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Seva Yoga: Yoga shines bright in South Africa's shadows

November 25, 2014 by Bridget Luff 

Having lived in Europe for 12 years I recently felt a pull to reconnect to my South African roots and my community of yoga peers out there.  Growing up in Cape Town I always wanted to do something, not knowing what, to support the vast amounts of children I saw begging on the side of the street. After Nelson Mandela's death I felt this fierce spirit of freedom grow and finally followed this driving desire to connect to those children I had grown up ignoring. So I asked around back home - who is doing what and who needs support?
 
And that is how I introduced to Janna Kretzmar, an incredibly resourceful woman who set up Earthchild Project almost eight years ago. Inspired by her yoga practice and study, worldwide travels, work on eco farms and in schools Janna developed an NGO who implement yoga, nourishment, care and holistic living to schools in poverty stricken, gang riddled areas in the Cape, areas where most white feet fear to tred.
 Fast forward 8 years, Earthchild teach and support over 3000 children in 8 schools and are still growing.
As well as weekly yoga classes Earthchild facilitate hiking clubs, gardening, wormeries, holiday programmes and much more. They offer support, kindness and advice to teachers and children in their careers and lives.
Children's marks have vastly improved, simple things like yoga in English means that young children can improve their second language at an early age which opens doors for them in the future.
Over the year I have been in contact with Janna and her team whilst doing some fundraising for them, and finally on a recent trip to Cape Town I got to meet them in person. What an honour, these women are truly powerful sources of light and inspiration.
 I was taken to some of their classes to see their work in action in Lavender Hill and Khayelitsha.  Not sure what to expect, I rather shyly participated in a yoga class alongside groups of allegedly 'wild' children aged 7 - 10 years on dirty floors, in their worn out school uniforms and witnessed moments of peace and clarity in faces of some children who lead incredibly tough lives.
 
Slowly as we all softened and flowed through a yoga dance to 'I feel good today' I felt how we could find some connection together, a starting point to communicate despite our different backgrounds. In fact, we were all wobbly in tree pose, and we could share a giggle in savasana when someone snored.
"One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can't be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity." - Desmond Tutu 2008
I was so deeply awed by these teachers, offering service, guiding these children doing yoga.  Not a tote-bag in sight, in fact not even a mat. And despite the immense pain and trauma some of these children experience daily I felt incredibly uplifted at the strength of human spirit.  Despite the lack of money and housing, there is an opportunity to grow things - grow love, grow awareness, grow knowledge and true power.
 
At the end of each class the children are invited to hug each other, and the teachers.  My heart almost exploded as young children bounded up to me and clung to my legs.  For many of these children it is a rare thing to get a hug. Something I often take for-granted.
I have much to learn, I was in awe of the skill of the teaching and space-holding I witnessed. I felt the deeper essence of yoga, which is so much more than worrying about how the foot is placed and where your knee is, but about how we see each other and ourselves, how we can respect one another and connect with love.
 
"Yoga teaches that we are all one, all connected, all here to guide, teach and support each other in the process of being. We will all have to struggle through the myriad challenges that will occur in the uncovering of our light and this process can take lifetimes. The first step of true healing is to see our lives beyond reason, embrace the mystery, stay present and breathe and have the strength every day in all moments to forgive ourselves and each other for the impossibly vulnerable task of being in these bodies at this time.Breathe and all will be revealed, love and all will be healed. This is yoga."
 
- Seane Corne (supporter of Eartchild and a powerful seva yoga activist  - see article here on her view of yoga)
 
Of course there is a huge amount of poverty and suffering all over the world, but here lies a shining example of for what a powerful impact yoga can have on young children's lives. We can only take one step at a time though, and it doesn't take much to start offering service...
 
If like me you long to support this incredible team of seva yogis, it's actually pretty easy and a little goes a long way:
You can read more about what Earthchild do here / shout out about them on facebook /sponsor an earthchild for a mere £20 / go to South Africa and volunteer!
 
Alongside Om Exchange and Earthchild I plan to continue creating fundraising and community connecting events (including visits to Cape Town!) please follow Bridget Luff Yoga and Om Exchange on facebook to keep up to date with exciting events 2015 and beyond! 
Credits: Johnny Miller for featured image. Thanks to Janna and Earthchild team for all their inspiration.