Thursday, April 22, 2010

Summary from my trip

A Trip to Remember
Inner Peace from Karma Yoga
Dana M Layon, ERYT

As I summarize my first mission trip to the Dominican Republic with Evergreen4Kids, I feel like the trip, only 4 weeks ago, was some sort of dream. I have been struggling with how to explain an experience so amazing because it jolted my focus back to my very soul.

After starting this summary over 3 weeks ago, I had to think back to the beginning. Why did I yearn to travel to this small island in the middle of nowhere? Was it because I needed some excitement? Or be reminded about how good I had it? Sure – but beyond that, I have always known that although the world is a big place, we are all interconnected; we are all One and not one person or country is better than the other. We are all here to serve…that’s it.

I have also jumped into my life with both feet; not always looking first. When I was young this created a lot of pain for my mother. Not to mention many trips to the principal’s office and to the ER. Now that I am older, I still jump in with two feet but my landings are much more graceful and meaningful.

As the departure date drew near, I became very nervous about my trip. The days prior were filled with a whirlwind of tasks, scheduling, follow up, cuddling with my kids and deep, emotional outbursts. All the false ideas, concepts and beliefs I held about the world around me began stirring: Why am I doing this again? How could I be so selfish? Leaving my husband home alone with two kids for 10 days! What if someone needs to contact me? No one will be able to get a hold of me! The voices kept bothering me until I boarded the plane!

Considering the life I lead: busy and full of drama, chaos and the normal day-to-day crisis of a family with two young girls, it may seem crazy to travel half way around the globe to serve a village of children I have never met. In fact, one may question if I neglected my own family by doing such a thing.

After a lot of meditation and contemplation I can whole-heartedly say I most definitely served my own family by participating in this trip. A natural phenomenon of the human spirit is that when we serve others, we are actually serving ourselves. When we serve, we cultivate gratitude and appreciation for our own lives. We step out of our life and into others so our life becomes much clearer.

At our deepest level of being, we are meant to serve. It’s a fact that we are more alive and aware in unfamiliar situations, foreign places and when we are learning something new. We dump the robotic state of being and we shine like the individual we are meant to be.

So as I sit here to recap my trip in one article, know that an experience as this one - that speaks to your soul - is challenging to recap. The days’ events are a blur of consciousness and aliveness. This was the first time I didn’t run around taking pictures of everything hoping to “capture” the moment. Instead I practiced mindful yoga each day and captured every moment as it was happening. Allowing my heart to seize the presence and burn it into my memory – speaking directly to my soul.

February 11, 2010: As we land in Santo Domingo, I am immediately overwhelmed by the heat. It’s muggy and the airport smells of sweat. The sun hits my face and warms my skin once I get outside. All the fearful, conditioned thoughts I had prior to leaving becomes a silly memory.

The six hour bus ride to Habanero is an interesting “tour” ride. We zip past bananas trees, sugar cane fields, mountains that reach past the sky and all the while, the ocean guides us to our destination.

Once we arrive at the outskirts of the village, the children notice our bus. They run after us and follow us all the way to the school. We park the bus and are greeted with smiles, love and hugs.

Brenda Backes, the founder of Evergreen4Kids, really never gave us specifics about what our mission was. She had the idea for a new Health and Wellness Team. Our job was to teach the kids about personal hygiene and basic principles like where to urinate, when to wash your hands, how to brush your teeth and how to keep your germs to yourself.

She encouraged us to connect with our surroundings so we could make specific decisions once we were there. In hindsight, this was probably one of the greatest things she could have done. We were given the opportunity to get to know the kids and then create a program that would speak to them.

Our Health and Wellness team, made up of myself and two other yoga instructors, are only a small part of the Evergreen4kids mission. This organization was founded over 5 years ago when Brenda stumbled upon Habanero quite by mistake and was horrified by the conditions. She decided to retire from the corporate world and build a school in this tiny village in hopes of raising their awareness. After two years she partnered with Dentus Dental in Vancouver, Washington and now this tiny village and beyond, receives excellent dental care once a year; all volunteers, all donated equipment. While the Americans are there, her school is transformed into a major hub of action and purpose.

