Global Seva Challenge

SEVA SPOTLIGHT! Donny Starkins

Today we're highlighting another awesome participant of our 2015 Global SEVA Challenge: Kenya...

... meet Donny Starkins of Scottsdale, Arizona! Having raised over $8,500 for this year's Challenge (which included proceeds from his popular Sunday Yoga Service Project), we caught up with Donny to ask about his inspiration:

"After attending OTM’s 5-day leadership training last summer in Minneapolis, the vision for Sunday Yoga Service was born. Those 5 days with Seane, Hala and Suzanne were life-changing for me. Seane’s words “How dare we not?” was a question that went straight to my heart. For me, it was “how dare I not share my story.” Those closest to me knew my story of addiction and that I live a sober life. But, many of my students and this large yoga platform we have here in Arizona did not. Therefore, that question lit a fire inside of me to share my story and connect it with OTM’s Seva Project. This has turned into a monthly community event we have at a beautiful resort in Scottsdale. In addition, I’ve been given the opportunity to travel and bring Sunday Yoga Service into other communities in California and Dallas. The opportunity to share my story, carry the message of OTM and the woman of Kenya has been one of the biggest gifts of my life. What used to bury me in guilt and shame (my past addiction) has become my biggest asset. This awakening was only possible because of the deep inner work we did at the leadership training.  In order to be of service and transform the world, the process had to start within. This is what I learned. And, this is the message I now choose to carry. Thank you OTM for giving me a clear path!"

Thank YOU, Donny, for stepping into your truth and your voice. We couldn't be prouder!

*Learn more about Donny on his website or follow him on Facebook or Instagram.

SEVA SPOTLIGHT! Interview with SEVA: Kenya participant Bryonie Wise

Today we're interviewing Bryonie Wise of Toronto, Canada. Bryonie is a participant in our 2015 SEVA Challenge: Kenya

OTM: Hi Bryonie! We are so happy and grateful that you are a part of our SEVA Challenge this year. What is your fundraising goal and how much have you raised so far?

Bryonie: I set my goal at $7,500 - $10,000. To-date I've raised $7,259.

OTM: That's fantastic! What does "seva" mean to you and why do you think it's important?

Bryonie:  'Seva' speaks to my own belief (culled & refined through the practice of yoga, creativity, and shamanism) that there is no separation between us; that although we roll around in our various corners of the Universe, when it comes down to it, we are connected if only by the thread of our beating hearts.

We all suffer, we all celebrate, we all grieve, we all love — we all need help at one time or another and are often too fearful to ask. Sometimes (most often) it's because we can't ask - where we live or how we fit into the hierarchy of the society that surrounds us often determines how loud we can speak & how far our voices are allowed to go. We are held down instead of encouraged to rise up. 

The older I get, the clearer this becomes: we are here to love, unequivocally -  and it is my responsibility as a human being with relative freedom of word & action to use my superpowers (my heart & privilege) for the safety of all beings. 

The more we begin to think of ourselves as connected, from one side of the world to the other, the stronger we become.

OTM: Yes! Superpowers! Your heart & privilege. We love that.  What inspired you to sign-up for the Challenge this year? What do you hope to gain or achieve by participating?

Bryonie: 1. The opportunity to support & learn from (and learn how I can further support) young girls & women who have experienced FGM or who are currently working to create alternate rites of passage & fighting for the right to choose how they step over into womanhood. 2. The opportunity to travel to a part of the world that has long tugged at my heart. And 3. The opportunity to study & work with Suzanne & Seane and to expand my capacity & ability to love as a human & as a teacher.

OTM: All beautiful reasons. You mention that the opportunities to support, to expand, and to learn were motivating factors for you.  What is the biggest lesson or skill you've learned so far by participating?

Bryonie:  I have learned how to soften my words & shape them differently in order to make FGM an accessible topic.

When we come from a place of love, anything is possible— and sometimes, in transmuting (not bypassing) our fear or rage into love or curiosity or surrender (or whatever is most authentic to our own personal experience), we spark someone else into a different kind of thought or action. 

We change the world, slowly, but surely. 

OTM: And that is a powerful lesson to learn. Thank you, Bryonie, for sharing your words and experiences about SEVA: Kenya! If you're inspired  by Bryonie and would like to take part in the Challenge, visit our SEVA: Kenya page HERE. We're finishing up Phase 2 (taking $75 pledges which provide a young girl at the new rescue center with a bed, mattress, and dresser). Pledge today and make a difference! The Challenge ends Sept 30.

The Silent War on Women (Seva Challenge 2015)

How often do we talk about our vaginas?  How freely do we discuss our sexuality in this culture where many women's rights are fairly secure (albeit still surprisingly not entirely equal to men's rights)? Sexuality is often a very private matter and when it gets down to sexual anatomy, many of us choose to remain very coy. 

And although I wish I were about to initiate a deep discussion about liberating women's sexuality from centuries of oppression (that will come later), I am writing today about a cultural "secret", a taboo so insidious that many people either don't know that it exists at all or are fuzzy on the details. I am talking about Female Genital Mutilation or FGM.

