Recently, I had the opportunity of traveling to Africa as a resident artist for Africa Yoga Project, an organization that educates, empowers, elevates, and employs youth from Africa using the transformational power of yoga. The vision of Africa Yoga Project is to create opportunities for youth to step into their greatness and become self-sustaining and leaders in their communities. The organization employs over seventy-two Kenyan yoga teachers and empowers over 6,000 people a week through its 300 free outreach yoga classes. The following is one man’s remarkable journey I had the honor of working with and being trusted to visually tell his story.—Robert Sturman
Images by Robert Sturman. Text by Kelly Holzscheiter.
“I am ugly,” he said as he choked back tears. The emotion surfaced so quickly with those three simple words.
My throat instantly felt tight, and my hands were clammy. He couldn’t look us in the eye. “I need a minute,” he whispered as the tears began to fall from his eyes. He got up and left our circle. There were five of us remaining. Silently we looked at one another, each one of us obviously affected by his words and stunned by his vulnerability. I felt him—his pain, his anguish, his fight.
As a small child, David Maina woke up one day to the roar of an angry fire and heavy smoke billowing around him. Frightened, he threw the covers off and jumped out of bed frantically looking for an escape route. In the midst of his search, the roof collapsed overhead, and a piece of it came crashing down on his forehead, searing his skin and imprinting this moment on his face forever. It was then he blacked out, only to later awake in the hospital. David miraculously survived the fire as a child, but in its wake, it left him with deep scars on his face, hands, and arms—a constant reminder of that fateful day.
With his parents divorced and neither one of them around, David lived with his grandfather and his aunt while growing up. Life was difficult for him, but after the accident, it became much more challenging.
One particular incident touched a part of his soul so deeply tears immediately filled his eyes and ran down his cheeks as he began to explain. His aunt often had visitors over, and when she did, she forced David to stay alone in a room completely out of sight. He felt unloved, unwanted, and ugly. Anger and resentment grew towards her, which caused a deep rift in their relationship. He carried these feelings with him well into adulthood; his scars being a reminder of them every time he looked down.
Fast forward to April 2013. David, now an adult, took part in Africa Yoga Project’s 200-Hour Teacher Training Program in Nairobi, Kenya. In broken English, David courageously stood in front of 150 people from around the world to share his story.
“Who have you been in this relationship?” Paige Elenson, Director of Africa Yoga Project, asked David as she coached him through the pain. “What can you apologize for?”
David began to see that by harbouring these deep emotions, he was creating the rift in their relationship. To let go would allow space to create something new. He committed to apologizing to her for carrying anger and resentment towards her all these years.
“I spoke to her,” he said to me with a big smile. His eyes were shining. “I apologized.”
I could not believe how much lighter David seemed. He took ownership of his feelings and his actions, which led him to let go of all that emotional baggage.
Continuing, David shared that his aunt had no idea how he felt. She apologized to him for the way she left him feeling. She just wanted to protect him and that was the only way she knew how. She told him that she is here for him always and even purchased medicine for him that day.
Now when I look down at his scars, I no longer see pain. To me, they represent strength of character, deep compassion, and unconditional love—the mark of a true yoga teacher.
Thank you, David.
After completing the 200-Hour Teacher Training Program, David is now part of the assisting team at Africa Yoga Project.
Text by Kelly Holzscheiter. “It is through Africa Yoga Project’s 200-Hour Teacher Training Program in Nairobi, Kenya that I have had the honour of meeting David and hearing his story firsthand. His vulnerability has touched the deepest part of my soul. I am truly inspired by his courage and hope that this story also inspires you.”
All images by Robert Sturman.
The powerful images of mixed-media artist Robert Sturman have a vivid presence that is both other-worldly and deeply rooted in the earthly wonders he has explored so adventurously in his global travels. A spiritual journeyer as well, Sturman is an intuitive creator whose works resonate with an inner vision as much as they reach out to embrace the viewer with tactile, richly hued physicality. The official visual artist of 2005’s 47th Annual GRAMMY® Awards, Sturman has formal training as a painter and photographer and holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, Santa Cruz. For more on Robert and his art, please visit his website or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.