Lots of Need, Little Know How
Like many of us, Gwen Tan Wynne can simply open her eyes to see a world in need around her – turn on the news to witness footage of Ecuador’s earthquake a world away, walk down the street to see men and women begging for renminbi, or pull up Facebook for share after share of this cause and that.
Again like many of us, she has questioned, “How do I fit into this? How can I contribute? What could I even do that would make an impact? Is what I can do even useful? As a wife and mother, can I personally sustain the amount of time this cause deserves? Will I cause harm more than provide help?” She knew that a handout isn’t actually helpful, and although she had participated in charity events before, she wanted to facilitate meeting the needs of others.
The start of Gwen’s path toward the Yoga Gives Back event was on International Women’s Day (2016) when she attended a charity cook off brunch hosted by Roundabout. A women’s rights activist, Professor Wu Qing, talked about how she had set up centers in rural areas to teach underprivileged migrant Chinese women a trade to sustain themselves.
Gwen was touched. Gwen also wanted to do something like this, even travel herself to these rural areas outside Beijing and volunteer her time in their centers to teach the women something to help, but what could she teach? They probably can’t feed themselves with yoga, and Gwen is aware of her language limitations that would require a translator—perhaps causing her to become more of a burden than help. In addition, Gwen is foremost a mother and wife, and spends her days alternating between teaching yoga and attending to the needs of her family.
When she looked at Professor Wu Qing’s example, she was inspired by the connection between Qing’s personal life, as a child of an influential Chinese writer and a diplomat, and the work she has done throughout her life to serve others. Gwen didn’t feel like she had that sort of platform.
An Unexpected Opportunity to Give Back
On a rather exhausted evening, sitting on her kitchen floor, Gwen saw a video “My Mother’s Dream” posted on Facebook by a fellow yogi. The video features a young Indian girl being orphaned and documents how her dream of being a doctor became a possibility with the help of Yoga Gives Back.
Intrigued, Gwen followed the Facebook link trail to learn more about this organization.
Many charitable organizations have emerged from within the yoga community, but Yoga Gives Back (YGB) is a very unique campaign, which allows yogis to show gratitude for the culture by supporting impoverished mothers and children in India. Their slogan, “For the cost of one class, you can save a life” has a very powerful message.
“I was compelled by the Sister Aid program under Yoga Gives Back. They inform about gender equality in India, and in some rural areas, more than fifty percent of girls are married before the age of fifteen. An estimated 6,000 women are murdered every year due to low dowry inherited from their parents,” explained Gwen.
Making Beijing’s First YGB Event Ginormous
She decided based on this information to try and make this a huge event rather than host one smaller sized class or donate part of her professional proceeds to the organization. Donations from this event will be utilized by YGB to provide micro-financing to women for sustainable livelihoods and supporting children with specific education for an informed future.
After approval and acquaintance with Yoga Gives Back, she contacted both the International School of Beijing (ISB) for a venue and the numerous yoga teachers she knows from her time spent in Beijing, from 2006 to 2008, and now from 2013 to today.
Gwen successfully enlisted the help of four other yogis to co-host Beijing’s first Yoga Gives Back event. They are Robyn Wexler, co-founder of Yoga Yard, Theresa, founder of Yoganda Project, teaching vulnerable women in Uganda to make the world’s best bags, Sean Ren, a highly sought-after teacher in Yoga Yard and Beijing, and Desiree Chen, a U.S trained yoga teacher currently residing in Beijing.
Gwen, her friends, and her sponsors hope that this event will not only touch the lives of those in India, but that it will also inspire other women and men in Beijing to use what they love to change the lives of others. “Yoga is a part of me, and being able to give back through yoga, using it as a medium, as a vehicle, is paramount to me,” Gwen commented.
Gwen plans to organize the event annually and include an organization in China that has a similar ethos as Yoga Gives Back.
Yoga Gives Back, May 21
Ages 13+. A two-hour bilingual yoga class successively hosted by five different yoga teachers: Gwen, Robyn, Sean, Theresa, and Desiree. The session consists of 108 sun salutations, which is an auspicious number in India (e.g. Vedic tradition, yoga, astrology), and is equivalent to the number of beads in a string of mala beads. Participants are encouraged to practice at their own pace and bring their own mat. Coconut water sponsored by Vita Coco. Snacks and juice can be purchased from Juice by Melissa, Shunyi. Minimum donation RMB 150.9:30-11:30am. International School of Beijing (ISB)
Photos: courtesy of Gwen Tan Wynne and Yoga Gives Back