Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Project Air

Rape is often used as a weapon of warfare in Africa. It is estimated that over 250,000 women were raped during the Genocide in Rwanda resulting in the HIV infection of thousands of women and untold numbers of death, suffering and discrimination. With UNICEF I visited a center called Project Air, which is the first organization of its kind to use yoga to help individuals in conflict and post-conflict areas in Rwanda (and soon in Eastern Congo) to overcome the devastating effects of genocide, rape, sexual violence and HIV.

When we visited the center we had the opportunity to watch a yoga class and then speak with a couple of women. Many of the women at Project Air are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder from rape and have developed dissociative disorder between their minds and bodies. One of the women said that her first yoga class in 2009 when the center opened was the first nights sleep she had gotten in 15 years since the 1994 genocide. Project Air is an example of a site that UNICEF is not yet involved in, but would very much like to be when they have the funding for it. It is currently being funded with the help of another amazing NGO called We-Act.

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I did not take pictures of the yoga class at Project Air because UNICEF has a rule not to photograph women who are HIV positive because there is a strong stigma against HIV in many parts of the world and they do not want to put anyone in danger by identifying them as HIV positive through a photograph. I did however take pictures of a sewing workshop inside the Project Air center where women make beautiful textile products like reusable shopping bags, purses, shirts, luggage tags and dolls just to name a few. The proceeds from the products go to the women and supporting the center. To anyone visiting Kigali I highly recommend stopping in to buy some beautiful souvenirs that are a lot more meaningful than ones bought in big markets that are most likely not even from Rwanda.

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To learn more about Project Air and see photos of the yoga classes visit their website and be sure to check out a great video about the project here.

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