It was at Children of the Night that I was re-introduced to the HIV/AIDS crisis. Many of the children at the shelter, because of lack of education or abuse, were infected with the HIV virus. Since I had known many people (Thanks again, Billy!) who were infected, I felt very comfortable working with these kids and committed myself to understanding more about this international pandemic and how it continues to affect us today. In 2005, I was named the National Yoga Ambassador to YouthAIDS, a nonprofit that provides education, prevention and supplies to children worldwide who are affected or infected by HIV/AIDS. My job with YouthAIDS was to help spread awareness and raise funds within the yoga community for this global crisis.
The U.S. yoga community is 20 million strong. Statistically, we are an altruistic, educated and affluent group of people who pay taxes and vote. By using media and my national platform, I was able to raise both awareness and a lot of money in a very short time. The success of this effort made me wonder what else could be created if we, as a community, rallied together, unifying our time, energy, money or even prayers toward different crises or causes that affected our global family, whether they be health related, environmental, educational or political. This effort would have nothing to do with one's strength, flexibility, level of experience, age, race or sexual orientation. It would, however, have everything to do with yoga, with unity, and this was something I hoped we could all get behind, regardless of the system we practiced.
Off the Mat, Into the World was my solution to this issue. OTM is a nonprofit project of the Engage Network, and its mission has been varied. We bridge yoga and activism. First, we offer leadership training to aid people in connecting to their purpose through yoga, meditation, self-reflection and prayer. Then we teach them how, through organizational skills, to activate that purpose in their local community through service- and action-oriented projects.
Through these trainings, we have watched hundreds of people become engaged in their communities and participate in actions that effect both their local and global environments. Although it has been a wonderfully exciting opportunity to witness men and women step into their power while also making a difference in the lives of others, I didn't want OTM's efforts to solely be about training people to act. I wanted it to be about action as well. Thus, the Global Seva Challenge was born...which is why I am, at this moment, in Africa.