AZAHAR Foundation initiated its activities in Cambodia in 2007 with Yoga classes and educational support for a group of 14 young people from an orphanage center in Phnom Penh. The idea was to work with a smaller group and provide assistance to the same young people for a period of several years through a sponsorship program, in order to insure lasting effects. Every year these young people were invited to participate in an intensive Jivamukti Yoga retreat with Cat Alip-Douglas and Yogeswari in Angkor Vat. From this original group five have now become Yoga teachers, all based in Phnom Penh, and with occasional engagements in Siem Reap and Battambang.
In 2014, the young people were ready to embrace a wider scope of peace building activities, and AZAHAR Foundation organized its first national Peace Camp in Kampot, in the South of Cambodia. The now annual Peace Camps focuses on a particular theme each year and brings together several NGO managers and beneficiaries in a peaceful and quiet place to exchange in constructive dialogue and creative expression. 2014 was on Non-Violent Communication, 2015 on Curriculum Development and 2016 on Women’s Empowerment.
In 2015, AZAHAR Foundation launched an 8-month Peace Curriculum in Phnom Penh, allowing 17 young people to deepen their understanding in Non-Violent Communication (according to Marshall Rosenberg), Youth Leadership, Women’s Empowerment, Forum Theater (Augusto Boal, Theater of the Oppressed), Yoga/Meditation and Art Therapy. The participants were between 20 and 33 years old, and all came from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Peace Curriculum culminated with a 2-month internship with Youth For Peace, where the participants contributed insightful research for a book on Khmer Rouge activities in various provinces.
The same group of young people were sponsored by AZAHAR Foundation to continue with a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training recognized by the UK Yoga Alliance, and taught by Oskar Nery and Allison Hawkins of Yoga Phnom Penh.
The demand for a home base was answered in 2015 when En Dara, AZAHAR’s oldest beneficiary, and the first Khmer woman to be a Yoga teacher in Cambodia, decided to open her own Yoga studio, Cambodia Home Yoga. AZAHAR has supported this project for the first two years and also run its activities there. In 2017 AZAHAR is taking over Yoga Phnom Penh and moving its home base to this more central location.
SOCIAL BUSINESS AND YOGA PHNOM PENH
The Social Business is to provide regular Meditation & Yoga classes, classes in various art forms and workshops in different peace building methodologies. Income generated from these activities will support the non-profit thrust of AZAHAR Foundation to expose a maximum number of young people to the teachings and methodologies of peace and to nurture hidden talents and aspirations in any of the disciplines mentioned above.
Beginning June 2017, the new AZAHAR location will be at House 39, Street 21 Opposite Pagoda Wat Svay Popey Near TchoTchou School | Tonle Bassac, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
The relocation, purchase of the business and rent for one year will cost $55,000.
YOGA TEACHER TRAINING
The first Yoga Teacher Training sponsored by AZAHAR Foundation took place at Yoga Phnom Penh from beginning of October 2016 to the end of January 2017. It was taught by Allison Hawkins and Oskar Nery, and is a certificate acknowledged by the UK Yoga Alliance. 16 young people took part, graduated and will now be employed by AZAHAR Foundation to teach open classes at the city center location and to disadvantaged youth in various NGOs.
Teacher Training is projected to be held every other year, and runs at a cost of $18,000.
Since 2014, annual Peace Camps provide a retreat for beneficiaries of AZAHAR Foundation and its partner organizations to share in various methodologies and angles of peace building. Each day begins with Meditation & Yoga Asana. Each year a specific focus is chosen, and events, facilitators and participating NGOs are chosen to support that focus. In 2014, the main focus was on Non-Violent Communication (according to Marshall Rosenberg). The first Non-Violent Communication facilitator in Cambodia, Keng Bonchheuth introduced a perspective new to most, of healing a generation that has been scarred by the violence, atrocities and traumas lived through by their parents. It was obvious that a week-end retreat was not enough to process these wounds, the Peace Camp 2015 focussed on Curriculum Development and was only held with leaders of Non-Violent Communication, Phare Circus, Youth for Peace and Theater for Development. From this Peace Camp, the Peace Curriculum emerged. In 2016, AZAHAR beneficiaries asked for a focus on Women’s Empowerment, which helped to break through cultural myths and superstitions that have kept Cambodian women hostage since war and genocide destroyed the educated leadership.
2017 will focus on Buddhist nuns and their social activism, as well as how to teach Yoga and Meditation to people with trauma.
The 8-month Peace Curriculum held in 2015/16 emerged from the first peace Camp in 2014. It was clear that beneficiaries needed an on-going safe place and atmosphere of support with facilitators and colleagues to assimilate new visions about life, while also processing their often traumatic experiences. The group met every week-end at Cambodia Home Yoga. There were intensive workshops in Non-Violent Communication (according tho Marshall Rosenberg), Forum Theater, Women’s Empowerment, Youth Leadership and Psychology, always framed by sessions in Yoga & Meditation. The Peace Curriculum culminated in a 2-month internship at Youth for Peace, where beneficiaries did insightful research for a book about Khmer Rouge activities in various Cambodian provinces. This was of particular relevance, since the genocide is no longer acknowledged and taught in Cambodian schools. The Peace Curriculum will be offered every other year
The Yoga program is about reaching disadvantaged youth through various NGOs, while also providing a dignified source of income for the graduates of AZAHAR’S Yoga Teacher Training. Outreach has so far been limited due to lack of Cambodian teachers, but with our first generation of Yoga teachers, this will change. NGOs whom AZAHAR has offered classes to include Happy Chandara, Globalteer, Phare Ponlieu Selpak, Riverkids among others.
Cost: with a contribution of $30 you sponsor one Yoga class for an NGO that is unable to pay for Yoga classes.
Since 2008 Yogeswari and Cat Alip-Douglas from Sangye Yoga School in London teach an annual Jivamukti Yoga Retreat in Angkor Vat, where beneficiaries of AZAHAR are invited to participate. This retreat affords them intensive training in Yoga, a connection with the noble roots of Cambodian culture and friendships with international students. Starting in 2016, this retreat will take place every other year.
Cost: $3,000, covered in its entirety by retreat participants’ contribution
The French organization Restaurants Sans Frontières awarded AZAHAR Foundation a grant for opening a vegan café that would be open to the public, but also be aimed to provide nutritious vegan meals to disadvantaged youth participating in AZAHAR projects. Work on this café will begin in June 2017.