For some Haitian children, downward dog and tree pose are more than just exercise. They are an escape from the combined stress and boredom of living in tent cities and having nothing to do all day.
“The kids cannot wait to come to yoga class,” said Lauren Rubenstein, a yoga teacher and psychotherapist who lives in Somerset.
Rubenstein just finished her fourth trip to Haiti since July 2011, helping in the aftermath of the earthquake that devastated the country in January 2010.
Her aim was to teach yoga to children to help them cope with stress.
She described a world in which the poorest children do not go to school, which costs money, and are generally unsupervised by parents, who are up at dawn and gone all day looking for work.
“There are no activities, no structure. They just play in the street,” Rubenstein said. As a result, yoga clasees are so popular, she and other instructors often have to turn children away.
But during her trips to Haiti, she said, the country had more of an effect on her than she did on it. That effect can be summed up in one word: Michelda, a 6-year-old girl Rubenstein met a few years ago and who was living in a tent city. Rubenstein sponsored the child through Partners in Development, and for $1 a day, Michelda was able to pay school tuition and fees and receive a hot meal.
Rubenstein didn’t stop there. So touched by the plight of Michelda and her family, Rubenstein raised $4,000 to pay for a new house to be built. She also paid for Michelda’s much-needed surgery for a hernia.
This last trip, she brought along her son, Jake, who is a senior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, and a friend of his. The boys worked on constructing the house.
Rubenstein is already planning another trip back to the country this year. She hopes to raise more money. In the past, she has had success through the organization Go Give Yoga, plant sales and working with the Girl Scouts. Her Somerset neighbors have contributed generously.
Even though she speaks little Creole, and the children little English, Rubenstein said communication is not a problem.
“That’s the beauty of yoga,” she said. “You don’t really need language.”