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Designing a Yoga Program for Children in South Africa

by Connie K. Ho | April 30th, 2012

“I knew I wanted to study abroad since going to college. I knew right off the bat that was something important to me.”

These are the words of Haley Brown, a senior English major in New York who studied abroad in the spring of her junior year in Cape Town, South Africa. She enrolled in an IES Abroad program, where she took a social work class at the beginning of semester that focused on issues of service delivery in South Africa. The students discussed why issues of service delivery were different between races, the impact of apartheid, and how to put what they had learned in the classroom to practice. Each was to work at a specific social agency.

Brown visited a few different sites until she decided to volunteer at the SOS Children’s Village in Cape Town. The agency was for orphans were displaced. They lived with “mamas” and “aunties.”

“Working at SOS really allowed me to feel as if I had a different sort of cultural experience then my scholarly one at the University of Cape Town because the children, a lot of times, had come from impoverished settings, situations, and being able to interact with children who have been affected by poverty is really interesting,” noted Brown.

After observing the organization for some time, Brown approached them with a project. The project revolved around a yoga class for children between the ages of six to ten who were diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectral Disorders. She designed a fitness-based program that would increase the kids’ energy, improve their listening skills, and give them opportunity to interact in different poses and feel personal success.

“I was interested in ways that yoga could help improve the growth and fine motor skills,” explained Brown.

Brown led the class for a month and, before she returned to the United States, she left a set of instructions for the organization to continue the work that she started. She hopes to be able to return to Africa one day with her mom and show her some of the things that she experienced. Brown also credits the volunteer experience with teaching her a lot more about patience and having back-up plans.

“It takes a lot of patience to work with very energetic six to ten year olds,” said Brown. “It teaches you if you go in with a plan, you’ll have to abandon it and end up doing something different. That was huge, that was the big lesson I continue to carry, that you have to sort of have to have a plan B. You have to be okay with making changes. As a college student, that comes in handy.”

Based on her volunteer experience in South Africa, Brown hopes to pursue a career in service.

“Being involved with SOS and my time in cape town solidified that I could do it for an extended period of time and work through all of the frustrations that might be involved,” remarked Brown. “It gave me confidence and showed me that when you work together with the people that you’re trying to serve, when you work together as opposed to imposing an idea, really great things can come about.”

Haley Brown is a Senior English major with minors in Honors and Women’s Studies at Ithaca College. In spring 2011, she studied at the University of Cape Town in South Africa as part of the International Education of Students study abroad program. She also worked on a service learning project at SOS Children’s Village Cape Town, creating a yoga exercise practice for children with Fetal Alcohol Spectral Disorders. While in Cape Town, Haley bungee jumped off the Guinness Book of World Records’ World’s Highest Bungee Bridge, went on safari at Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga, backpacked through Namibia’s Namib Desert, and ate samoosas for breakfast almost every morning. When she is not traveling, Haley enjoys writing poetry, taking photographs, and yoga. After graduation, Haley will be working for Simply Smiles, a non-profit that works towards “building bright futures for impoverished children” in Oaxaca, Mexico and on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation in South Dakota.


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