Habanero is a village of people who truly are destitute. Their homes are made of sticks and aluminum “siding”. Some have brick but not many. There are no doors on most homes and the windows have no screens. Their toilet is a cement circle, placed strategically between two or three homes and empties into the ground. Most of these people do not have running water; they rely on the river.

Most of the children wear the same clothes every day. Their toys are sticks, rocks and garbage. Rarely do you see any parents but oddly, at dinner, the children wait for the adults to finish eating before they have any food. They wake us in the morning, hang out with us all day and stay into the evening. They crave attention and love. They are usually seen walking to school, playing in the polluted river, or eating sugar cane.

After two days I surrender to the reality that there is too much to do in the time that we are there. I completely connect with these children and begin seeing life through their eyes.

We spend our days teaching our hygiene curriculum, painting their playground, and traveling to other villages to give away hair accessories, clothes, food and blankets. Some of the children who attend school are home now, almost naked while their uniform hangs outside for the next day. In the evenings we do yoga with the dental team, teach yoga to the kids, play baseball with them, watch a movie on the side of Brenda’s house and one night, we go dancing.

What can I say after 10 days living in a village with barely any running water, sporadic electricity, dirt floors, mosquitoes, flies, mean and hungry dogs, roosters that crow at 3:00am and so much work to do you can’t even imagine where to start?

I say when can I go back? My heart sings to be there again.

What did we accomplish? We planted an idea about how to stay healthy. We dropped a seed about the importance of clean water and clean hands. But these lessons won’t be remembered unless they are consistently taught and nurtured. This is a challenge. Some parents aren’t around; some kids have no running water and some homes have no toilet.

We taught the children why it’s important not to suck on sugar cane. But how do you tell a child not to suck on sugar cane when they haven’t had anything to eat for an entire day? You don’t. You teach them to limit their intake of sugar cane and you teach them how to brush their teeth the best with what they have.

We painted a few game boards on the patio of the school and taught them how to play 4-square, hopscotch and duck, duck goose. We ended up teaching them about how to wait in line and take turns.

This experience really has left me speechless and that does not happen to me often. But I was so moved by the simplicity and presence of this village it astounded me. In our culture, we only talk about living with less and living the simple life. We still grasp and cling to so many material things. Hopelessly tied to our technology, our schedules, our image and what other people think.

So then the question for me is, does our presence in Habanero, help or create greed and separateness among this village? Ignorance is bliss right? Answering these questions require clear intentions. What is our ultimate goal? How can what we are doing be grown and nurtured? Traveling there once a year is not enough, but giving them everything at once isn’t beneficial either.

We can’t do much about the polluted water or the poor economy. We can hope that the new pipe delivers clean water to Habanero as well as Barahona. We can only pray that one day the prices of everyday necessities like gasoline, diapers and milk can come down to meet their cost of living.

So what do we do? We build a fence around Brenda’s school so we can teach the kids how to respect and take care of their own space. We plant banana trees and other self sustaining garden plants. We incorporate daily hygiene lessons into the school curriculum so kids can understand and really adapt these procedures at home. We teach the parents the same things so they understand. We turn Brenda’s school into a community center where people can come for so much more than just an elementary learning center.

We invite more kids to the school! We educate this new generation in hopes they will make change in their community and beyond. Attendance is free and the kids get two meals a day, a uniform and mutli-vitamins in addition to their education. What about a secondary school that is closer than the nearest city, Barahona, which is 8 miles away? A goal is to motivate these kids to continue so they have somewhere to go after Brenda’s school. My personal goal is to teach these children how to dream big while staying awake just as they are.

From what I witnessed, these kids were happy. They were not lacking for anything because they knew nothing different. But I also saw a lot of beauty, talent, promise and love. Those attributes, I’m sure could be utilized in their own community but I did observe some children who had the heart to serve elsewhere. My intention is to help some of these kids understand they have opportunities that they haven’t even been able to dream up yet but that the sky is limitless.

We all see the same moon and the same stars. The world is a big place and if we remember that the small things we do really make a difference, this world will finally realize the true meaning of interconnectedness. We are all connected and we are all here to serve.

If you are interested in knowing more about Evergreen4kids and want to help our Health and Wellness Team, you can go to my website I will be posting a page dedicated to Habanero and the efforts of Evergreen4Kids. You can also go to for general information and to contact Brenda directly.

Be well, laugh often and give much.

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