“That will change these girls’ futures and the futures of their kids,” Michelle told me in a phone interview.
The current girls house at Deenabandhu is home to 14 girls (ages 4 to 13) and two house mothers. Though it is well cared-for, a new campus is essential in order for the organization to care for more girls.
After I saw Sophie on the Martha Stewart Show last week, and heard there was a Canadian connection to her fundraising efforts, I decided to learn more about Energy 4 Orphans and got in touch with Michelle.
Michelle, who lives in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, founded Energy 4 Orphans in 2006 and raises funds to help break the poverty cycle by giving orphans, particularly young girls, the opportunities to learn and develop in circumstances that foster self-empowerment.
A new orphanage for 35 girls in Karnataka, the current project being undertaken by E4O, can mean new opportunities for the girls and their future families. Often times in many poverty-stricken regions, orphans are forced into a cruel life on the streets, where they usually succumb to the conditions of abject poverty: lack of education, prostitution, violence and despair.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is that it’s so easy. It takes very little effort and very little money to help so many people,” she says.
Michelle, a lifelong activist, became disillusioned by the large, international aid organizations, which she says have policies that keep donors at a distance, and further fail to accurately report how the money raised is being spent.
She decided to start her own fundraising initiative and made sure that integration was a fundamental part of the process.
“I want to give people a firsthand perspective of what it feels like to help these communities. I want them to see for themselves and also to get the pleasure of helping someone. It’s sort of the principle of karmic yoga,” she says: the process of giving and healing so that one receives and heals in turn.
She began by using her own experiences as a yoga instructor to help raise funds to buy new beds for an orphanage in Nepal.
This was made possible primarily through a program that Anderson and her yoga teachers developed called Yoga in the Parks, a series of outdoor, by-donation community classes that raised $1,000 for the program in its inaugural year. In 2007, that amount doubled.
Also in 2007, Michelle was introduced to Sophie in India by a mutual friend and she became involved in the E4O project. Sophie built the organization’s website and currently heads up the New York City branch of E4O, raising money and awareness there through classes and fundraising events.
Beginning in October, a series of Monday evening community yoga classes led by Sophie and Maggie Converse in New York will accept donations of $10 for the Deenabandhu Trust Orphanage in Karnataka, South India.
Sophie will also be donating 25% of the sales of her photographs from an upcoming exhibit in Manhattan and has asked fellow yoga instructor David Hollander to donate 20% of the proceeds of his Bhakti Flow workshops at Exhale Spa, beginning in October.
“On Canada Day (July 1) we had a day of massage on the causeway here. People could come and get massages and were asked to donate what they could. We also started a silent auction with 75 items that were up for bid, with all proceeds going to Energy 4 Orphans. We have a massage therapist here, too, who volunteered to use the proceeds of one day of work for the program, so it’s been really, really great to see so many people getting involved.”
Sophie and Michelle spent some time sharing yoga at Deenabandhu in 2008. Many of the youngsters were quite adept!
Ulitimately, Michelle would like to see Energy 4 Orphans expand into cities across the globe and possibly linking with a larger organization, but she keeps an open mind about it all and takes it as it comes. Ideally, she says, working in Africa to help AIDS orphans would be the greatest challenge and reward.
“There are villages and villages in Africa made up of just children whose parents all died of AIDS. If we could expand yoga programs there and raise money for those villages, it would be amazing.”
As long as she is able to inspire people to make a difference and take hands-on approaches to solving these problems, she is pleased.
“I have a student, TJ, who is going to India in November to help start the construction of the new girls’ home. That’s what I like to see: people actually taking it upon themselves to make that kind of difference.”
If you are a yoga instructor who would like to devote time to raising money for the cause and start a new branch of Energy 4 Orphans in your town, please get involved. Anyone is welcome to donate time or money to the project, so please get in touch by visiting the links below: