When I first saw a picture of Erin LeMoine doing a headstand and the in-awe reaction from the kids at St. Timothy’s School in Tanzania, I thought, “There is an inspiring story here about yoga, about kids and about Tanzania.” Little did I know there was so much more.
When Erin agreed to do the interview, I started putting together questions about how one leaves a successful career in the Silicon Valley in lieu of fearlessly following one’s passion and intuition, as well as how yoga fit into the mix.
When I asked Erin how she integrated her yoga practice into her new life, she told me it was difficult. She tried as much as she could, but was really only on her mat three or so days a week.
And then I realized that Erin’s practice really had very little to do with her mat. Hers was a practice that had moved to her heart, something far more meaningful and inspirational.
This is a story we can all learn from.
YS: First, can you share how you found your path to Tanzania?
Erin: Well, as many things, it started in an unexpected place – a friend’s birthday party. In lieu of birthday gifts, my friend asked guests to donate to Mama Hope, an organization that works to address specific needs and directly improve communities across Africa.
The name of the organization alone piqued my curiosity. I visited their website and recognized immediately that I had found a kindred spirit in the founder, Nyla Rodgers and the Stop The Pity, Unlock the Potential approach they take with their work in Africa.
YS: What was your moment in knowing that Tanzania was your passion calling?
Erin: Despite applying one week prior to the nine-month fellowship application deadline, I knew from the first moment I read about the program on the Mama Hope website that this was my calling.
YS: Any second thoughts along the way?
Erin: There were moments when I thought “I’m too old to do something like this,” or “this is too scary because I will have to leave my job and my home.” But I applied anyway.
I soon discovered that I was actually very ready to leave my job and transition into a career that would directly impact people’s lives in an empowering way – and I just needed to trust in that.
The next thing I knew I was on a plane to Tanzania to teach and partner with St. Timothy’s School on a construction project focused on making the school completely self-sustaining. (St. Timothy’s is a school and boarding home that is providing opportunities for children who do not have access to an education, because in most cases, they do not have access to quality adequate food and shelter.)
YS: Had you ever been to Africa/this community before?
Erin: I had never been to Africa before, but had always wanted to experience the continent. I was attracted to the music, the landscape and the strength of the people who lived there, who have endured so much over the years and still work so hard for basic necessities. (I had spent a year working and traveling in India in 2004/05 and after that experience was even more curious to meet Africa.)
YS: What advice would you give to others thinking about pursuing such a mission of compassion?
Erin: Reflect on and find the “why” — and make sure it’s a strong enough reason to embark on such a challenge. It’s difficult and scary and challenging and there are times that it would be so much easier to walk away, so it’s important to have clarity on your motivation at the beginning.
Then share this with your closest friends — and ask them to be your supporters and to remind you of your “why” when you need it most.
Finally, commit yourself. Once I committed myself and recognized that I was not doing this work for myself but for the children, I could not give up. Any time I was tempted to give up, I simply remembered that the project is NOT about me but about those children and their future and it kept me going.
YS: What do you feel is the most important thing you brought to this school and infused/gave in this culture?
Erin: I was able to fundraise in my network and “relocate” financial resources from the US to Tanzania. But more importantly, I became a member of the community by being at school every day, eating lunch with the teachers, swapping stories with the teachers and students and offering kindness, compassion and gratitude with these people who became my friends and family.
YS: In turn, what is the most important thing that these students/school gave you?
Erin: I walked away from this experience feeling so much love, joy and hope…
They taught me how to courageously pursue dreams and that so much can be accomplished with clear focus on the goal, hard work and an open mind and heart as opportunities present themselves.
Now as I transition back into life in the US, I am infused with a confidence that I can make a real difference in the world and empower people to make positive change in their own lives.
YS: How has the dream of building a dining hall/community center become a reality? Do you think making this dream come true might transgress into their other dreams coming true?
Erin: It’s becoming a reality because it’s being built as we speak. The Multipurpose Hall that we are building at St. Timothy’s School will act as a dining hall for the children, as well as an event venue for the community which will generate income for the school. This additional income will help support building maintenance, school supplies for students, teachers’ salaries, and other items required to educate the 300+ children who attend St. Timothy’s now and to keep the school running for future generations of children.
Upon reflection, I see my heart was searching for a way to find more meaning in my work. I was also seeking this out because I wanted to honor the life of a child who had passed through my life briefly and I needed to do something big enough and worthy enough to honor that life. I’d like to say now it was a decision motivated from a place of love:.
Erin is living proof that each choice we make causes a ripple effect. And when yoga lives in the heart – that ripple has the power to change the world.
Erin has raised $19,475 towards her goal of $20,000 to build a Multipurpose Hall for St. Timothy’s School. Just click here to help!
More About Mama Hope
James and Beatrice of the Tanzanian Children’s Concern (TCC) had a dream over 10 years ago to provide education for the poorest and most vulnerable children in the Kilimanjaro region, many of whom are orphans or have one or more parent living with HIV/AIDS. They started a school under a tree in 2003 and partnered with Mama Hope in 2009. Together they have transformed that classroom under a tree into a thriving school with 9 classrooms, 15 teachers, 300 students, a nursery school, food security garden which feeds all children and teachers, a boarding home and a solar powered computer lab! The dreams of James and Beatrice and the entire community are now a reality but we have a couple more projects to complete in order for St. Timothy’s to become 100% self-sufficient, and no longer rely on outside aid.