In 2011, I successfully raised $20,000 for the “Off the Mat, Into the World” Challenge for Haiti. The year 2011 brought me out into my community for a greater good. Little did I know that a bigger challenge was ahead of me.
I have witnessed poverty and traveled to trauma-stricken countries, but knew deep down that these two weeks in Haiti would be different from anything I had experienced before.
Upon returning from Haiti people were eager to hear about my experience. When I was asked the question “How was Haiti?” there was an emotional gasp as I was brought back to my time there. I tried to form words, but no words could give it justice. The depth of the experience required space for me to process it. Instead, I gave short answers: “Transformational. Powerful. Emotional.”
Haiti is a magical country. It is covered with trees and vast lands. Mountains beyond mountains in the distance represent the layers and depth of Haiti’s history. The physical state is what I imagined prior to my departure: desolate areas, crumbled buildings, rubble, garbage everywhere, and overcrowded camps for thousands. For the first couple of days as I witnessed the conditions in which people lived, numbness rose within as I tried to hold back emotions. Nothing can prepare you. No one should be living like this.
On an emotional and spiritual level, my heart broke countless times. Whether meeting a Haitian woman’s eyes from the window of our minivan, walking past families in camps, or interacting with children with a touch of a hand or a “Bonjour”, every Haitian I met had a warm smile, pride for their country and genuine happiness to see us. They have a heartfelt welcome and gratitude for any aid and human connection. I feel awe and admiration for them. The Haitians have endured so much, far beyond the earthquake that hit their land in January of 2010. Yet strength, warmth and love prevail. I see pain and grief behind the smiles. I want so much to take their pain away, to take my own pain away. I am helpless and I am humbled. I feel guilt for the abundance of our everyday life, the wanting, and the insignificant things we complain about.
They say the universe provides what you need to learn and doesn’t ask if you are ready. Interactions with the children hit me on a deep personal level. I tried to stay strong, to be present with the children, letting them know they matter, that they are not forgotten, that they are loved. Each day encountering children in rural areas, outside their tents, or in an orphanage, my first instinct was to connect, to touch and communicate in some way. We visited an orphanage on a side of a cliff with children milling about in a dark dorm or standing outside with no toys, no form of stimulation. This hit hard, reawakening old, deep feelings of grief and anger within me.
We came to “bear witness”, to see without judgement, to know we had a hand in the steps toward a building a better life. Haiti is etched in my heart, as is the strength of the people, and their remarkable ability to feel joy amidst sorrow. Haiti mirrored what I needed to learn, what I needed to see. I am full of gratitude to all I have, my past, and my present. I feel connected, and I see my path so clearly: to serve, to lead, to understand that we are all humans travelling along this path called life.
Find out more info on Off the Mat, Into the World’s 2012 Global Seva Challenge to battle sex trafficking in India, here.
Ella Isakov is a yogi, Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapist, and humanitarian.
Ella feels that yoga found her, and is incredibly grateful for the beautiful gifts she continuously discovers on her journey, on and off the mat. Her passion and purpose in life has always been to teach and inspire others along their path. Ella’s goal is to provide a warm, safe and attentive environment, giving special attention to individual needs and educating students so they can grow in their understanding of the nature of the poses within their own body and discover their own inner wisdom.
Ella left her career as a school teacher, but continues to combine her two loves of yoga and children by teaching kids yoga through fun, empowering, interactive and mindful yoga play. She is also a Phoenix Rising yoga therapist, working with clients using classic yoga postures and mind-body psychology to allow for a deeper connection to self.