Archive for the 'Bare Witness Humanitarian Tour 2010' Category


There was no baby and then there was a baby

From Feb 11

I can barely feel my hands. Today I helped birth a baby girl. I feel a very deep vibration.

 The image of 5 women holding one as she was going through the process of bringing a life into the world is one that is going to stay with me forever.

The following is an excerpt of an email I wrote to my mom…I hope she doesn’t mind but its probably the most real reaction I am going to get down…

I helped birth a baby today. It made me want to talk to you. and when I say I helped birth a baby I mean I saw everything and was holding her leg when the baby came out. It was the most intense thing ever. I cried.

It was so weird – there was no baby and then there she was all slimy and gross and crying and being manhandled and held upside down by her feet. The mom who was 17 years old and named Myriam was 8 centimeters when we arrived at the birthing center (um, I thought we were just going to be getting a tour) and she was in labour and we helped. Sarah who is on the trip with us is an actual doula and there was a lady getting a c-section so she went in to help in that room and we (me heather and amanda) worked with our mom. We held her hands and helped her walk around outside, tried to get her to stretch and squat, drink water. She was scared. Sarah had a wicked bag full of tricks…lotion and oils and stuff that really seemed to help but when it was time, well, right before the time time, she was on the floor and I had her head in my lap and my hands under her shoulders and there were 2 more women on either side of her and we were all basically holding her. She didn’t know us and we didn’t know her but I felt so connected to everyone…and everything. It wasn’t pretty or easy but then there was a baby…I feel like my soul is vibrating a little.

When we left mama was doing okay – she asked for a coke ūüôā

The whole thing made me think of you and I hope that you felt supported and safe when you were going through and that someone was holding your hand. And that someone gave you a coke afterwards.

So, I can’t seem to stop crying. The reality of giving birth in Africa has many shocking things but I am going to leave this one here…

peace and love (esp. to all moms everywhere)


Stella and Agu

Written by Megan Ridge on 2/8/2010:

We had the most amazing experience today at the Acholi Quarters. For those of you that are not familiar with this place, let me give you a brief history. In 1986, an Acholi man named Joseph Kony started a group called “The Lord’s Resistance Army.” His aim was to overthrow the Ugandan government in favor of a more scripture based government. It quickly became clear to the majority of the population that the LRA was an unfocused attempt at controlling government, and perhaps more about Kony gaining individual power than anything else. Kony started abducting Acholi children to create an army. During these mass abductions, the group would steal medicine, weapons, and money. On the day of the abductions, Kony would usually make the children commit some kind of terrible atrocity in front of their entire community– bite someone to death, cannibalize a family member, or kill a brother or sister with his bare hands. They felt that this kind of trauma would make the child never want to return to their previous life out of shame. This is the LRA’s 24th year of activity, though things have been peaceful in Northern Uganda for the past 3 years. Most believe that the group is weakening and perhaps has moved up into Southern Sudan. The people of Northern Uganda are intoxicated with optimism, saying that Kony is now Sudan’s problem. The fact is, Kony is still free. 30,000 children have been abducted to date, and at the moment there is believed to be about 800 total members in the LRA. I could go on, but I think you get the gist.

Today, we heard two Acholi women’s stories. We had a translator, and they told us how they fled Northern Uganda to escape the LRA. They now live in the Acholi Quarters, a piece of land in Southern Uganda, purchased in 1956 by the King of Buganda, and they raise their families there. As more refugees flooded the land in the 1980’s, diseases spread- especially HIV. Many of the children died and now many grandmothers are caring for their grandchildren. Some women are providing for as many as 19 children.

It was our great honor to take several donations to the Acholi people. With additional funds we purchased beans, flour, soap and medicine for each family. I found out that the two families I was assigned to have a total of 16 children between them. So I rummaged through the donations and picked out a jump rope, frisbee, several books, baby clothes, and toothpaste/brushes. I hoped it would be enough.

