Memories from Uganda

pic1Over a year has passed since I was in Uganda and I’m very happy to say that I will be returning in the new year. From April 4th – 13th 2014, I will be instructing, along with local Ugandan midwives, the first ever Shakti Yoga Prenatal Teacher Training program at the Shanti Uganda Birth House in Luwero, Uganda. This training is also a fundraiser for Shanti Uganda; all profit goes directly back into the program, which provides safe birthing support for Ugandan women and income generating skills for women living with HIV/AIDs in the country. As I prepare for my return, I would like to share my memories of the many transformative moments that I spent in this beautiful land surrounded by the most generous, resilient and inspiring people I have ever met.

I was awakened each day at 6am by an enthusiastic rooster and moved through my morning yoga practice surrounded by the ear splitting, early morning orchestra of bird and animal cries coming from the trees all around me. After breakfast, we were picked up by bodaboda drivers (motorcycles) and driven to the Shanti Uganda site. We first passed the busy main street and then traveled down though the side roads lined with children playing in varying states of dress. They had beaming smiles for us as we passed. Their parents were hard at work in the gardens near their homes or setting up shops. There were no toys anywhere. These children were playing with sticks, dirt and, on one day as we walked past, a dead black mamba snake! but their joy could not be contained. The winding side road soon became a tree lined pathway that drivers fly along at breakneck speeds, past women carrying loads of water or firewood on their heads and men on bicycles loaded up with bunches of bananas, the main ingredient for the local staple of matoke. pic6

Each day when we reached the Birth House, we were greeted by the bright white smiles of the staff, a row of flowers planted in the shape of the word welcome, and an eight foot tall fence with barb wire on top. This fence always reminds me that the happiness I see all around me in the midst of such poverty is not the full story. The Ugandan way of continuing to see the beauty in life, to smile and to laugh, even though everything is not perfect, is something that I feel we can learn from. Each day, I walked through the Shanti gate, away from the profound education that the strength and will of the people I passed on the roadsides provided me with daily, and mentally recalibrated for my morning lectures on birth support.

The Birth and Postpartum Doula training portion of my trip to Shanti Uganda was a gift. It was 10 days of not only availing of the wisdom of my incredibly knowledgeable and experienced Instructors, Jane Drichta (Midwife), Melinda Ferguson (Doula & Post-Partum Doula Trainer) and Kristina Kruzan (Doula & Birth Assistant), but an opportunity to learn from the local midwives who were also taking the training to expand on their own skills as well as to enhance our learning experience. As we studied, women came and went from this center all day long, for prenatal support, birth support and an income generating program, which provides employment for mothers and grandmothers struggling with HIV and AIDS, a huge problem in a country where millions of children have been orphaned by AIDS. In between lectures, we studied/taught prenatal yoga, practiced prenatal massage on the mothers who were birthing at the program and availed of the fresh, nutritious food that was made with love by the women of Shanti Uganda.

pic4The income generating group showed up daily in brightly colored dresses to sit at their sewing machines or to bead. They use the skills they learned at Shanti Uganda to help them provide food and shelter for the families they support. Many of these women are widows caring for large number of children and  grandchildren. One day, as I passed out the nail polish I had brought for them from Canada, they stopped working to giggle as they did their nails, passing the bottles around until everyone had a finger of every colour. I was humbled and awed by this spontaneous display of joy in the midst of their difficult lives. I think of the things that bother me at home. The things that stop me from feeling joy all day long and I am ashamed. I think of how very fortunate my life is and I say one of many silent thank yous to Uganda for this reminder.

As the income generating women worked diligently under their grass-roofed gazebo shelter, the birthing moms wandered about Shanti, leaning on trees during a contraction or possibly taking in a yoga class. Shanti’s reverence for birth as a natural, normal event is so obvious. There are no lines of cots with women birthing, both on them and on the floor spaces in between, as often happens at the local hospital. Each woman is given skilled, genuine and personal support. For this space to birth mindfully, and all of the other loving supports provided by Shanti staff, these mothers pay a little over one dollar, a steal for a service that I consider to be priceless. pic7

The days at Shanti often ended with a home cooked meal at one of the program participants’ homes and we left the birth house to make our way along the winding road back to our guest house. The activities vacillated between bustling activity and stillness, snapshots of babies being washed in tubs in front of houses, meals being cooked in lean-tos, children playing with scraps of tires, whole families driving by on the same motorcycle, goods of all types being carried on top of people’s heads and above all, smiles and laughter… essence, life was being lived. And despite the grinding poverty and many social issues that continue to be a challenge in Uganda, I cannot help but feel that it is being lived well. So well in fact that I knew that I will strive to bring a little more Uganda into my daily life back here in Canada.

If you are interested in joining me in Uganda next year for your own transformative journey, please click here for more information.

Written by Bobby Bessey, B.Sc, Yoga Teacher, Doula

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