Oh Ethiopia, how quickly you stole my heart! I originally set off on the journey to Africa to provide art therapy based art classes through a local non-profit in Atlanta called drawchange.The goal was to expose a group of impoverished children to art and allow them to express themselves through a variety of art mediums, many of which they had never had the opportunity to play with before. We packed our suitcase full of craft paper, paint, glitter, pom-poms, markers, crayons, clay, glue, etc. It was fascinating watching the children explore with these materials, especially since many had never even used a pair of scissors before. While the art they made was beautiful, the point was not the finished product. The point of the art activities was to encourage them to express their inner selves through art. It was about the process, not the end result.
The children we worked with in Addis Ababa Ethiopia all came from low income families. Many of them were not guaranteed their next meal. Thankfully the community centers we worked with often provide hot meals and beverages for them each day. They come to the center after school gets out. The center helps them with homework, provides music lessons and gives them a place of refuge to go to and connect with other children in similar economic crisis situations. We went to two separate community centers during our two week visit. One community center had a mixture of boys and girls ranging from ages 5-18 years old. Another community center was a girls only center with girls between 6-18 years of age, most of which were victims of sexual and domestic abuse. Both groups of children were very receptive to our being there. They liked to touch our white skin and different textured hair and did so with big smiles and bright eyes. It seemed as if just our presence was enough, let alone bringing a bunch of art supplies to play with!
In addition to teaching them this new method of self-expression through art, we also tied in some yoga as well. I was recently trained through Grounded Kids Yogaback home in Atlanta GA. During my training I learned the importance of allowing kids (and really all ages in general), to learn how to connect with themselves and their bodies. This ability to tune in and connect with oneself can and will benefit those who practice it throughout their lives. Similar to the art, yoga is not about perfection. It is about self-expression and the process of using yoga to connect with oneself and the world around them. Unfortunately, they don’t have access to yoga mats and the dirt floors didn’t seem like a much better alternative so we had to stick with poses that didn’t require laying on the ground.
Some of the children’s favorites were “Oompa Loompa”, “Mountain Range Laughter” and “Calm Steam Silly”. It was so precious watching their little faces light up during each new pose, some of which seemed quite silly and often left them giggling. Since we didn’t speak the same language, we were not able to explain the details of some of the poses such as “Go to Your Room” (since many of them may not have their own room, let alone with a door that they can slam) or “Washer Machine” (since its likely they still hand wash their clothes) however, we were still able to teach the poses by showing examples and they seemed to enjoy it anyways. As much as they liked the individual poses, they absolutely loved the group poses! “Tree Friends” and “I’ve Got Your Back” were big hits! We were also able to make a giant circle together and do “The Wave”. It was so great watching the children laugh with delight as they saw the wave make its way towards them in the circle. Even the adults had big smiles plastered on our faces. These poses were amazing in that they brought us all together to share the same experience, regardless of the language barrier.
Before the end of our time with the children, we left both community centers with Grounded Kids Yoga pose cards and a Grounded Kids Yoga pose poster. Our hope is that the children will continue to come back to the poses we taught them and practice them together and individually. The benefits from the movements and the breathe work are what is the most important, even if they don’t understand the name of the poses. I went to Ethiopia in hopes of helping to teach and inspire the children that I worked with; however, after spending two weeks around their positive spirits and bright smiles I couldn’t help but feel that they are the ones who taught and inspired me.