Pint sized Gita (Krista) Zember. owner of Be Yoga, a studio in Sterling Virginia, makes up for her petite frame with her exuberant personality. A classical yoga teacher for the past 15 years, Gita opened her studio 4 years ago, which is literally in a large beautiful yurt in her backyard. Aside from teaching a yoga asana practice, she teaches and leads Hindu ceremonies taught to her by Swami Gurusharanananda.
We happened to meet at a fundraising kirtan she held last year supporting her dharma, Gita's Dream.
Q: What is Gita's Dream?
A: Gita's Dream is a Kirtan group lead by me on vocals and harmonium and my husband, Christopher, on mridanga (a drum from West Bengal). We chant ancient Sanskrit mantras in a call and response format that is heart opening and in devotion to the divine. We chant as often as we can fit into the schedule and every time we chant we do it by donation. These donations benefit girls in Kolkata, India that are rescued from sex trafficking and a rural ashram school that gives shelter to 40 boys and educates 100 rural children that would not otherwise get an education if this school did not exist.
Q: You help girls in the red light district in India with the money you raise from your kirtans. How did you learn more about this cause?
A: 4 and a half years ago I joined the "Global Seva Challenge" run by Sean Corn, a West Coast Yoga Rock star, and her 2 friends Suzanne and Hala. Each year they pick a different country and human rights issue, and challenge yogis to take their yoga off the mat and into the world through selfless service. We were challenged to raise $20,000 for the cause. If we met the challenge, we would be invited on a trip to India to meet and serve at the organizations the money would benefit.
I had never made $20,000 in a year with any job I had in higher education or as a social worker so this was quite a challenge to me on many levels, but I took it on. I raised the money through donating all money that come through the doors at my new Yoga studio that year I was opening. It was a crazy year trying to raise $20,000, opening a yoga studio and also finding out that the 12 years of struggle I had been having with my health was actually Lyme Disease.
I raised the $20,000 and went on my first trip ever to India. We visited the rescue centers in Kolkata, walked through the red light districts to do yoga with the after school drop-in centers, did yoga with prostitutes, and I fell in love. I knew this was just the beginning of this relationship with India and these centers.
Q: What led you to feel this was the cause you wanted to help?
A: I had 2 little girls at home. I homeschool them. We were doing a project that brought the question from my oldest "are there still slaves?" I wanted to say no, because that is what we are taught in our history books. Slavery ended. But I paused for a moment and had to answer "YES, there are still slaves."
That same week I was searching for a project to start doing community service again. I had always enjoyed serving, but I had been busy surviving motherhood and hadn't had the opportunity to do very much. I was ready to do more. I had just talked to a woman about going to Haiti to teach yoga when I came across the Global Seva Project just announced. This year it was India and it was girls rescued from sex trafficking. I had been wanting to go to India for years and having daughters, this subject called to me.
Only 2 weeks before, I had said what an amazing project the Global Seva Project was, but there was no way I could ever do that. By that evening, I submitted my application. My husband fully supported me in going for it. Everything lined up. It was supposed to happen.
Q: Have you seen how your fundraising supports these girls?
A: Oh, YES! Very much so. YES! I have been able to visit for 3 years now. I have seen a new building built with the collective first group where we raised $1 million. This building gave more girls space to be in this rescue home. It also gave some of the older girls the opportunity to stay longer and slowly acclimate, when they are old enough, to get jobs outside of the home.
We started yoga programs at 2 rescue homes. The girls get yoga classes 2 to 3 times a week. They are amazing classes. Counseling is difficult to offer the girls. Can you imagine some of the nightmares they have been through and not have access to counseling? It is expensive and it is difficult to keep counselors because the work is so challenging and trauma filled. So these yoga classes are very therapeutic. They do meditation, asana (poses), pranayama (breathing exercises), and relaxation. The centers saw a wonderful response to the classes and brought them to 5 after school drop-in centers in the red light districts so the children there could also benefit. Right now we are raising money for a playground. These girls, after all they have been through, are still little girls who want to play, laugh and have fun! I can't wait to see the playground next time I visit!
Q: So many people feel like they want to help others, but don't know where to start. What advice would you give others?
A: EVERY LITTLE BIT HELPS! You don't need to raise $20,000. You can raise $200. You can donate $20. Find a cause you believe in. Go in long term. If you don't have money, you can always raise money or spread awareness of the cause you believe in.
Q: What keeps you motivated to help others?
A:I cannot seem to help it. It is a deep desire within me to serve others in this way. As a kid, I was deeply inspired by people like Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi and Jane Goodall. In church, I enjoyed the community service more than anything.
I wake up every day tired and in pain from Lyme disease and this helps me forget all of that. I want to inspire others to care for all forms of life. I want to be an example to my children- to care and commit so deeply to others, especially when we are so fortunate to be born and to live in a country and time when we have shelter, an education, choices and more than enough. I just must.