep, I couldn't help myself. I got out and showed them that I could stand on my hands too. After the safari, I came back to New York and kept receiving calls from the Kenyan acrobats pleading with me to come back and teach them more. Finally, after lots of thought, I decided to go back. This trip is what changed it all for me. What I did not realize was that I would be staying in the informal settlements of Nairobi, Kenya, where most people live on less than $1 a day. While teaching, I met five teenage girls; Catherine, Anita, Irene, Leah and Hadijah. They called themselves The Ghetto Girls. The Ghetto Girls ranged in age from 13 to 19 years old, and were living in a small room made out of iron sheets with one mattress. Each and every day they traveled over two hours to come to yoga class. They said it made them feel clean, strong and happy. From here, a connection was born with Kenya, and with the amazing young people who were coming to class. After doing some research, I found out that one of the root challenges that causes such abject poverty is youth unemployment. Over 80% of the youth in Kenya are unemployed. I turned this challenge into an opportunity by forming Africa Yoga Project with Baron Baptiste. We now train girls and boys like The Ghetto Girls to teach yoga as an avenue to education, empowerment and employment. How did your own yoga journey begin? Originally from New York City, I was probably the person that my high school yearbook would have voted “Least Likely To Move to Kenya to Teach Yoga”. My life was consumed with the pursuit of success and, in turn, had some reckless failures of that pursuit. I felt empty, lonely and unhealthy. During University, I started practicing yoga. Through my training with my yoga teacher Baron Baptiste I realised that anything is possible if you come from a place of being open to what's next. Baptiste Yoga transformed my life and I was compelled to learn how to share that with others. We are very proud to see you are the first Ashoka fellow who is from the yoga world. Tell us a bit more about what it means for AYP to be involved in Ashoka? Ashoka recognises systems changing social entrepreneurs. They believe in an EVERYONE'S A CHANGE-MAKER world. Yoga empowers psychosocial and physical change-making for anyone, anywhere. What do you see as the greatest success from building this project? What is your vision for AYP over the next 5-10 years and beyond? Our greatest success is our people. We are leaders who are empowering leaders and that creates a legacy and sustainability way beyond what is imaginable. I see Africa Yoga Project as a model for creating diversity and accessibility of yoga as a tool for social change. Finally how can people get involved in this great project? Both as yoga students and yoga teachers. AYP is truly a place for everyone - from taking a yoga class, to volunteering to donating, to travelling to Kenya! We suggest your reading starts here:
- Donate to the AYP academy - We are fundraising $100,000 USD to provide scholarships for the next year of AYP teachers! Donate online at: www.africayogaproject.org
- Become a mentor to an AYP teacher - Every teacher has a mentor to guide them on their path to greatness. This is a yearlong commitment where you have a scheduled call once a week following our mentorship curriculum and contribute $125 USD per month toward the scholarship for that teacher.
- Come to Kenya - TT, Sevas, Ambassador - There are so many opportunities to get involved on the ground in Kenya!
- Become a certified yoga teacher! - Teacher training is April, 2017
- Join a Seva safari - be of service in Kenya and provide skills trainings at the AYP academy as a group
- Become an AYP ambassador - Fundraise for AYP as an individual and come to Kenya to learn from AYP, and provide training at AYP Academy