And it is this very secrecy that is keeping the practice alive… in countries like Kenya, Egypt, Mali, Sierra Leone… but also in the UK and the US -- 29 countries total. (Recently, 500 cases of FGM were diagnosed in one month in British hospitals.) 

Here is the "procedure" more than 130 million girls and women alive in the world today have undergone (from BBC News):

--Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes any procedure that alters or injures the female genital organs for non-medical reasons

--In its most severe form, after removing the sensitive clitoris, the genitals are cut and stitched closed so that the woman cannot have or enjoy sex

--A tiny piece of wood or reed is inserted to leave a small opening for the necessary flow of urine and monthly blood when she comes of age (most FGM is carried out on infants or young girls before they reach puberty)

--When she is ready to have sex and a baby, she is "unstitched" - and then sewn back up again after to keep her what is described by proponents as "hygienic, chaste and faithful"

--In societies where FGM is commonplace, a woman can bring shame on herself and her family if she does not comply. Some see it as a religious necessity, though no scriptures explicitly prescribes it

--Most often, the procedure is carried out by traditional circumcisers or preachers, using crude, accessible tools, such as thorns and thread, broken glass or razor blades, and without anaesthetic

In many countires, FGM has been outlawed, but prosecution rates remain very low. In Kenya, for instance, FGM was outlawed in 2001 and a conviction for FGM related-offenses carries a penalty of 12 months imprisonment or a fine of $50,000 or both. The tradition, however, persists and there are relatively few prosecutions.

This is due to the silence surrounding the issue and also because in so many communities where FGM/C is prevalent, it is part of a ceremony, a celebration of a girl’s transition to womanhood.  Cutters -- midwives, traditional healers, aunts, and grandmothers -- perform the act out of love, as a way to prepare a girl for potential marriage or to protect her from becoming a social outcast.

So it becomes clear that FGM won’t end until individuals and communities collectively and publicly declare an end to the practice and are given viable alternative rites of passage for girls to become women.

One Kenyan woman said, "FGM and anything related to it is never discussed at home or anywhere else; it is regarded as a taboo subject. And this is one of the reasons that FGM continues; no one knows the details."

And another woman, an outspoken anti-FGM activist said, "It's only in the last year that I have stopped being threatened by men and people who expect me to stay silent."

As an outspoken advocate for women's rights and most especially for breaking the silences that keep humans (and many women) silent and sick, I am strongly urging you to add your voice to the collective rising voice against FGM.  

Join us for this years Global Seva Challenge trip to Kenya and use your own voice to spread awareness and shed light where there has been only silence, suffering, and darkness.  

The Seva Challenge is an incredibly inspiring and empowering journey that takes participants from fundraising and awareness-building through to life-changing experiences in the field, and, in many cases, a life-long commitment to conscious activism and service.

We have had 7 years of successful Challenges bringing us to Cambodia, Africa, India, Ecuador, and Haiti, and raising over 3 million dollars for organizations doing long-term, on-the-ground work that matters. We have built schools, birthing centers, gardens, safe houses, micro loan programs, libraries, health care centers, and more. Perhaps even more importantly, we have become a voice of awareness for global issues such as social, economic, and environmental justice, extreme poverty, access to education, human trafficking, global health care, deforestation, and more.

Global Seva Kenya, jointly hosted by Off The Mat, Into the World and The Village Experience, will be working with The Tasaru Ntomonok Initiative and Samburu Girls Foundation - both of whose primary objectives are to rescue girls from FGM, child marriage, domestic violence, and physical/sexual abuse, as well as offering and educating groups on alternative rites of passage ceremonies.  Funds will support the construction of a rescue center, or "safe house," in each location that will provide health care, education, and protection from abuse and exploitation.

The incredible women leading these organizations are supreme examples of bravery, speaking truth and creative activism… each with a strong story of stepping out of the oppressive silence to challenge cultural practices, engage with communities, and create alternative rites of passage for young girls to enter into womanhood. They have rescued, kept safe, and educated  hundreds of girls, and, with the funds from Global Seva Challenge Kenya, will be able to create safety, and nurture leadership for many more. 

Please join us in support of these women and girls and break the silence!

With love and a strong voice…                                                                                             Suzanne Sterling                                                                                                                  Director, Global Seva Challenge

"My silence only serves to add to the shame around this harmful ritual & one of the most beautiful parts  our bodies hold, so I dedicate myself to excavating my own discomfort as I continue to understand how much we are connected, no matter how far apart."                                                                                                         - Seva Challenge participant Bryonie Wise 

Living Your Bhakti: A Life of Service

As a part of the Global Seva Challenge, yogis from around the globe spent a year raising awareness and funds for organizations in India supporting sex trafficking and slavery survivors through shelter, education, holistic therapies and job skills training.  During this year’s Bare Witness Tour in India, I assisted OTM co-founders Seane Corn and Suzanne Sterling as they led 20 of these yogis through two weeks of visiting and connecting with the organizations whom they fundraised for.