Issue No.
164, December 2011 Latest update 9 2014f August 2014, at 4.39 am
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   Tue. June 27, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

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Photo courtesy of Farashe Yoga Center.
Photo by Amber Fares.

Farashe Yoga Center
Courtesy of Farashe Yoga Center

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead

On the first floor of an apartment building on the busy and bustling “Chicken Street,” just off Al-Manara Circle, is a non-descript green door, which opens up to a newly renovated, quiet yoga centre called Farashe. The centre is fully equipped with quality yoga mats and props, a sound system, a heating and A/C unit, water cooler, and tearoom in the back. Seven days a week the quiet room is filled with people seeking a timeout, stepping out of one of the fastest growing cities into a world of tranquillity and the calm of the present moment.


There are lots of yoga centres in this world. But Farashe is different. Every square inch of its space: the floors, walls, and everything in it - including the time of the teachers who instruct there - has been donated and volunteered.

This is not too surprising in a place like Palestine, where community volunteerism has long been an integral part of Palestinian culture. So when a group of friends - Palestinians and expatriates - came up with the idea of opening a community yoga centre a mere 15 months ago, it was met with great energy and support from within Palestinian society as well as among friends of Palestine abroad. Key to Farashe’s ability to be transformed from a seed of an idea to reality was the donation of the centre’s space by Bridge Development Group, a Palestinian real estate development company.
Created and built purely through volunteers and donations, the centre is committed to the principles of what in yogic philosophy is known as seva, selfless service.

Farashe, which means ‘butterfly’ in Arabic, believes that yoga exists not only during a class while one is on a mat but can also be integrated into all aspects of our lives - whether it be through physical exercise and healthy nutrition or through community service and development. As a not-for-profit voluntary organisation, class fees are reinvested into the centre’s maintenance, outreach yoga sessions in surrounding refugee camps, and a micro-grants programme for health that promotes community development projects identified by the communities that Farashe works with.

Though it is a volunteer organisation, Farashe adopted a business model for its operation. A (volunteer) board of directors governs the centre and a (volunteer) executive director manages the day-to-day operations and activities. A team of volunteer teachers provides a variety of classes including yoga and Pilates, as well as specialty classes in meditation, Zumba, and Capoeira. Volunteers provide support in community outreach and health education activities, the micro-grants programme, administration, and fundraising. And the greater community offers donations and invests and engages in activities.

In this current economy and given the uncertainties and pressures of the occupation, there was scepticism about the sustainability and longevity of this model. Trying to find the balance between financial sustainability and keeping class fees affordable and accessible to the majority, while keeping a spirit of volunteerism was and continues to be a challenge. One year after beginning, however, Farashe continues to grow and flourish.

In just one short year, Farashe has worked to create a space and build a community of individuals dedicated to giving back to Palestine, to transforming themselves in order to transform the world. Through its outreach classes, Farashe teachers taught pre-natal yoga to young mothers and stress-reduction yoga to nurses at Qalandia Refugee Camp. Farashe volunteers began nutrition counselling sessions and lectures to prevent chronic disease, in partnership with Sharaka, a volunteer agricultural organisation, and the Diabetes Center in Al Bireh. Four healthy-living micro-grants were disbursed to the Abu Raya Rehabilitation Center’s patient fund for young patients who need medical equipment and devices that they otherwise could not afford, art therapy classes in Bethlehem, a sports and physical education summer camp in Ramallah, and a student community garden in Ramallah.

Running a yoga studio in a land under occupation is definitely not without its challenges. Teachers and students from East Jerusalem are sometimes hindered from coming to the centre due to road closures and checkpoint problems. Questions and debates abound related to the campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions and how that translates and affects operations through the purchase of goods or through accepting offers for volunteer visiting teachers who come from abroad and also want to teach in Israeli studios. Lack of availability of yoga supplies and equipment in the Palestinian Territories means finding ways to adhere to the economic boycott by asking friends coming from the United States, Canada, and Europe to haul 70-lb yoga mat rolls and 20 Pilates balls to Palestine instead of buying them from Israeli suppliers.


It is a privilege to have taken part in the creation of Farashe and to support a group of passionate volunteers dedicated to making Farashe not simply a yoga centre, but a place that will change lives and positively impact the community.
Bridge Development Group


Lack of human resources and the paucity of Palestinian, Arabic-speaking yoga teachers were among the major challenges that Farashe has faced in its first year. With only four teachers, and only two able to teach in Arabic, the centre struggles to meet the growing demands for outreach sessions in schools and refugee camps, as well to ensure that Palestinians have access to yoga. To address this, Farashe designed and started Palestine’s first Yoga Teacher Training Program in October. Seventeen women from Jenin, Nablus, and Ramallah are currently in an intensive 12-week teacher-training programme, which will hopefully lead to greater yoga accessibility for all those who are interested.

It is truly through the commitment of Farashe volunteers and friends that these challenges are overcome, and Farashe continues to provide a space for healthy living. Over this past year, we’ve learned that people want to be part of something larger than they are. There is a culture of volunteerism that just needs to be organised. Passion creates passion in others. When people make their needs known, others are ready to band together to respond and address those needs.

Why Yoga?
At a time when political events constantly bombard us and our minds are clouded with the violence against unsuspecting people and the obstinacy of the checkpoints, yoga is a reprieve. It’s a place to be connected in a quiet and thoughtful way to the world around us. It provides us with the ability to prove that we can endure and persevere; we can find balance and resist the urge to take the easy route. Yoga is mindful and at the same time a release from the over-thinking that occupies us.

Farashe aims to provide a safe space for Palestinians to breathe and to relieve the stress and anxiety of the harsh daily realities of living under military occupation, and connect with themselves, their families, and their community through the practice of yoga. As reflected in our name, we believe that yoga is a catalyst for transformation and growth within ourselves, our families, our communities, and our world. Farashe aims to bring safe and accessible yoga to all throughout the occupied Palestinian territories, promoting healthy living and yoga as effective means to stay physically healthy as well as to manage and heal stress, anxiety, depression, and trauma. We work to provide our community members with the knowledge and tools to integrate yoga and its principles into their daily lives - whether it be at home, in the classroom, or at health clinics, youth clubs, or associations.


Being part of Farashe is meaningful because it’s an opportunity to be part of something that is bigger than each of us. This effort is only a result of people giving of their time, energy, and resources. We get so busy with our lives and our personal goals, but Farashe is about something more than that - it’s about the community.
Farashe student and volunteer


For more information about Farashe Yoga Center, please visit our website,
www.farasheyoga.org, or join our Facebook Group, http://www.facebook.com/groups/farashe/.



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