NAIROBI, Kenya — Walter Mugbe was 7 years old when his father passed away. His family of five was in crisis. Mugbe struggled to survive until he found the Africa Yoga Project (AFP). He recently visited Washington D.C. this summer as an advocate for the program and a professional yoga instructor.
Statistics from 2005 indicate that nearly 45.9 percent of Kenya’s population live in poverty. Two years later, Paige Elenson met with Kenyan acrobats while on a safari. She decided to show them yoga and has been doing so ever since.
She began AFP while focusing on impoverished areas. Observing life for Kenyans, she decided to support communities living on less than $2 a day. Since the program was implemented, 72 Kenyan instructors were hired. Their salary is enough to support six to eight family members at a time.
The traditional facet of yoga was altered to suit the culture. It was initially foreign to the communities but soon transformed with African influence. Communities are slowly becoming more involved and curious. While it is a predominantly male-dominated practice, women slowly take an interest with the right encouragement.
In Nairobi, the program teaches 300 free classes each week with an accumulation of 5,000 students. Around 210 non-Kenyan yoga instructors were trained under the program. These teachers originate from Ethiopia, South Africa, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Israel and Palestine. Demand for these teachers is on the rise.
Instructors are especially influential with children. Rufus Ngugi is deaf and works with orphans in Kibera. He was employed in 2012 at a center called Fruitful. Due to his disability, Ngugi believes he shares a personal connection with the children.
“These are children who don’t have parents, children who have been neglected by their parents,” Ngugi explained to CNN. The children mimic his motions and bond as a people with limitations. Ngugi has not allowed his disability to keep him from having a rewarding life.
Yoga is a revitalizing experience for the orphans. This is also true for Walter Mugbe. When Mugbe’s father died, he had to take on responsibilities. He had to make sure his youngest siblings were healthy and getting nutrients.
He participated in unlawful activity such as selling and smuggling drugs. Mugbe began pickpocketing at the age of 10. Beside the scandalous activity, he took care of his body and took acrobatic classes to enhance his dexterity.
When two close friends were murdered in a raid, Mugbe assumed the worst was waiting for him. But with no way out of his lifestyle, what could he do?
After election-driven violence erupted in Nairobi, Elenson opened her doors to those living in poverty in order to alleviate tension. A class was available where Mugbe was able to play soccer. Curious, he attended a class and practiced various poses.
The movement, Mugbe said, made him feel like “something was weighing me down and all of a sudden I felt free.”
There was no going back to his old ways. Having been offered a scholarship to become a yoga teacher, Mugbe now leads a class for children and teens in the slums of Nairobi. From time to time he teaches adults, but regardless of age, Mugbe touches the lives of thousands every week.
Now 26 years old, Mugbe visited Washington D.C. this summer and taught a class at Down Dog Yoga, which sponsors AYP. He noticed for the first time how different the Western culture is from Kenya. This includes the cooler temperatures.
Mugbe’s younger brother soon became a yoga instructor as well. His sister graduated high school and the eldest brother in the family is a safari guide. His family is thriving and so is his outlook on life.
– Katie Groe