Most of the people do not speak English. Only the educated Ugandans speak English. The Acholi Quarters is so HUGELY different from the city of Kampala, and it’s only 20 minutes away. These are the poorest of the poor. We were lead into a large room where about 20 adults sat, smiling and clapping, and as soon as everyone was settled, they sang us a welcome song in their language. We sang “Amazing Grace” back to them. Our trip leader, Joseph, explained to them why we were there and what we were going to provide for them. There are about 1,000 people living in this area, but we were only able to provide for 40 families.

I had the great fortune of being matched with two women- Stella and Agu. Stella spoke broken English, which was a special opportunity, as most of the population does not. I was able to communicate with these women in a way I did not think was going to be possible. Stella took me to Agu’s house first so she could translate. Agu’s house was at the top of a very steep, rocky, red dirt hill– which was really good for me, carrying a 25-pound bag of flour and beans! The physical effort it required of me to get up that hill, and still smile and say hello to all of the curious children, really took my mind off the fact that I was clueless as to what I was going to do once I arrived in her home.

Her house…was the size of my hotel bathroom and there were two benches inside. All of her children came in and gathered around and shook my hand saying “thank you.” And I immediately understood that there was nothing to do but just be there. I listened while Stella told me that Agu’s husband passed away and she has been raising her 8 children by herself. Both of Agu’s parents are gone. She goes to the stone quarry at the top of the hill every day and works so she can pay the $20/month rent for her living space and feed her children. They eat one meal a day. I surprised myself in my ability to be present and grounded in the moment. I felt very little pity, only compassion. I reached out for Agu’s hand and held it for a while. I knew we were one and we were equally blessed to be in the presence of one another. In reality, she was actually serving me.

After several pictures, we went back down the hill to Stella’s home, and along the way she introduced me to several people, all smiles and handshakes. Beautiful little kids pointing, smiling, chanting, “Muzungo!” which means, “white person.” Stella’s home was much the same as Agu‚Äôs; perhaps a little sturdier looking, two beat up chairs and a small stove filled the space. She told me that she went into town to learn English– she is 24 years old, tending to 7 children, three of which are her sister’s children. Her sister was shot in Northern Uganda during their escape from the war. She was pregnant at the time. They thought it best to deliver her baby and she died. Her son does not have a hand because of the shooting, but it’s truly a miracle that he’s alive. Stella was as optimistic and generous as Agu. I wish I could have given them the world, but that’s not what they wanted. They are the loveliest people I have ever met– they live in a 10X10 room with nothing in it, and love bigger than imaginable.

As I was leaving Stella’s home (and believe me, I didn’t want to go), there were so many hugs. A young woman I hadn’t met yet came up to me, put a necklace around my neck and said, “I love your name, Megan. It is so beautiful.” And then Stella placed another necklace around me, and then Agu. Three recycled paper bead necklaces that they made in their community, the most beautiful mementos I have ever received. As I made my way to the bus, Stella gave me another tight squeeze and asked me, “When are you coming back to us?” And I said, “As soon as I possibly can.”

On the drive back, some emotions finally came up. It looks hopeless, because it’s not just the Acholi Quarters that needs attention. It’s the whole country. These people are living in absolute, unimaginable poverty. It’s not comparable, not even close to what we witness in America. There is a reason why our material possessions are ruining us. There’s imbalance in the world and is the job of the fortunate to sustain that balance. This is our responsibility. On the other hand, it was a magical, beautiful, joyful day. I could have sat among these women much longer than we were able. I feel so lucky that I got to hear their stories and hold their babies. I realized that each life is unique, but much the same.

I read a letter that my mother wrote for me today. ¬†It quoted, “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. If everyone does something, together we can change the world.” Amen.

