AZAHAR Cambodia is a local not-for-profit organization that promotes peace-building and cross-cultural communication through Yoga and the Arts supported by non-violent communication, youth leadership, and other related methodologies. Current projects are in Cambodia, Rwanda and Ivory Coast.
Within any population we teach, young leaders are identified and supported with professional training to become positive models of change within their communities. Through the conflict resolution and peace-building techniques of Yoga and the Arts, the escalating cycle of violence in conflict and post-conflict settings can be broken and recovery and rehabilitation can begin.
Based on the pilot project in Cambodia, AZAHAR Foundation’s objective is to create satellite projects in several countries, with the aim of implementing international peace camps and conferences in professional yoga, dance, and music training, where young leaders are given opportunities to compare cultural experiences and to collaborate creatively with young people from around the world. The international conferences will culminate in artistic performances and touring projects that will serve to give young people a voice to raise awareness of the richness of cultural diversity and of humanitarian issues around the globe.
- AZAHAR aims to expose young people to rich cultural traditions and enable them to find professional education and job opportunities in the fields of entertainment and sports.
- To promote education on sport, yoga and the arts to young people, especially to reach the underprivileged targets.
- Increase a safe employment environment through the arts, entertainment, sports and health for young people.
The idea of AZAHAR developed organically with my life’s journey. The initial vision for cross-cultural work came while standing on the Alcazar in Cordoba, Spain, looking over fields of orange trees and into Africa and the Americas through the horizons.
After years of studying various styles of modern dance and classical ballet, I immersed myself in African and Afro-Caribbean Dance in New York. Along with that came a deep interest in cross-culturalism, as well as a preoccupation with issues of baseless prejudice and racism. Based on that foundation, I ran two multi-media, multi-cultural dance companies in New York. A vision quest in the Native American tradition revealed AZAHAR’s purpose as a peace-building force, primarily led by women, combining arts and spirituality.
Having been a close witness to the 9/11 attacks in New York, I found solace in the teachings of Jivamukti Yoga and inspiration for a peace village in Thich Nhat Han’s Plum Village. AZAHAR’s first project was with Fundación Para La Paz in Colombia, adding yoga to a rehabilitation program for guerilla soldiers. In 2007, the organization began supporting a group of young people from an orphanage center in Cambodia with yoga and supporting education.
As the young people matured, we started organizing annual Peace Camps and a 2-year Peace Curriculum, both of which served to deepen their practice of yoga and meditation and to expose them to the arts and methodologies of peace-building and social development.
AZAHAR also sponsored two local yoga teacher training for mostly disadvantaged youth. In 2017, the AZAHAR Center for Peace, Yoga & Arts was founded in Phnom Penh, with a smaller sister center in Siem Reap, which also housed the first vegan Cambodian restaurant, Mahob Buos (Monk’s Food). These centers have provided employment for our beneficiaries, both in administrative capacities and as yoga teachers. The center and restaurant in Siem Reap were closed due to Covid-19, whereas the center in Phnom Penh still works at reduced capacity.
In 2016, Yogeswari and Jeanine Munyeshuli identified local teachers and started a program in Rwanda, teaching yoga to genocide survivors in 4 NGOs.
In partnership with Jivamukti Yoga NYC and Jivamukti Global, AZAHAR has provided scholarships for the international 300-hour Jivamukti Yoga Teacher Training to o teachers from Colombia, Lebanon, Cambodia, Rwanda, Ivory Coast and Syria.