A Shanti Uganda Yoga Trip — When Compassion, Career And Curiosity Come Together
Uganda is something else. Something wonderful, something incredible, something truly magical.
There is so much culture soaked into the air, the streets, the food, the people. Even just wandering down the dusty dirt roads can become a sensory sport all of its own. The most ordinary, mundane activity can be a memory-making moment; something to snap a mental screenshot of, and save deep in your mind, forever.
At home in Australia, I am a yoga instructor. As stereotypes would suggest, I am a bit of a hug-giving hippie who feels things very deeply and often takes them to heart. I went to Uganda for 10 days. Ten days, with eight other women, and one shared interest; prenatal yoga and childbirth.
Inevitably, going to Uganda was going to pull on the heartstrings, and I knew that. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the depth and intensity of the emotions I would endure in such a short amount of time.
I was emotionally pulled, yes. But I wouldn’t necessarily say I was saddened by anything. Instead, I was simply awakened. I was witness to things that although slightly shocking, were also very inspiring, warming and empowering — especially as a female. Birthing is seen as beautiful, natural and a rite of passage. Birthing is seen as wonderfully raw and almost sensual and spiritual — a woman so closely connected and intimately aware of her body, working with passion and courage to bring a beautiful miracle into the world. As a 22-year-old woman with childbirth to look forward to in my future, I have no words to adequately describe my experience and the change within me.
Each day was as the day before, yet completely different. Each morning we would wake up, roll up pillows or jumpers and pretend they were our babies inside our bellies and participate in a prenatal-yoga class before walking through the village to the Shanti Uganda Birth House. These walks were one of my favourite parts of the trip. Not only did we get to observe the houses, people, food and living circumstances, but children would come running from hundreds of meters away every day just to say hello, give us hugs and guide us along a part of our walk. It was truly so humbling to be surrounded each and every day by their loving faces and beaming smiles!
At the Birth House we would roll out bamboo mats under a large tree amongst the herb and vegetable gardens in the backyard and learn theory beneath the shade nature provided.
Afternoons were spent learning more theory and practising our own prenatal yoga teaching. As we were doing this it was not uncommon for women to be casually roaming around the gardens in labour, leaning against trees or on all fours right beside us. It was rather marvellous really; to be in the presence of someone so grounded, calm and relaxed, some even just moments from giving birth. It was my first real experience with someone in labour, and it was fascinating to see that the reality was nothing like I had imagined. It was inspiring, and to be honest, made me EXCITED for childbirth. Not fearful.
Women at the Shanti Uganda Birth House all give birth naturally. The reality is that in the villages and regional centres in Uganda there is no easily available option for general or specialist medical intervention. And although there is not any fancy equipment or tools, thanks to donations from amazingly generous individuals and organisations around the world, at Shanti Uganda they do have access to basic medical and sanitary materials and manage amazingly well with what they do have.
Shanti Uganda has been in existence since 2008, and since their conception there has been zero maternal deaths, 7500 antenatal visits, more than 1000 births supported by experienced midwives, 2120 post-natal visits and more than 2400 HIV tests conducted. Child marriages have reduced and more girls are completing education. Amazing magic is happening at Shanti Uganda.
The experience was incredible. I learned so much, not only about prenatal yoga, the Ugandan culture, way of life and birthing in general, but also about myself, my vulnerabilities, my strengths and my potential. I am no longer apprehensive, nervous or anxious about the idea of labour. I am comfortable with the concept, I have confidence in my body’s natural ability to give birth, and firmly believe that my body, women’s bodies, are DESIGNED to do just that. We are powerful beings, capable of making miracles and magic. And that to me is beautiful, not intimidating. I look forward to being able to have that experience myself one day.
I cannot express enough gratitude for being able to experience such an opportunity. To learn from the ways and strength of the Ugandan women. To be able to witness, first hand, the true value and benefit of even the smallest of donations in supporting the work of Shanti Uganda. With the biggest of thanks for the generosity and compassion of Pindara Private Hospital, I was able to coordinate the donation of a bulk shipment of various essential medical, hygiene, laboratory and cleaning supplies. Every donation makes such a huge difference, whether it be financial, medical or even administrative supplies.
A big thank you must also go to the women of Shanti Uganda for sharing with me their knowledge and experience. It has been both inspiring and immensely empowering.
For more information about Shanti Uganda and all of the incredible work they do for women and their families pre and postnatal, teen girls, birthing and contraceptive education, visit their website here. They also assist the community by reducing child marriage rates, enabling educational opportunities, providing nutritional workshops and women empowerment and business programs. They offer HIV testing and general community health programs as well. If you are interested in donating or volunteering your time and experience to Shanti Uganda, check out their website for more details. Or you can buy one of my limited edition tees that support this charity by purchasing here!
Love and light,
* Results from BAM may vary. Strict adherence to the program is required for best results.