Bless the whole world,


To view Megan’s full blog, please visit: ¬†


About the Seva Challenge and Bare Witness Tour

It is incredible. ¬†One challenging, inspiring, successful year of fundraising later, we are once again on an airplane, flying to our destination of Uganda from all parts of the US and Canada, in preparation for what will no doubt be a life changing, two week adventure into the heart of sacred service. ¬†Last year as we put out a call to the yoga community to raise significant funds for the very first Seva Challenge, we had no idea how powerfully the community would respond, raising over $537,000 for the Cambodian Children’s Fund and offering the 20 women (who raised 20k each through outreach and community building), an opportunity to experience first hand, the devastating effects of genocide, poverty, disease and domestic violence on an entire population as well as how one person (or many) can take action and bring help and healing to the children of that population in the form of basic needs, education, and a loving and safe environment in which to grow. ¬†There were days where each of us was confronted with the absolute worst atrocities that humans can inflict upon one another, days where we could feel the palpable emotion as the U.N. War Crimes Tribunal began (30 years after the initial genocide), but perhaps the most memorable parts of the trip were the days when we visited the children at the facilities and sang and danced and practiced yoga with them. These laughing, playful, joyful spirits so full of life will no doubt grow up to become a powerful and well educated part of Cambodian society and knowing that we were, in some small way, a part of that joy and that future was the greatest gift that each of us could receive. ¬†Many of us on that journey became deeply aware that in offering our service in this way, we received far more than we could ever possibly give. ¬†This is the heart of sacred service.

This year, we again put out the call to the yoga community. We again asked people to use their creativity and ingenuity to find new ways to activate and motivate their own local communites. Again many yogis rallied, creating auctions, donation classes, products for sale, arts events, yogathons, and more and pushing themselves beyond perceived limits to stay inspired and continue to give voice to their visions and goals. ¬†But this was no ordinary year. ¬†Seva Challenge participants were faced this year with a stressed economy and a fiscal environment in which many service and non profit initiatives were shut down due to lack of adequate funding. ¬†However, despite these challenges, we collectively raised $574K and ¬†we will soon be arriving in Uganda to meet up with the 21 women who reached the goal of 20K each with the help of hundreds of yogis at home. ¬†We will be visiting a country that has known only war, genocide and violence for over 20 years. ¬†We will be immersing ourselves in a population in which 1 in 5 persons has been infected with HIV/AIDS. ¬†We will be walking the sacred red earth of a country where the oldest human fossils have been found…a place called the motherland.

This year, in partnership with Shanti Uganda, we will be building an eco – birthing center for women with HIV/AIDS and helping to support the education and training of the midwives and nurses there…creating a place for women (who might otherwise die in unassisted childbirth) to have a loving and safe environment to bring their babies into the world. ¬†We will be collaborating with Building Tomorrow and, along side the members of a local community, building an entire school brick by brick and providing a place for some 150 – 400 children to have access to safe and sound schooling. ¬†We will be learning about the specifics of HIV/AIDS prevention, education and the latest advances in treatment from YouthAids. ¬†We will visit the offices of Invisible Children and hear about the 350.000 child soldiers abducted in Uganda as well as how some of those children are being lovingly rehabilitated and reunited with their long lost families.

And again, our task as sacred activists, is to practice the presence of love and compassion, even as we work for change.  Even as we encounter children and families without even the basics needed for survival and facing the devastating long term effects of the pandemic of AIDS, we are charged with the task of staying present in our breath and in our bodies, witnessing honestly and profoundly, using all the tools that we have aquired in our yoga practice on the mat, and simply showing up with respect and a willingness to connect.  Connecting to the land,  to every woman, man and child that we meet, connecting to each other and connecting to the truths that keep us inspired to meet all that we encounter with fierce compassion and a strong heart.  And we will be changed. There is no doubt.

We are profoundly grateful to be a part of this growing community that is innovating the concept and reality of sacred activism and we are thankful for the vibrant creativity, leadership and love that has been called into action in such a powerful way at a time when it is so crucial and necessary to our global evolution and awakening.  We look forward to sharing our stories and inspirations with you over the next two weeks.

With Love Seane Corn and Suzanne Sterling

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