In Bridging the Gap, Part I, I wrote about my journey from being a greenish vegan to becoming a vegan environmentalist—a label I’m hesitant to own. But since I’m committed to personal growth, social justice and my yoga practice, earlier this year I joined the Global Seva Amazon Challenge organized by Off the Mat, Into the World (OTM) as a means to take a bigger step towards embodying environmentalism. (Seva means selfless service in Sanskrit.)
OTM, a national yoga non-profit, “uses the power of yoga to inspire conscious, sustainable activism and to ignite grassroots social change.” Each year OTM chooses a global issue in an underprivileged community to address through grassroots fundraising and awareness, inspiring yogis all over the world to participate. The people who sign on to this challenge develop leadership skills through fundraising and educating others on the issue(s).
In the past, OTM has raised significant funds ($1,000,000 in 2012 alone) and supported humanitarian projects in India, Haiti, Uganda, South Africa and Cambodia. Until this year, projects have addressed human rights issues, but in 2013 OTM decided to tackle environmental justice in the Ecuadorian Amazon, which happens to also be a human rights issue.
Seva Amazon was of particular interest to me because it shines a light on an issue that affects environmental ethics, animal protection and human rights. I had been feeling a deep need to do more—get my hands dirty—and this year’s beneficiary, the Ecuadorian Amazon and its people, moved me to say yes. When I first learned about this challenge back in 2008, I never imagined I would have the courage to take on a challenge of this magnitude. Each Global Seva participant commits to raising significant funds. The participants who raise $20,000 will travel with OTM staff on the Bare Witness Tour to Ecuador to work with partners benefiting from our fundraising efforts.
Indigenous people, wildlife and the forests are feeling the effects of oil production and deforestation in the Amazon. Funds raised through the challenge will benefit Amazon Watch, Cofan Survival Fund and Timmy Global Health. The following types of projects will be supported:
- Clean drinking water for indigenous and farmer communities directly affected by oil contamination in Ecuador’s northern Amazon.
- Construct and staff a ranger station to help the Cofan Nation patrol and protect their ancestral land from illegal logging, mining, and oil exploration.
- Empower frontline, indigenous healthcare workers to promote public health education and provide care to their communities.
- Construct a rural medical care facility and overnight residence for families living in remote areas of the rainforest.
- Support advocacy efforts on behalf of indigenous and environmental organizations demanding justice in the northern Amazon (regarding the 30 year lawsuit against Texaco-Chevron) and protesting Ecuador’s 11th Round of oil licensing in Ecuador’s southern Amazon.
Before committing to this challenge, I knew next to nothing about the country of Ecuador and the most I had raised in one year for one cause was about $2,500 for the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer years in 2004. Through individual giving and two fundraisers, I have raised over $4,100 for the Ecuadorian Amazon. I will be fundraising through the end of the year with additional events, such as a yard sale and another yoga benefit.
This challenge has been an eye-opening experience, and the more I learn, the more I understand how my actions affect others. Every time I drive a car, I consider if I could be using an alternative mode of transportation because knowing that my need to get somewhere fast makes other suffer. I’m currently looking for a job and the location is becoming increasingly more important. It will need to be closer to home to reduce my impact. Then there are my long, hot showers. Despite the changes I have made over the years to be greener, the road is long. I’m not ready to call myself an environmentalist, but I’m on my way.
Please consider donating to the Seva Amazon Challenge today.
Watch this video from NBC News to learn more about the issues in the Ecuadorian Amazon: