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Chevy Chase Psychotherapist to Teach Yoga in Haiti
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Since parts of Haiti were devastated by an earthquake in January 2010, the country has been flooded with billions of dollars in emergency relief to provide health care, food, shelter and other basic necessities.
Lauren Rubenstein will bring something different — yoga.
The 53-year-old Somerset resident is one of four instructors who will spend eight days in Haiti teaching yoga to children living outside Port-au-Prince, the nation's capital. Rubenstein leaves Sunday.
"I just want to give them a sense of hope," Rubenstein said. "A sense that somebody cares about them, somebody is paying attention to them."
The trip is planned through Bridge of Diamonds, the nonprofit arm of YogaKids, a Michigan-based organization that aims to teach confidence through yoga. The program emphasizes the differences between yoga for children and for adults — for children, yoga is intended to be fun and creative, in addition to relaxing and meditative.
The organization made its first mission to Haiti in June to teach about 200 children. Rubenstein, who works as a psychotherapist and yoga instructor for children and adults, will be part of the group's second trip. The goal of the project is to teach children in Haiti about exercise, healthy eating, art and reading through fun yoga poses and meditation, said YogaKids President Marsha Wenig.
"Yoga is the steppingstone to working with these children in all the different ways we can," Wenig said.
To prepare for her trip, Rubenstein has enlisted help from friends, family, students and anyone else who will listen to her cause. She has raised about $5,000 — including $1,000 from a neighbor Rubenstein said she hardly knows. And a friend helped gather more than 200 Beanie Baby toys to give to the children, and a student, Daisy Scarvell, tie-dyed 30 towels to give girls who come to class in dresses, instead of shorts.
Nellie Goen, who runs the Mobile Teacher Program, which provides school materials to rural Haitian villages, is among the contacts Rubenstein has made in advance of the trip. Goen, who was born in Haiti and lives in Front Royal, Va., was skeptical when she heard of Rubenstein's plan.
"My first reaction was — Yoga? How are you going to do yoga?" said Goen, who met Rubenstein at Chevy Chase Florist, where Goen works and Rubenstein is a frequent customer.
After contemplating Rubenstein's idea, Goen said she could see the merit of yoga for Haitian children as a means of exercise and self-expression.
"It seems it would be a great way for the kids to have somewhere to go — not physically, but to get peace," Goen said.
Goen knows firsthand the conditions in Port-au-Prince. Goen traveled to Haiti in June to check in on her program and stopped in Port-au-Prince, her birthplace.
There, many people still are homeless and live in tents, Goen said.
"It's kind of depressing to see people in the capital city in little camp areas," she said. "They're still cleaning out rubble. There are piles of stone."
Daisy Scarvell, 11, of Chevy Chase never has been to Haiti, but she also is supporting Rubenstein's mission, by tie-dying towels for her yoga instructor.
Daisy said she hopes Rubenstein's Haitian students will benefit from the lessons the same way she does.
"Relaxation, strength, self-confidence — a lot of really good lessons you should know for character building, a lot of things every person should know," Daisy said. "Maybe it will help them get through some hard things they might be going through."