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It’s amazing how a simple uniform can change your impression of someone.
Sure the slum school in Jaipur that I visited with Yogamour Global was small and dingy, a (barely)two-room structure housing nearly 50 students, but all the kids were clean, seemingly happy though a little shy, and dressed in button up shirts, slacks and skirts.
It probably would have made more of an impact on me if I had been coming straight from the U.S., but after being in Southeast Asia for so long and seeing a range of schools in the region, it didn’t seem worlds away from what I’ve become accustomed to – there were still blackboards in some of the classrooms of the private high school I worked at when first moving to Chiang Mai.
The thing that did strike me though, was how the kids could go from looking like typical students to stereotypical street urchins in a matter of minutes after leaving school for the day, going home and putting on their regular clothes.
One day after volunteering in the classroom we met with the mothers of the students to learn from them about what type of support they needed and get a better idea of how the community operated. Several of the students left class then ran back with their mothers. Instead of in clean uniforms, they were in tattered, mismatched clothes and barefoot.
The transformation was instant.
On one hand it was very superficial, nothing had changed in their situation or upbringing in the less than ten minutes it took to change clothes, they were still the same. However to any outsider, they would appear to be very poor kids at the bottom of the caste system, uneducated and possibly homeless.
The assumption wouldn’t be far off either. The community where we were volunteering was located behind high walls to block it from view of people passing by on the road. The people who lived here worked as trash collectors, picking up Jaipur’s garbage, sorting it and sweeping the streets. From what the mothers told us, they lacked consistent access to clean water and many of the fathers were alcoholics.
The school was heavily subsidized by patrons and even though the annual tuition fee and uniform costs were low, they were still difficult for many families to afford. Some people in the community also didn’t like the school at all, arguing that it was taking up precious space that couldn’t benefit everyone.
The mothers saw the importance of the school though and when we asked them what they wished for their future they unanimously said they didn’t have hopes for their own future…but their children still had a chance. They wanted their children to go to school and get out of the cycle.
One of the mothers made note to say she wanted to make sure her daughters were more educated than her sons.
Yogamour Global seeks out marginalized and misrepresented communities like the one in Jaipur to help support through health and wellness initiatives. The nonprofit encourages yogis to ‘take their yoga off their mat and into the real world’ through seva (Sanskrit for “selfless service”) volunteer yoga retreats and projects in India, Thailand and Myanmar.
From regularly flying American doctors over to run free dental and eye clinics, to bringing volunteers together to help teach basic hygiene skills, Yogamour works to provide support to communities that have been overlooked by their country’s system. Many of the people in the communities are not considered citizens or are stateless and don’t have access to even the most basic health care.
If a basic uniform can affect the way people view a child, basic education and health care can obviously make a world of difference when it comes to that child’s wellbeing, development and future opportunities.
Yogamour currently has several volunteer yoga retreats lined up over the next year, including one in Thailand at the end of December and one in Goa in February. You can see all the yoga retreats open for registration here.
If you can’t make it to a retreat but would still like to be involved and help support the organization, you can learn more about Yogamour Global’s mission and current projects here and make an online donation here. (Every little bit helps – just $30 can provide eye care for one child in Thailand for one full year!)