By Laura Schutter
Posted in Africa Yoga Project Blog, on October 10, 2018
Rwanda, one of 19 countries represented by AYP Teachers now has 3 year grant for Mind-Body Wellbeing The following is an interview with AYP Teacher, Nyakinyua, who implemented a 12 week pilot of Mind-Body Wellbeing in Masoro Rwanda in partnership with Kate Spade and On Purpose.
AYP: Where have you been?
Nyakinyua: In Masoro, Rwanda, which is in the northern province. I was living with other workers of Abahizi Rwanda, a factory launched by Kate Spade as a social enterprise that produces a number of their designer handbags.
What was the purpose of being there?
I was there to implement a pilot project partnership with Kate Spade and Africa Yoga Project. To introduce mindful-based yoga to the rural community in Masoro - providing tools and a channel for health and wellbeing - specifically related to mental health and wellbeing.Through the mindful-based yoga practice, we hope to provide platform for growing self awareness, discover and strengthen inner resources, in order to have a shift from victim mentality to ownership.
How are you qualified to do that?
I’ve been an AYP teacher for 4 years now, and I have participated in the Mind-Body Wellbeing program (MBW) two times. First I participated as an assistant, and then co-facilitator of the training to other AYP teachers. I have also been working with Catherine (AYP Director of Teachers) on facilitating the AYP Year One assisting program and running the outreach reports provided me with sufficient facilitation and management skills. I also have a background in psychological counseling.
What was surprising?
It was surprising to see people in this rural part of Rwanda actually have interest in practicing yoga. Given that it’s a very rural community, I thought some people would come, but I thought it would really be hard. The first month was hard to get people to come, hard to find the space. Then it was hard to reach the students and let them know the classes happen regularly. It was also challenging integrating into the community as a new community member bringing in a new concept - plus it was rainy season. We had to cane a number of sessions due to erratic rainfall which meant we did not have consistency. But in the end, we were able to build consistently in yoga session and people did love practicing yoga.
What was surprisingly unsurprising?
The Rwandan culture is are very similar to Kenyan culture -- as is the language being a bantu language, and I speak a bantu language. Once the yoga classes picked up the community started to feel like [the Africa Yoga Project] Shine Center. Like the people that started to come to yoga felt the same as they do here in Nairobi.
What was the response of the people to the service you were providing?
The people who showed up and practiced, kept coming back. So I interpret the response to be good. They started to grow a different type of community. The first people that I taught were school kids, then grown-ups started to show up and they liked it. There’s another session for women, the Ibaba class. For those women it was a bonding factor for them, a break from work and household chores, something they looked forward to every week. The practice was their time to practice self care - very empowering! I could tell they enjoyed practicing, and they asked lots of questions and were curious.
How many classes did you teach in Masoro?
I taught five classes per week. One class had 6-12 women, another class up to 20 students which was at a space at the health center. This class was open to everyone but the class was mainly school kids and young adults - it was a big class - I remember we had to add mats last-minute. One of the other courses was a special-needs group (handicapped association). This was a mixture of people who don’t have any disability, and people who do. They also offered vocational training, so people who could to learn how to sew, or become hairdressers. I felt that was a community where we would identify yoga teachers for next year’s 200 hour yoga teacher training in Nairobi.
What did you learn from the local culture/language, etc?
First it’s their food, I love the food. I interacted with people who ate healthy because I was in the village, and I want to maintain that. I learned how to relate with people, how to listen with understanding , to empathize and go beyond “I’m fine,” and have meaningful conversations.
There’s a word I really loved which is ntakibazo. It means “no problem” or “hakuna shida”, and you can use it in any context. There’s also when you say, bibaho -- “it happens” or “it’s okay.” There’s also murakoze which means “thank you.”
What is next for the community in Rwanda?
Aline [AYP certified teacher from Rwanda] is now taking charge of ensuring the classes are happening for the students. My step was introducing yoga and getting people to practice, now the next step is introducing mindfulness more intentionally in the practice and later include work skills. Of course later we will also train yoga teachers from that community to grow that community.
What did you wish you did more while you were there?
I wish I toured Rwanda more. I will have to take leave and go back. I miss the walks in Kigali in the night and also in the village. I loved to walk in the night. It was warm, humid and clear skies and it’s safe to walk at night.
What is next for you?
I’m looking forward to taking leadership for that project for the next couple of years. That means being a liaison with Aline, to provide direction, work back and forth to implement ideas for that community, plus going back to check on things and provide support.
One thing I know for sure is I would like to publish a paper in a journal. I would like to do a publication on how I can use my skills as a counselor and yoga in the rural communities to help people be aware and empowered to use their inner strength in problem solving.
Overall it was an exciting experience, and it is only just the beginning...