The Gift of Yoga in the Wilderness of South Africa

Julia Geffers is a traveller driven by a passion for compassion. It is a passion that has led her, as a Registered Yoga Teacher, to share the art of yoga with schools in disadvantaged communities. Julia is also the Director of Hotel Member Services at Relais & Châteaux.

The schools she has brought the power of the mat to are the  Digital Learning Campuses of the Good Work Foundation, a registered NGO that has been working with grassroots education in Africa since 2003, and that is supported by Londolozi Private Game Reserve in South Africa.

After experiencing the joys of an African safari at Londolozi, Julia headed into the local community to visit GWF’s Hazyview and Huntington campuses to share the joys of yoga with the young learners. The students, the process, the community would give her so much more in return.

In a blog for the Good Work Foundation, Julia shares how the foundation became a home away from home where she could realise that deep passion for compassion.

Words below by Julia Geffers. Discover more about GWF and Londolozi.

Throughout our lives we are told  that we need to build our future and our homes. We are told that there are plans to follow, career plans, personal life plans, you are supposed to do, to be, to have, according to guidelines someone someday defined. Looking at  those guidelines more closely you realize that they have nothing to do with who you are. Nevertheless in our childhood and youth we follow the rules given to us without asking too many questions.

Until one day – the day – we start wondering why the nicely prepared plan apparently does not work out  and we start questioning the plan altogether.  I had it all figured out in my plan: have a family, have a career, play my sports, live in a  nice place…in a few words, a plan as written on one of the hallmark greeting cards.  Life does not work that way though and when things to do not go according to plan,  latest then is the moment when we start listening to our call inside.

A  few years back I started questioning the order of things and took off on a quest to my true self and my deep calling. I wandered in a confusing labyrinth of people, places and events, I went through moments of happiness and dark times, through sadness and tears as well as laughter and joy. What was I searching? After all I have a loving family, dearest friends, an accomplishing career and the opportunity to live a full and satisfactory life. I am deeply grateful for the blessings I have received and this search is not triggered out of dissatisfaction or sense of something missing.

The search inside myself is more the fruit of the certainty that there is another purpose in my life that so far I have not fulfilled, a void in me that, despite all goodness I have received, needs filling. It turns out what I thought needed filling actually was a need to give. A need to be there for others, to share some of my wealth – my personal wealth in terms of learning/lessons I have received, studies I was allowed to make, experience I lived and help others find their path.

Giving, this is the clear calling in my heart.

Where to start? How do you give? Whom do you give to? Is it arrogant to think you have something to give in the first place? Many questions in my heart and in my mind on this urge I feel, but do not quite know what to do with.

One fine day a dear friend takes me to a place close to her heart – a place where young humans are given the opportunity to change their lives thanks to access to education and learning. A place hidden in the deep heart of South Africa, in a rural community that has experienced hard times, apartheid, sickness, drought, economic recession, poverty. A place where generations live under the same roof to support each other but also because there is no alternative. In this place the first digital learning center has seen the day a few years ago: a concept so simple and yet such a challenge: bring learning to people so they are given the opportunity to change their lives. A challenge that goes way beyond the individual since the change this is bringing about is an entire shift in generations of people.

My friend takes me there and I immediately feel I have arrived where I belong. It is nothing rational nor is it possible to really explain it with words. I simply know that this is it…

I wish I could come back and be part of this – in any possible way – by giving something I have my energy, my love, my smile and of course my time.

The Good Work Foundation has become my home, the place where I can be the best version of myself and be there for others.

Home is where the heart is they say and my heart is here with this incredible group of people who devote their lives and work to building a better world – actively and concretely. With words but also with facts and vision.

Home is where children come with joy and enthusiasm to learn guided by young adults who have had the same calling: educate, teach, share knowledge and generate growth.

Home is where youngsters have access to education and can make a choice to change their lives through knowledge.

Home is where I can share everything I have to contribute to a smile, to a growth, to life.

Here is home, a home where I am finally able to give, a place where I can share, where I can contribute to something that may appear small far away from here and in reality is a huge opportunity and a chance to make an impact. It is a first stride to something that step by step can change the world. Thank you Kate, Ryan, Gogo, Shan, Dave and the entire team of the Good Work Foundation as well as to all the young human beings who are giving me the opportunity to follow my call: the call of GIVING.

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Julia shares her passion for Yoga with Bridging Academy Students from the Huntington Digital Learning Campus.

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Bridging Academy Students at Hazyview campus take a break from digital learning to a relaxing yoga session with Julia.

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Open Learning Student pulls one of the most difficult yoga moves Julia showed them.

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“Home is where the children come with joy and enthusiasm to learn, guided by adults who have had the same calling – educate, teach, share knowledge and generate growth.”

Ellerman House Takes To The Desert

 

“It is the unknown around the corner that turns my wheels.” — Heinz Stücke, German long-distance touring cyclist

In search of of the unknown, of the wild and wonderful of Africa, Paul Harris (Owner of Ellerman House in Cape Town) and daughter, Nicola Harris, joined this year’s Challenge4ACause in the Damaraland Desert of Namibia. Representing Ellerman House, they pedaled alongside many other faces of the Relais & Châteaux team.

Here is a glimpse at the experience through their eyes, as they travelled across one of the most inimitable and isolated wilderness areas in the world, for six days, covering 360 kilometres on mountain bikes, to raise funds for rhino conservation and other projects in Africa.

For more information about the challenge and charities involved, read our blogs: Great Things Are Done When Men & Mountains (& Deserts) Meet, and, A Wilderness Experience With Heart.

R&C: What was Challenge4ACause like as an experience?  

Paul: It was an amazing experience, with great people. No cell phones. No city lights, so the stars were like diamonds in the sky. Rugged terrain. Spectacular landscapes.

R&C: What were the highs 

Paul: Finishing without falling, the beer at the end of the ride, and being together around the fire at night.

R&C: And the lows?

Paul: The fear of falling along the way… what with the terrifying steep declines with rocks and sand.

For Nicola, it was a similarly amazing week. The highs for her were not having contact with the outside world, “being able to be completely present,” she said, as were the scenery, the night skies and the group of people. The lows were “the five hills in the last 5 km of day two, after spending seven hours on the bike in the scorching heat”.

Ah, so they are human, after all.

 

The Unbearable Lightness of Rhino Relocation

“It’s not often that one gets the chance to rewrite the future history of a species. A few years ago the ink on the future of rhinos here was just about dry and it told a story of extinction. We’ve changed that and we’ve done it by collaborating with our friends and with like-minded people around the world.”

– Dereck Joubert

As much as the story of the rhino has been one beset with poaching (at least in recent years; it is a tale that dates back millions of years after all), it has also been one of incredible compassion and courage. An example of what humankind is capable of when we come together in the name of protection rather than power.

An example of this is the work of Rhinos Without Borders,  a project between conservation-minded travel companies – Great Plains Conservation (with its Relais & Châteaux lodges in Africa) and andBeyond. The initiative aims to translocate a total of 100 rhino from South Africa to Botswana.

Heli swinging in Botswana

© David Murray

The project has just ensured a bright future for an additional 12 white rhino, which were airlifted to their safe new home in Botswana. In a bid to save the endangered species, the initiative removed the animals from a high risk area in South Africa, where rhino are being poached at the rate of one every eight hours.

“Watching the rhino set free in their new home was a very emotional moment,” says andBeyond CEO Joss Kent.

“I know exactly what Joss is talking about,” adds Dereck Joubert, CEO and Chairman of Great Plains Conservation and Great Plains Foundation, continuing…

“As the helicopter lifted off with a rhino and slung it across the Delta, Joss turned and walked to me. We shook hands and embraced. Neither of us said anything, afraid perhaps that the lumps in our throats would betray exactly how emotional we both felt right then.”

Rhinos arriving via the Botswana Defence Force C130 airplane

© David Murray

The latest achievement was another milestone towards the project’s goal of bringing 100 rhinos across the subcontinent, from high risk areas in South Africa to highly protected safe havens in Botswana. It was a top secret mission during which the rhinos were deposited on a dirt airstrip in an undisclosed location by a Botswana Defence Force C130 airplane and under heavy military guard. The animals were then ferried to their ultimate destination suspended upside down beneath a helicopter.

This dramatic method is regarded as the safest and easiest way of getting the heavyweight animals to their brand new home in remote and otherwise inaccessible parts of Botswana. This operation was also the first time that the technique had been used to transport rhino into a new habitat, rather than removing them from an unsuitable one.

Unloading rhino into their new home in Botswana

© David Murray

Rhino are currently being poached at the rate of one every eight hours and it makes good conservation sense to move them away from clustered locations that are easier for poachers to target. With Botswana in need of genetic diversity in its national rhino population, the Rhinos Without Borders project has been getting the nod from all sectors for being innovative and proactive in solving a number of conservation problems.

The 12 animals that recently arrived in Botswana place the project exactly on target and well established to meet its goal of 100 rhino.

Releasing rhinos in Botswana

© David Murray

His Excellency Lieutenant-General SKI Khama, the President of Botswana, as well as TK Khama, the Honourable Minister of Tourism, both participated in the release. The minister expressed his conviction that the unique partnership, which combines government involvement with private companies such as andBeyond and Great Plains as well as private donors, proves that tourism can make a significant difference in the conservation of Africa.

“The number of rhino lost to poachers in South Africa is now higher than the rate at which the species can breed and there is an urgent need to create a new breeding population of rhino in a different geographic region. I firmly believe that we have taken a big step towards ensuring a safer future for the species and I am excited to do even more,” adds Kent.

The Rhinos Without Borders team have already earmarked an additional batch of rhino for translocation.

To find out more or to contribute towards future rhino translocations, visit www.rhinoswithoutborders.com. Take a look at photos from all of the translocations since 2015 here.

To download the press release as a PDF, please Click Here