Karma is a Sanskrit word that refers to the spiritual practice of taking “right” action without expectation of compensation. The Kula Karma Program has two facets: the first is long-term collaboration with local organizations, and the second is Karma Day: during each training our YTT students to collaborate with the community and reciprocate the welcome they receive. We feel that this program is the fullest expression of our vision. Yet its development hasn’t been as simple as it might sound.
María’s deep brown eyes fill with excitement as she shows us around the new Konojel restaurant. María is the Operations Director at Konojel, a nonprofit in San Marcos that we have had a longstanding relationship with. As we tour through this new social enterprise my gaze is continually drawn to the hand embroidered birds that soar against the red and black geometric background of her huipil - the traditional Kaq’ Chikel blouse. I ask her who made it. With a deep sense of pride she responds that it’s her work, and that she learned this art from her mother and grandmother.
So how can we ensure that our Kula Karma investments are supporting long-term projects that lift up and empower people? This is the first facet of our Karma Program. In our short history we’ve tried a variety of models, all based on collaborative design principles that bring together diverse stakeholders to build consensus around how to move forward.
Confronting the reality of our transient presence in these places, we shifted to nurturing the deep relationships necessary to support the kind of systemic change we envision. In response to this reality, we doubled down on the town that hosts many of our Kula: San Marcos la Laguna. Our next attempt focused on building a diverse group of stakeholders to identify and prioritize the challenges the town was facing. Due to my existing relationship with the Mayor and other community leaders, I was able to convene a diverse group for a collaborative design session in January of last year. Together, local and international business owners, members of community organizations, political and religious representatives as well as the local judge created a plan to provide education for women and families through holistic health and sexual education. This intersectoral cooperation is quite rare in San Marcos, not to mention in Guatemala and most of the world.
Based on what we’ve learned, we redirected our efforts toward the organization in San Marcos where we had our deepest relationships: Konojel. This community program was started in 2012 to provide nutritious lunches for the most at-risk children, young mothers and elders of this village. My relationship with Konojel began in 2015 when I led a series of creative design processes. Through collaboration with several committed groups of international and local residents they have expanded their vision to encompass other root causes of malnourishment. The resulting clarity around their commitment to improving the quality of life in San Marcos led to a new initiative: to build and support a new women’s cooperative in the village. The more we collaborate, the more deeply we believe that these solutions must be cooperative and long-term.
Because we hold many YTTs here at the Yoga Forest, we’re able to leverage another resource to support Konojel through the second facet of our Karma Program: our Karma Days. Kula coordinates with Konojel to bring our students to volunteer for a day during their training. To date we have painted, cleaned, built gardens, made structural repairs on the buildings, created signage and read and played games with the children of Konojel’s Education Enrichment Program. Each day includes a full meal at the restaurant, which builds deeper interpersonal relationship and in turn continues funding the whole beautiful cycle. Our students have described this day as one of the most important lessons.
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