By Julia Emes
I am delighted to have finally got my MBSR outreach project up and running, taking the first completely free course to a group of local yoga teachers based in Makeni, Northern Province, Sierra Leone.
I offered the MBSR several times during my time in Ethiopia and always made provision for subsidised/sponsored places within my fee-paying courses to promote accessibility and inclusion but in Sierra Leone felt ready for a more radical approach to enable broader, more comprehensive access and exposure to skills training in mindfulness for resilience and well-being.
A quick google search will give you an idea of the depth and extent of the poverty people have to manage here and a history (collective and personal) of multiple trauma stretching back across the centuries.
I have been working with a minority group in that they are all literate and have a good command of English which is not a given in a country where female literacy is 25 percent and male literacy 40 percent. Underemployment is rife and those that want to get a further education are often thwarted by the cost.
My first cohort was comprised of local yoga teachers some of who have had the advantage of receiving yoga teacher traiing outside of the country. Meditation was not new to them and I was fortunate to start with a group who were really keen on learning more. They are now spreading the word and advocating from a place of personal experience which is just awesome for me.
Whilst many Sierra Leoneans are very open-and up for trying new things there are also many who are culturally resistant and superstitious so it's important to tread gently and have local advocates.
The plan is to continue to offer the MBSR to those who are interested and can access it through me in English until we have a strong enough community of mindfulness practitioners with a good geographical spread (men and women alike) and then offer context appropriate mindfulness meditation teacher training so that they continue the work of taking mindfulness into their own communities in their own lnguages. This programme design will be a team effort and many practices will need to be visited with fresh eyes. For example, mindful eating replaced with mindful drinking! Mindful eating as a practice is massively contentious in a context where most people are chronically hungry and for whom eating a meal is very stressful. Most families eat just one hot meal a day and they cook and eat together so unless you are quick ("competitive" is a word one of my recent participants used)...there's none left.
So it's early days but the second cohort (Freetown based) is already over half way through their course and I have plans to take the outreach programme to Kabbala and Bo in early 2020..
I am very grateful to all those folk who have stepped in with donations (big and small) to help out with the cost of providing participants with transport, refreshments, materials, accommodation. a training venue etc.
More help is always welcome !
So do please let me know if you are interested in supporting this work.
Indebted as ever to Bodhin and Kathy for the rigorous training I myself received both at Solterreno and then subsequently through Mindful Academy International !