May 4, 2011

Collective Hearts brings yoga and cash to Haiti.

Lisa Rueff is a humanitarian with a vision.

Remember the earthquake in Haiti in early 2010? It’s hard to sort through our memory fragments of all the calamities that happen in the world on what seems like a relentless basis. Blame it on global warming, or Mercury in Retrograde, or bad karma… this planet is constantly in distress. Disasters happen; the world outpours sympathy in that direction for a while; we move on to the next tragedy.

But what about a small, poverty-stricken island nation trying to recover from an apocalyptic natural disaster? What happens a year or two later? More specifically, what happens to the children left homeless and parentless? These are questions that Lisa Rueff asked herself… and then decided to answer.

Rueff is a yoga teacher in Marin County who has always had a talent for rallying people together for a cause.

Over the years she has become known in her community as the driving force behind fundraisers for local targets such as Nancy’s List, Home Away From Homelessness, and Hospice By the Bay. She’s also a fun, spirited yoga teacher with a lot of friends.

Shortly after the 2010 earthquake, Lisa Rueff traveled to Haiti on her own on a fact-finding mission. A seasoned traveler, Lisa has been to many third world countries and is no stranger to poverty. But the wake of the devastation in Haiti — particularly in the town of Jacmel and in regard to the hundreds of orphaned children who were living on the streets without proper food, medical care, or education — overwhelmed her. As did the gracious, resilient, joyful vitality of the Haitian people, who brought her into their homes and families and made her feel welcome, despite their own hardships.

On that trip, Lisa met Bonite Affriany, a local Haitian activist and humanitarian who had been struggling for years to provide food and shelter for the shocking numbers of homeless kids. (Even before the 2010 earthquakes, orphaned children were a particularly harrowing presence in Jacmel, and the disaster only magnified the epidemic.) Affriany had managed to secure land rights for a parcel with an ambitious vision of building a children’s center—“a home for kids that have nowhere to go”—but without the cash or the resources to make it happen, the project existed only in theory.

That’s where Lisa Rueff stepped in.

For over a year, she has been traveling back and forth from the Bay Area to Jacmel, alternately holding fundraisers to raise the means to built he orphanage and getting her hands dirty in Haiti helping create a solid foundation for the project. Through her nonprofit, Random Acts, she has so far raised almost $50,000 toward creating a children’s center to provide shelter, food, education, and HOPE to the children of Jacmel.

What began as a modest Random Acts fundraiser has blossomed into an epic, focused project in Jacmel, where Rueff has forged friendships with government officials, teachers, builders, and families. Over multiple trips to Haiti, Rueff has gained the trust of the locals and is using their confidence in her as a platform to bridge the gap between American money and Haitian need.

But Lisa is not just throwing fat American dollars at a problem, although the cash is of course the vital first step. The true crux of her efforts has been on rallying volunteers and gathering donated supplies to bring to Haiti. And that’s where the yoga comes in. A natural networker and an infectiously enthusiastic yoga teacher, Lisa has harnessed the spirit of the Marin yoga community to raise money and recruit volunteers. Her first fundraiser, “Eat, Pray, Love, Yoga” brought together three popular local yoga teachers and 100 students to raise $18,000. Her most recent event, Collective Hearts Yoga, brought together 14 teachers, 125 students, local and national corporate sponsors, a silent raffle, and several vendors, each contributing prizes and profits to the cause.

After the April 27th Collective Hearts Yoga event, Lisa hopped on a redeye to Jacmel to deliver the good news about the funds raised to-date, and to begin overseeing the project, which is due to break ground in June, just in time for a second Collective Hearts fundraising event in Mill Valley, CA. If you’re interested in participating in the June event or otherwise contributing to the project, visit collectiveheartsyoga.com or email Lisa Rueff: [email protected].

Lisa will also be bringing a group of yogis to Haiti in late June to work on the project in person.

If you are interested in joining this adventure, visit: www.yogaventures.org/Haiti_Retreat_.html. This will be a repeat of a charity mission (disguised as a yoga retreat) that Lisa hosted last October in Haiti, when she brought a group of yogis with her to Jacmel to spend time immersed in local culture—attending church services, sharing traditional meals, and practicing yoga with children from the orphanages. During their time in Haiti, the yogis had a chance to practice yoga with local woman and children and also to lend a hand in repairing the damage from the earthquake. Quite frankly, although the outward mission of Lisa’s efforts is to help those in need, her unspoken but just as powerful motivation is to open up Westerners to the joys of philanthropy and volunteer work.

Because while the global disaster du jour is always dominating the headlines, the success stories don’t get so much play. Quietly and diligently, behind the scenes, people like Lisa Rueff are rebuilding communities and forging new intercultural alliances that truly speak to our global community. A year and a half after the earthquake calamity in Haiti, you won’t find much about it in the news, but the repercussions are still affecting Haitians and they are working hard to rebuild their lives. What they are blessed with is a joyful resilience that may seem foreign to Americans, so braced for bad news all the time.

Collective Hearts Yoga is a heroic effort by a privileged community to help out another, far away community in need. But in the end, it’s the resilience, strength and heart-felt appreciation of the Haitian people that inspires Lisa and motivates her. She sees them not as victims, but as role models. As the wealthier of the world’s citizens, we have resources to give to the world, but there are other, arguably more valuable gifts that other citizens of the world can give back to our spirits.

Read 6 Comments and Reply

Read 6 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Joslyn Hamilton  |  Contribution: 3,260