Greetings in this fabulous New Year and new decade! Deborah has graciously asked me to write a guest post for her blog, explaining my work at La Sirena, since we will be working together from this point. I am a Canadian living and working in Ecuador since 2006, and I offer yoga and alternative therapy retreats in various locations in Ecuador. The purpose of La Sirena is to provide participants with quality yoga instruction, alternative therapies, and spiritual and wellness teachings combined with adventure travel. Ecuador has been a very special place for me since I arrived, and although I was already on the path to great change, those changes have been happening at warp speed since I arrived here. I arrived here semi-conscious, just after losing someone dear to me, and finally aware that I must live life to the fullest and follow my heart. From that beginning, through a series of ‘adventures’ on an often precarious road, I am now the proud operator of La Sirena Yoga Adventures and a Reiki therapist. I want to share this magical energy that I have found here in Ecuador and facilitate transformations in others, and that’s how I developed the idea for La Sirena. La Sirena’s mission is to provide yoga and alt therapy retreats to visiting English speakers while supporting the local communities of Ecuador through fair and ethical trade practices and a Giving Back program.
Retreats take place in various locations in 3 of Ecuador’s 4 distinct geographical regions: the mystical Andes Mountains of the Sierra, the spectacular Ruta Del Sol on the Coast, and the Galapagos Islands, also known as the Enchanted Isles. Participants will enjoy exploring a different culture, stepping out of their everyday lives into a completely new environment, while enjoying the comfort and safety of group travel with spiritually likeminded companions. If you have always wanted to travel to exotic locations but were not quite ready to go it alone, or were worried about the language barrier, then La Sirena is for you. La Sirena also meets the needs of adventurous types who want a yoga based vacation but don’t want to stay in resorts.
At the heart of La Sirena Yoga Adventures is the desire to do something good for the world, to be of service, to help others. I pray daily that I may be successful so that I may be in a position to help others. That’s why you’ll find a section on the web page called Giving Back. Micro finance for disadvantaged and abused women is a great way to give back to the local communities of Ecuador and make a lasting difference in the lives of many people. Regular charity is a temporary solution; it may feed a family for one day, or two or three, but what about the future? As the Chinese proverb says, give a man a fish, and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime.
One of my heroes is Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank, the first micro-lending program, which was designed specifically to help women get out of poverty and improve the lives of their families. Grameen lends exclusively to women for specific reasons. “Not only do women constitute the majority of the poor, the underemployed, and the economically and socially disadvantaged, but they more readily and successfully improve the welfare of both children and men. Studies comparing how male borrowers use their loans versus female borrowers, (sic) consistently show this to be the case.” [i]
My own experience here in Ecuador has shown me the same. I was tired of watching my friend, Nancy, who treated me as family, struggle to put meals on the table while her husband spent half of his income on alcohol and drugs, but the most I could do was buy groceries whenever I visited. With time, I convinced Nancy’s husband to allow her to work outside the home, and after working 12 and 14 hour shifts in a factory, 6 days a week, for 2 months, (of course while still cooking, cleaning and doing the laundry- without a washing machine- for the family of 7) she used her income to start her own business with literally just a few hundred dollars. Then she found a micro-finance program and kept investing more and more into her business as it grew. Within a few months, she had bought a new stove and dishes, the kids were never hungry, they all had nice clothes, the older girls were enrolled in after school language classes, and they even had a new CD player. And the amazing thing is, Nancy had only attended school up to age eight and was almost illiterate, but as soon as she was given the chance, she was off to the moon!
Another frustration is seeing abused women stuck in their situations because they have no way to support their children on their own, and in some cases need to move to a new town to escape their abusive husbands. The heartbreaking part is that they could escape and find work or set up their own business with literally as little as a few hundred dollars.
I was tired of seeing these situations and feeling helpless. When I started La Sirena, I realized that the participants in our retreats could be the key to helping women like Nancy. Built into the budget for each retreat is a small amount of money from each participant, that when pooled together, will be used for micro-finance programs. Each retreat will generate enough capital to lend to between 1 to 5 women, depending on the size of the loans and the number of retreat participants. So when you participate in a La Sirena retreat, not only are you helping yourself to a life changing experience and improving your own life, you are helping to improve the lives of seriously disadvantaged women and children here in the host country. What could be better karma than that?
Now here’s the sad part of the story. Nancy and I have been separated for over a year and a half now, because her new partner, who swooped in to rescue her and the kids from her first husband, fell of the AA wagon and has been horribly abusive for over 2 years now. She is not allowed to see me, and we only have contact in secret. Every time she tries to be independent and gets a job, her partner uses the influence of his family in the small city they live in to have her fired so that she will be dependent on him again to feed the kids, and has no choice but to go back to him. He is going on an extended trip to the US to visit family in February, so we plan to get Nancy and the kids out of the house and set up in a new town where he won’t be able to find them when he gets back. I have told her that she is the intended first recipient of assistance from La Sirena and she is thrilled, ready to move on with her life, and wants to work with me to form a foundation to manage the Giving Back funds generated by La Sirena to help other women in similar situations. I need to sell a minimum of 5 spots on La Sirena’s February Eco Beach Retreat (February 20 – 27) by this Monday, January 17th, in order to ensure that the retreat runs and we can generate funds to help Nancy and the kids. Anyone who signs up by this deadline gets a $200 Early Bird discount, as well as the knowledge that they are doing something wonderful to change their own life with the retreat, and the lives of one very deserving woman and her 4 children.
For details and to sign up via PayPal, please see the La Sirena blog at http://lasirenayoga.blogspot.com. For more complete details about La Sirena in general, you can check out the web page at http://www.lasirenayoga.org
For more information on Grameen Bank, visit http://www.grameen-info.org
[i] Muhammad Yunus, BANKER TO THE POOR Micro-lending and the Battle Against World Poverty, 2003 Public Affairs, New York, pages 72 – 73