Ecuador has been a very special place for me since I arrived from Canada in 2006, and although I was already on the path to great change, those changes have been happening quickly and often since I arrived here. I arrived here semi-conscious, just after losing someone dear to me, and finally aware that I must live life to the fullest and follow my heart. The light was beginning to shine through the cracks, and I was open to growth and happiness. From that beginning, through a series of ‘adventures’ on an often precarious road, I am now the proud operator of La Sirena Yoga Adventures (and a Reiki therapist, an artist and engaged to the love of my life, but those are other stories). I want to share this magical energy that I have found here in Ecuador and facilitate transformations in others, and that’s how I developed the idea for La Sirena. La Sirena’s mission is to provide yoga and holistic therapy retreats, combined with adventure travel, to visiting English speakers while supporting the local communities of Ecuador through fair and ethical trade practices and a Giving Back program. I also try to keep things as eco-friendly as possible. Actually, La Sirena has expanded in scope and now includes art workshops and life coaches as well. The idea is that transforming yourself sets an example for others to follow- kind of like that shampoo commercial where you tell 2 friends, and they tell 2 friends, and so on.
At the heart of La Sirena Yoga Adventures is the desire to do something good for the world, to be of service, to help others. I pray daily that I may be successful so that I may be in a position to help others. That’s why you’ll find a section on the web page called Giving Back. Micro finance for disadvantaged and abused women is a great way to give back to the local communities of Ecuador and make a lasting difference in the lives of many people. Regular charity is a temporary solution; it may feed a family for one day, or two or three, but what about the future? As the Chinese proverb says, give a man a fish, and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime.
One of my heroes is Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank, the first micro-lending program, which was designed specifically to help women get out of poverty and improve the lives of their families. Grameen lends exclusively to women for specific reasons. “Not only do women constitute the majority of the poor, the underemployed, and the economically and socially disadvantaged, but they more readily and successfully improve the welfare of both children and men. Studies comparing how male borrowers use their loans versus female borrowers, (sic) consistently show this to be the case.” [i] More recently, this was put into practice in relief efforts in Haiti, where food was only distributed to women because authorities didn’t trust the men to take care of their families with it.
My own experience here in Ecuador has shown me the same. I was tired of watching my friend, Nancy, who treated me as family, struggle to put meals on the table while her husband spent half of his income on alcohol and drugs, but the most I could do was buy groceries whenever I visited. With time, I convinced Nancy’s husband to allow her to work outside the home, and after working 12 and 14 hour shifts in a factory, 6 days a week, for 2 months, (of course while still cooking, cleaning and doing the laundry- without a washing machine- for the family of 7) she used her income to start her own business with literally just a few hundred dollars. Then she found a micro-finance program and kept investing more and more into her business as it grew. Within a few months, she had bought a new stove and dishes, the kids were never hungry, they all had nice clothes, the older girls were enrolled in after school language classes, and they even had a new CD player. And the amazing thing is, Nancy had only attended school up to age eight and was almost illiterate, but as soon as she was given the chance, she was off to the moon!
Another frustration is seeing abused women stuck in their situations because they have no way to support their children on their own, and in some cases need to move to a new town to escape their abusive husbands. The heartbreaking part is that they could escape and find work or set up their own business with literally as little as a few hundred dollars.
I was tired of seeing these situations and feeling helpless. When I started La Sirena, I realized that the participants in our retreats could be the key to helping women like Nancy, who are far too numerous here. Built into the budget for each retreat is a small amount of money from each participant, that when pooled together, will be used for micro-finance programs and to support local organizations working with women, children or the environment. So when you participate in a La Sirena retreat, not only are you helping yourself to a life changing experience and improving your own life, you are helping to improve the lives of seriously disadvantaged women and children here in the host country. It’s a full circle of love, support, and development on many levels that will have lasting effects on many lives.
For more information on Grameen Bank, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grameen_Bank
Janice Betts, or La Sirena, is an enthusiastic lover of travel, nature, the beach and the yoga lifestyle. She practices Reiki and organizes yoga and alternative therapy retreats for visitors to her adopted home of Ecuador. She is also an artist working with photography, painting and poetry, and has had over 7 public exhibits in 2 countries, including several exclusive shows. Her photographs are in collections in Canada, the US, Switzerland, Brazil and Ecuador. She has also worked as a writer, editor, teacher, and communications consultant. You can follow La Sirena on her Blog.