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Yoga in Africa: Transforming Young Minds, Hearts and Livelihoods360°ANALYSIS

The Africa Yoga Project provides young Africans with an opportunity to become leaders and positive change agents.

“Wellness” is a multifaceted and multi-billion dollar industry in many countries across the West. While holistic approaches to mental and physical health are not new to sub-Saharan Africa, the industry is only beginning to emerge in various countries across the continent. Diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and HIV gain much of the attention, but the leading causes of death in Africa are chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Ashoka Fellow Paige Elenson approaches wellness in Africa through the Africa Yoga Project (AYP). The initiative has the potential to lessen the burden of these diseases, while also opening up a new industry to transform the minds and livelihoods of Africa’s youth. AYP gives young Africans opportunities to become leaders in their community, yoga instructors, micro-entrepreneurs, yoginis and positive change agents.

At its start, the program began by training 50 young Africans from the informal settlements of Nairobi to be yoga instructors. Since then, the project has grown exponentially. AYP has certified 200 teachers and they, in turn, teach yoga to over 6,000 people a week. Over 80% of their teachers are employed by the wellness industry, and have moved from below the poverty line to what Kenya considers middle income earners.

AYP itself employs over 100 young people as yoga instructors and community outreach coordinators, and has introduced yoga across the socioeconomic divide. Many more youth trained through the project have found opportunities to work as yoga instructors in resorts, hotels, private homes and yoga studios, and are encouraged to give back, through the provision of free classes, within their economically marginal communities.

Elenson is a member of the cohort of Ashoka Fellows who are part of Future Forward, in partnership with The MasterCard Foundation, which aims to support and accelerate innovations for youth employment in Africa. Her project is an example of the new kinds of industries needed in Africa that combine economic opportunities with personal satisfaction and transformation. AYP is on course to become a leader in Africa’s emerging wellness industry, and has already begun to scale the model to other East African countries and beyond.

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*[Want to learn more about innovations for youth employment in Africa or have something to share? Join us for a conversation on “Whose job is youth employment in Africa?” with a webinar on September 17. #AfricaYouthFwd #SocEntChat.

In partnership with Ashoka’s Future Forward initiative, which is finding Innovations for Youth Employment in Africa, Fair Observer explores the theme: Who is responsible for addressing youth employment in Africa? From June to September 2014, we will be developing online events and a series of articles that will gather multiple perspectives and provide a 360° analysis on the topic. Join the conversation by following and contributing to #AfricaYouthFwd through social media channels.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.