From the Community, For the Community
The YAMA (Yoga and Music Arts) Project was founded by ex-street youth wanting to give back to people living rough on the streets of Freetown. Each founding member, Badardee, Francess, Meeky and Sulcus, has their own personal experience of how precarious life in Sierra Leone can be for a homeless person.
Inspired by their first-hand experience of the many benefits that yoga, music and poetry writing can bring, they are committed to sharing these practice with others. With support from Tools for Inner Peace, they began giving yoga sessions to street youth in January 2022 and interest in these classes has been growing ever since. The group has grown from 23 to 50-60 people meeting for yoga every Saturday. The sessions are reaching some of the most marginalised and vulnerable members of society, including street workers and gang members.
YAMA facilitators understand the value of these activities as tools that help support trauma recovery and manage life’s daily struggles (economic hardship, food insecurity, abuse, addiction…) The facilitators have noted the change in the capacity of the street youth to self-regulate. The street youth themselves report changes in mental, physical and emotional wellbeing, an increased engagement in life and the capacity to make wiser choices.
The weekly yoga sessions are combined with poetry and music activities and close with the serving of a hot nutritious meal. Together with medical partners in Freetown, we hope to also introduce a fortnightly mobile healthcare clinic to address the need for free medical attention. Common health care complaints range from malaria to various respiratory and skin conditions. With time, we plan to extend the scope of the clinic to include testing for HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, diabetes, etc.
Read more about the vision of the YAMA founders, in their own words:
YAMA – Yoga and Music Arts project
Vision: Awakening the street
Mission: Bring yoga, music and poetry to those living on the street as a catalyst for inner transformation and wellbeing.
Who we are
Each of the four of us on the YAMA team, Babardee, Francess, Meeky and Sulcut, have our own experiences of how precarious life can be. Through yoga, music and poetry we have been lucky to learn tools and techniques to manage our mind and emotions, and these have become a way of life for us. We have used yoga to transform ourselves, to live to our full potential, and now we want to help others on the street in Sierra Leone – the homeless, gang members and thieves, those who are most vulnerable and marginalised – live a more positive life.
Our aim is to uplift those whose home is on the street. We want to share what we’ve learned about self-reliance and wellbeing with street youth and street children. By offering yoga, music and poetry for healing from trauma, we want to give back to the street which was once our home, too. We know the harsh reality of living a life of poverty, and recognise the depression, isolation, despair, hunger and addictions of life on the street. We want to uplift those who might otherwise be a menace to society, and teach them to live with full awareness, to care for themselves, and to be kind to others.
- Alleviate trauma, stress, mental health problems, depression and addiction through yoga, music and poetry.
- Give street youth skills to self-regulate in order to make better choices in their lives. The first step in this is releasing stress and tension and learning to use the available energy in a productive way.
- Empower those living on the street to discard destructive habits and patterns – and change to a better way of living. This means giving tools for street youth to learn to rely on themselves and navigate worries without falling back on gang behaviour, drugs and alcohol.
- Develop awareness about the value of positive interactions with other people. This is about the street youth learning to treat each other, their families and people in their communities with kindness and understanding.
- Inspire participants to become mentors and ambassadors in their communities, sharing what they have learned about living a more positive life.
Living on the street is about survival, hunger, bullying, being robbed of the few possessions that a person owns. Many of the street youth are crippled by trauma and frustration about their life situation. They have lost ties with family members who show no apparent concern for them. Some can no longer think what they are doing or saying, have stopped washing their bodies and changing their clothes. Our project cannot solve all the problems of life on the street, but it can help participants relax, become self-aware, and make better choices in unbearably hard conditions. YAMA is an initiative that has its origins in life on the street and in vulnerable communities; we ourselves are the example of how living a more positive life is possible.
Weekly yoga sessions with Black Street youth
In January 2022, we started offering a monthly yoga class for a group of homeless youth in the area of Black Street in Freetown. At the end of each yoga session, there is time for poetry and music, as well as group discussion and reflection in a safe space, followed by a hot, nutritious meal for the participants, many of whom might go for days on end without eating. We want to feed the body and soul, and offer an example of healthy living. The participants love the yoga and have been looking forward to the last Saturday of the month. They are starting to see a change in themselves, feeling how yoga is good for their wellbeing, both giving flexibility and strength to the body, as well as focus and peace to the mind. Our yoga sessions are also a social event for street youth to come together to share their experiences, sometimes in the form of a poem or a song.
From the beginning, many of the participants were asking for weekly yoga sessions, and the number of participants has grown from one session to the next, from 25 to 65. Relying on generous donations from a few individuals we have managed to start offering weekly classes, but we want to be able to sustain these over a longer period of time.