Alicia Hennion is currently in rural Kenya, introducing yoga to individuals with disabilities and people living with HIV. She has brought the gift of yoga to those who could most benefit from it and we are proud to say that Alicia has reported back to Aurorae to tell us about her experiences so far. Thank you, Alicia!
‘Make more space in your spine—lengthen from your feet to the crown of your head. And keep breathing.” Students strain and sweat as they concentrate on my words in the hot, dusty room in Africa.
In rural, western Kenya, most people have never heard of yoga. But here, in the tiny village of Eshiakula, yoga classes are the norm, offered by the newly-opened Amani Educational Center
. In addition to traditional classes, adaptive yoga classes bring yoga to individuals with disabilities and people living with HIV. Students fill our center, passionate about yoga and thrilled to have the opportunity to strengthen their minds and bodies.
Yoga classes offer people with HIV and disabilities a method to reduce pain, increase flexibility and strength, and decrease stress. Stress reduction is particularly important for these two populations that deal daily with the stress of discrimination, poverty, and living with often debilitating disabilities and illnesses.
Though the Amani Educational Center opened in 2013, the seeds for this center were planted long ago. I had volunteered overseas in Southeast Asia and southern Africa multiple times. While volunteering in Kenya in 2012, I taught a few yoga poses during a stress-reduction seminar. The students’ excitement was palpable. They asked me to come back as soon as possible to teach more yoga! So last year, when I decided to resign from my job as an Associate Professor of Psychology, it seemed almost natural to begin a center here in Kenya.
The center’s main goal is to improve the health of people with HIV and disabilities, which we do through practicing yoga, inviting guest speakers on health-related topics, and having fellowship with one another. The room is packed with eager participants at the center’s events. We are planning to expand the offerings at the center, providing English classes, computer training, and other educational opportunities.
The Amani Educational Center is run by its own members—it has elected officials, who all have HIV and/or a physical disability. People pay a small membership fee to pay for center expenses. The group is submitting grant applications, making soap to sell, and planning to open a greenhouse sometime this year hoping to eventually raise enough money to buy a plot of land and erect their own building. The current, rented Amani Center space is far too small and has some barriers to access for people with disabilities. For $4,000, the center can buy land and build a new structure. The members will keep costs low and community involvement high by doing the construction themselves. They will even make bricks by hand!
Community members are passionate about keeping the Amani Educational Center going strong as the members are feeling benefits, especially from practicing yoga. They are experiencing improved flexibility, more strength and just ‘feeling better’ overall
. Rukia, who has use of only one leg, says she can travel further distances because of practicing yoga
. Nicodemous, who lost one leg to polio, is able to dig in his fields with less pain. He says, ‘I used to dig a small portion before yoga. But now, I can dig even a big portion without feeling chest pain…because of yoga.’ He looks earnestly at me and says ‘Let yoga continue!’
Tax deductible donations to support the Amani Educational Center can be sent to: Atonement Lutheran Church, 4601 S. University Drive, Fargo, ND 58104 or atonementfargo.org, and specify ‘Amani Center’. To learn more about the Amani Centre, check out our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/AmaniEducationalCenter
drop us an email at AmaniCenterKenya@gmail.com.