Whether you’re like me and operate yoga retreats across the globe or you’re a tour operator that takes travelers into destinations, through travel there are great opportunities to encourage and educate travelers, while supporting local women’s education in the places you visit.
According to UNICEF, approximately 130 million girls don’t attend school, the pandemic increased this already startling number. For many girls, avoidable–but common in many countries–circumstances keep them from completing their education – from lack of menstrual supplies, access to clean water, gender biases and, in some cases, early marriage.
For some, these startling facts may be new to you, for others you may already be engaged with supporting girls’ education through your operations. Regardless of your familiarity with supporting local women and girls, many of us need to focus more on giving back through our trips, especially to young women. I am here to encourage you to find means to give back through our operations – however that works for your business.
Mainstream yoga (and, for all you readers, I think this mindset stretches outside of the yoga community) has created a “we are all one” message, which is idealistic and, frankly, unrealistic, as what unites women is our differences: Our location, our diverse experiences, our religion, our political perspectives, our sexual preferences. However well-intentioned you may be with your yoga retreats or your travels, adopting this mindset into your offerings is precarious; it can lead to recreating hierarchical power structures by implementing a top-down approach to your adventures.
What I am suggesting is to actively acknowledge each woman’s differences–from those who join your retreats to those who you interact with in destinations–to understand how a collective of individuals creates the world. This active recognition can be painful, especially when we recognize our personal privileges or ancestry that may have contributed to colonialism, imperialism, and oppression. In order to understand each woman, I encourage you to look inward through Svadhyaya, the yogic principle of self-study – so you can operate from a humble place and be open to transformation of perspectives and preconceived understandings. When you better understand yourself, you better understand how you can help others.
In 2016, I founded a charity called Souljourn Yoga Foundation, a US 501(c)3 charity that raises funds and awareness for young women’s education around the world by using yoga as an inclusive vehicle for change. We work on four continents with incredible partner organizations that support and educate young women who have big dreams and goals to academically triumph and become the next generation of female leaders.
As a retreat planner, I recognized the immense privilege I and my clients had to practice yoga in new countries, I also recognized the ability I had to use these retreats as a force for good. For you who are on a similar path, here’s how I began my foundation to support all women and girls:
Do your homework
Before engaging in any kind of volunteering–or offering volunteering practices in your tours– be it locally or abroad, make sure you are connecting with vetted and transparent organizations. Be on the lookout for any red flags such as NGOs that are fronts for orphanage tourism or who let anyone volunteer without background checks, especially if they work with minors.
If you are going to be donating any supplies, buy on the ground from local vendors from sanitary napkins to school supplies as you will directly support the economy and contribute to someone’s livelihood.
Remember Your Privilege
Before you roll out the yoga mat or visit a destination, it’s important to acknowledge that the ability to practice yoga and meditation is a luxury – so is the ability to travel. To have the time, space, and opportunity to engage in any self-care is a form of privilege. Even though yoga and medication are free when self-practice and require very little, if any, equipment, not everyone has the luxury of even 15 minutes in a given week that are not dedicated to ensuring safety, shelter, or sustenance.
Read, read, read!
Of course, nothing can prepare you for actually physically being there and communicating with people who live there, but in the interim reading and educating yourself will at least give you a basic understanding of what you may experience.
Like you, as a community of women and men who want to support all women, through travel we can create a system that recognizes privilege and instinctually breaks down barriers to create meaningful change through our global encounters.