In honour of International Happiness Day we decided to interview yoga teacher and one of the founders of Earthchild Project, Noks. Earthchild Project is a non-profit foundation based in Cape Town, South Africa. The organisation works with eight schools in Khayelitsha and Lavender Hill. These are under-resourced schools based in informal settlements. The children face daily realities of crime, violence, gangsterism and rape in their communities. Earthchild Project has been the saving grace for many of these children, bringing a smile to children who face daily challenges. Through yoga, meditation, organic farming and environmental education Noks and her team are nurturing these children for the future. It was an honour to speak to a fellow South African, who has inspired many and is pivotal in the country’s hope to change.
Working and seeing the progress of the company must be incredible. How does it feel to have founded a company that has created such a positive change in the communities?
In the communities there is a high crime rate, drug abuse, and amongst this, in the pandemic a lot of people have lost jobs. The levels of abuse and crime went up; violence, everything. The world is suffering, but on this side of the world the children are suffering. But, when you see the children walking into the yoga class with a beautiful smile, leaving with a relaxed feeling, you feel hopeful. For me, giving them that hopeful feeling about life brings me so much joy.
Can you tell us a bit about the journey towards founding Earthchild Project?
This journey started many, many years ago, I think it was 2007 when Janna and myself met through an organisation called The Art of Living, doing mindfulness courses. They teach beautiful techniques such as breath-work. We met through that organisation because she was a naturopath and volunteer. During that time she had an idea of bringing holistic approach into disadvantaged communities. For me, it was love at first sight when she shared the idea because I was kind of doing it already. Previously, I was working freelance, doing drama, dance and music. It’s unreliable, you can work on and off for six months. In my free time, I had a group of kids that I was teaching drama, music and dance. Then I was introduced to mindfulness, meditation and yoga, by The Art of Living. I slowly started bringing these methods into the spaces. It was at a point in my life where I wanted to do something meaningful for the community. I just didn't know what and how to. When I met Jenna, she had this idea of working with kids in the schools. So for me, the reason why it was love at first sight was because I'm going to be doing what I'm doing, but in a more structured way working with schools. So that's how we started. Since then we've been rolling, and we are still here. We celebrated 15 years of Earthchild Project a month ago. The organisation has grown so much since being established in 2007. We are now working with eight schools; four schools in a community called Khayelitsha and four schools in a community called Lavender Hill.
What was your main aim when you established the foundation?
We didn't have all too much planned; just an idea to bring a holistic approach to the children in the communities. As we started to grow as an organisation, we developed a structured program. Yoga is a methodology. Meditation is a methodology. We want to teach kids about environmental issues. The main programmes or the main focus now are life skills, yoga, meditation and environmental programs.
Who are the individuals and volunteers that contribute to this foundation?
The volunteers that we have come from all over the world. People who find us on social media and many locals. We are an organisation that is working with kids in primary schools, doing mindfulness work, and then people come who happen to find us online, and they connect with us. They come and help because we have eight schools, and in each school there are about 1200 children. In one yoga class we have plus minus 40 to 50 children. So, we can only do so much as a team. We do need volunteers. We've got beautiful people who come and support who come from all over South Africa, and all over the world. To spread this message and to share this message with the kids and with the school teachers.
For those readers who are not aware of the social and economic situation in South Africa; could you explain why organisations like this are pivotal to the country’s growth?
I must say you asking hits home, because I'm from here. I grew up here I went to school here and now I’m working here. I can say poverty is the biggest thing, unemployment, drug abuse, gangsterism. We have the same social issues that kids are facing at the schools. I was chatting to one of the volunteers. I was saying, you know, with the work that you do, you need to, you need to find ways of protecting yourself. You need to, you need to know your job as a facilitator because you find children who would come into your yoga space with all kinds of problems. Just before you are starting a yoga class, we check in and ask, “how are you guys feeling?” Then one child says, “last night I was raped.” We are regularly confronted with stories like that. Before you know it, the second person in the room says “It's been happening to me for four months now.” These are the kinds of issues that we deal with on a daily basis. Remember, we're not social workers, we are just facilitators. Yoga brings hope into these communities. When the children leave the yoga class with a beautiful smile you feel like you helped in some way.
Why do you think it is important to educate a younger generation about yoga, mindfulness and the environment?
You nurture them when they are young; you can't start watering a tree when it has its fruits already. You need to nurture the tree, when it is only a seed. They're the next generation and we want our biggest dream and our biggest vision to be children that are healthy and happy. A generation of conscious children.
Today we are honouring International Happiness Day. Earthchild Project has created such a positive impact on communities. Will you tell us a story of positive transformation and happiness that you recall?
There are so many, it’s hard to choose just one. I work 99% of the time with teachers because I've got the junior facilitators, like I said, who I was teaching, when they were little, something meaningful. It was a beautiful story that I heard from one of the teachers on our way back from a hike. They do yoga with me once a week and go on a hike with me twice a term. One of the facilitators said to me “Noks your program and you are like medicine. We all walk into the school and smile because we see hope.” We've got families who have meat free Mondays, kids who are using reusable bottles, and drinking more water, and these small habits become big things.
What does yoga and mindfulness mean to you?
I'm a yoga teacher. I've been a yoga teacher for quite some time. I practice daily and I mainly teach the teachers now. It took me a very long time to do my teacher training. I’m plus sized and my name translates into “gift”. I believe I have a gift for my community; a gift for the children of South Africa. I did my teacher training when I felt like I was ready. I decided to go and do my teacher training so that I can advocate for plus size women, and so that I can attract more teachers. I also gained my self esteem, my confidence, more, and I believed in myself. Then I started holding a space for plus size women. I practice yoga daily, it has become a part of me.
Images courtesy of Earthchild Project
For more information visit: http://earthchildproject.org
For donations: http://earthchildproject.org/donate/