By Susan Gunelius in Women on Business
Guest Post by Kino MacGregor Inspired by a recent trip to India and the work of Yoga Gives Back (learn more about Kino at the end of this post)
Imagine if all you needed to lift your family out of generations of poverty was two hundred dollars. You would undoubtedly have the resources and connections to secure such a modest sum between your family, friends, credit cards, bank or government assistance. But imagine if you lived in a place where not only was money not readily available but the fact of your female gender prevented you from having access to the means of acquiring a source of revenue? Welcome to India’s rural villages and meet Jayashree. She is a young, beautiful seamstress and mother of two who made just 75 dollars a month working at a garment factory to add to her husband’s meager income earned by driving a rented auto rickshaw (taxi). She dreamed of buying her husband’s rickshaw so their family could earn more money but had nowhere to turn to for the meager sum of 7,000 rupees or about 175 dollars.
Not only does Jayashree not have the education most Americans take for granted, but she also does not have the opportunities that are a vital component of earning a reasonable income. In India it seems like all Americans are rich because the money spent on groceries or on a month’s yoga classes has the potential to change the life of someone like Jayashree. The Americans most familiar with India are often the spiritual seekers who journey across land and sea to meet yoga teachers, learn meditation techniques and study ancient sacred texts. Yet for the cost of one month’s membership to the average yoga center in America a woman’s entire family could be altered forever.
Kayoko Mitsumatsu, an avid yoga practitioner who lives in California and studies with Joel Bender, thought she could make that difference in people’s lives with the creation of Yoga Gives Back. Rather than just giving money to provide shoes, food or resources, Mitsumatsu initiated this charity endeavor after interviewing Dr. Muhammad Yunus for a TV documentary about the power of micro-financing for poor women. Dr. Yunus is a Bangladeshi economist who won the Nobel Peace Price in 2006 for developing a micro-credit program through the Grameen Foundation in Bangladesh that enabled millions of mostly women to buy everything from cows to cell phones in order to earn money for their families.
Yoga Gives Back works with the Grameen Foundation in India to provide particularly destitute families in Mysore and Bangalore with the same micro-financing that has succeeded in lifting families out of poverty in Bangladesh. Mitsumatsu and Bender aim to reach the more than 15 million people (a majority of which are women) in the U.S. who practice yoga and support rural families in India. One of the reasons Yoga Gives Back focuses its efforts in the Mysore-Bangalore region of South India is because many American yoga students journey to Mysore to study with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the 94 year old master of the tradition. It was after a three month visit to Mysore to study yoga that Bender himself made the personal commitment to find a way to give back to the local community and upon his return partnered with Mitsumatsu to create Yoga Gives Back.
At least half the yoga practitioners in Mysore are Americans and nearly half of the world’s poorest people call India their home. While the Western world lives in relative abundance and benefits from India’s yoga legacy, nearly one in four of India’s 1.1 billion people live below the poverty threshold of less than 40 cents a day. The Western world values equality of opportunity and rewards the entrepreneurial spirit in the meritocracy of capitalist enterprise and it repays another kind of debt when yoga practitioners from the U.S. teach the most needy in India how to run their own businesses with the power of micro-credit.
The cycle of poverty in India is a vicious cycle that traps generations upon generations into an indentured servitude to a series of creditors, lenders and lessors who control the resources and money available. When a poor family falls behind and their children are forced out of school and into work they dig themselves deeper into the repetitive and prohibitive system of entrenched poverty, virtually ensuring that the next generation will be as poor, if not more than the previous one. Empowering women to find a way out of this trap opens a door to the real possibility of their happiness and self-sufficiency.
Jayashree seemed destined to perpetuate the cycle of poverty in her life until she applied for loan of 7,000 rupees or the equivalent of about 175 dollars from the Grameen Foundation and Yoga Gives Back. With the money, she bought her husband’s auto rickshaw. Whereas he previously paid rent for use of the vehicle his profit was marginal at best, but as an owner the income tripled. In one year the loan was fully repaid and Jayashree applied for a second loan to buy a sewing machine so she could sew bags and other small items to sell. Her goal is to own a garment shop and send her sons to college, and with the help of the Grameen Foundation and Yoga Gives Back, she finally had someone to turn to for the help as well as the direction and guidance she needed in order to make her dreams an attainable reality. Mitsumatsu says, “Most women only went to primary school, had to work as daily labor to help family as young child, and got married young. Like their mothers, they never had an opportunity to improve their economical situation until they had access to micro credit.”
The old axiom that says that you cannot feed the world but if you teach a person how to fish or make bread they can feed themselves for a lifetime is at work in Yoga Gives Back. More than a charity, the work is a kind of education in business for rural women with an entrepreneurial spirit. They are rewarded for their hard work, given a chance to succeed without the pressure of the unfairly high interest rates of local lenders and find a way to break the relentless cycle of poverty they were born into. Most Yoga Gives Back loans average about 25 dollars a month and with this micro-credit loan, rural, poor women start their own small businesses, buy their husband’s businesses, or invest in their already existing businesses and double or triple their incomes almost immediately. Mitsumatsu states, “Many women used to worry about having enough food for the family, or sending children to schools. But with this micro credit, their life become much more sustainable.”
Yoga helps Westerners find peace and thus make their lives more sustainable. With the power of micro-financing Yoga Gives Back helps Indian women gain access to opportunities that would otherwise simply not exist.
To read more inspirational stories about female entrepreneurs that Yoga Gives Back has helped or to contribute, please visit their website at www.yogagivesback.org.
About the Author
Kino MacGregor is a small business owner (www.miamilifecenter.com), yoga teacher and freelance journalist who has produced two yoga DVDs and is currently working on her first book, Inner Peace, Irresistible Beauty to be released late April 2009. For complete details please see www.ashtanga-awareness.com.