UNHCR: Finding wellbeing through yoga at a Kenyan refugee camp

Rita Brown raises her smartphone in the air to check for connectivity as she rolls her purple training mat out on the floor. She then opens the Facebook app on her phone before positioning it on a chair in front of her. In a minute, she will go live.

Dressed in a bright yellow vest that complements her smile, Rita is ready for her online yoga class which draws hundreds of refugee and Kenyan viewers.

She is soon joined by Sylvain, one of her new yoga students. They exchange pleasantries, warm up and get into the mountain pose, one of yoga’s standard positions. The class is on.

Sylvain, a Congolese refugee, picked interest in yoga after watching Rita’s sessions on Facebook before reaching out to her for one-on-one classes.

“My mind is always at ease and I feel refreshed after every session.”

“I feel a change in my body,” he says. “My mind is always at ease and I feel refreshed after every session.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, she ran in-person classes for refugees and aid workers at Kakuma camp and the adjacent Kalobeyei Settlement, which is home to 200,000 people. Since some physical distancing measures were imposed, she has taken the classes online through Zoom and Facebook, reaching an even wider and more diverse audience.

“Some people think the poses are Photoshopped, but they are not,” says Rita, 28, who fled violence in Uganda as a child. She and her twin sister, Dorine, fled on their own as orphans, at the age of seven, after they witnessed the murder of their parents. Her father, she says, died defending his family from the armed group who attacked their village, leaving destruction and death in their wake.

After taking part in an online yoga challenge dubbed ‘Sweat Serve Share’ she now offers yoga and meditation classes to audiences as far afield as the United States. It has become more than an exercise in physical wellbeing – it is what keeps her going.

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