On Sunday, Eagle County yoga teachers and enthusiasts will gather with people around the world for the Yoga Aid Challenge, which raises money for charities around the world. More than 200 events will take place Sunday in 20 different countries. The local event will be held at Homestake Peak School in Eagle-Vail beginning at 9 a.m.
One of the charities the Yoga Aid Challenge raises money for is the Africa Yoga Project, an organization that Eagle resident and yoga teacher Rachel DeLong has been involved with for two years. She has raised $5,000 for the organization and mentors a yoga teacher in Kenya.
Last month she spent 12 days in Africa building a schoolhouse, doing outreach work, and of course, practicing yoga. She worked in an orphanage, "helping to make vegetable gardens, helping to clean the orphanage itself, doing yoga with kids and, most importantly, giving lots of hugs and love to the kids who live there. Africa Yoga Project helps support this orphanage by having yoga teachers go out and teach the kids, as well as bring food out to the orphanage that will sustain them for long periods of time."
After her time at the orphanage, DeLong traveled to a Masai village where she lived and worked for a week.
"We spent the week building the schoolhouse, connecting with the Masai people, building bonds with one another and fully being in the entire experience of pure service," DeLong said.
The group left having built about three-quarters of the school. DeLong recently received photos of the completed school, she said.
"It fills me up to think about all the kids that will go through that school and how they are and will be given such opportunity from being able to get an education," she said. "Without education in Africa, you have no opportunity."
After living in the village, DeLong and the rest of the group of 19 people spent a few days in the slums of Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi, and the second largest urban slum in Africa. She did yoga with the kids and saw firsthand the work that Africa Yoga Project is doing in the area, she said.
DeLong, who teaches classes at Yoga Off Broadway in Eagle and at Revolution Power Yoga in Eagle-Vail and has helped organize Sunday's event, said she couldn't have volunteered without the help and generosity of local residents.
"While I was the one who showed up in Africa and did the service, each person who contributed here is a part of the change over there," she said. "And trust me when I tell you that what I saw over there broke my heart to pieces. The poverty, the disease, the kids who aren't getting love, etc. There is such huge need."
After her trip, DeLong said she has a whole new perspective on how fortunate we are to live in the "paradise of the Vail Valley."
"From my experience, one of the many things that I learned is that we aren't all so different, in fact not at all," she said. "Whether you live in Vail or the slums of Nairobi, or an orphanage or a Maasai village, what we all really want is connection and love. So it's not about me really, it's about we and the power of what we can do when we come together for change. What I want people to know is that they really have the power to make a difference in the world and it doesn't have to look like going to Africa. Being of service isn't about a place or an accomplishment, it's about sharing your spirit. You can do that with your neighbor, your spouse, your kids, outreach in your community. My hope is that I can inspire others to take on being a part of something outside of themselves and see how much it truly fills them up."
All of the funds raised during Yoga Aid will go to the charities, DeLong said. "Yoga Aid itself doesn't take any of the money. For Africa Yoga Project, the money raised at YogaAid will go towards a wellness center in Nairobi, Kenya. It's the first yoga and dance studio is called the Africa Yoga Project Shine Center."
Sunday's yoga event will be led by eight local yoga teachers and will include live music by Scott Stoughton and DJ Psychonaut, and a marketplace. The event is an all-levels class. For more information go to YogaAid.com.