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A human-rights advocate brings healing yoga and meditation to war-torn Afghanistan.
As a United Nations (UN) civic education officer based in Kabul, Afghanistan, Amandine Roche had a firsthand view of the turmoil, terror, and trauma that have engulfed the country and its people for decades. In 2004, three of Roche’s UN colleagues were kidnapped in front of her office. Fearing that Roche would be next, the UN removed her from her post in the country that same year. That’s when Roche began to suffer PTSD, with symptoms that included anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks, and stomach pain. Then she turned to her teacher, the Dalai Lama, for guidance, taking in his words during a public teaching: “There is no outer peace without inner peace.”
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The words woke up Roche. “I realized that I cannot bring peace to the world if I do not know how to deal with my own stress,” she says. So she spent 2007 and 2008 traveling throughout India, studying under various spiritual teachers and practicing hatha yoga and vipassana meditation, both of which ultimately enabled her to heal from her trauma and cultivate inner peace. “These practices changed my way of serving when I’m on mission,” says Roche. “I went from my head into my heart, and I realized that I need to live in true tolerance and compassion to be a real advocate of peace.”
When the UN called Roche back to Afghanistan in 2oo9 to provide civic education, she was initially hesitant to risk her newfound inner calm. But she did return, and found that a daily yoga and meditation practice helped her maintain inner peace and balance—even as bombs fell outside her office window and colleagues were killed. Coworkers soon asked her for meditation instruction, and before long Roche was teaching meditation and asana to her colleagues and to women in jails, children in orphanages, and US soldiers.
In 2o12, Roche became a registered yoga teacher and decided it was time to expand her efforts and offer more Afghanis, especially children, the healing benefits of yoga. So she launched the Amanuddin Foundation. (Amanuddin was the name the Afghans gave her when she first arrived in Kabul in 2001; it translates to “joyful protector of peace.”) Her mission: to bring yoga and meditation teachings to children in the Taliban region of Kabul and to people in jails—essentially prisoners of war for crimes against the government. The program also aims to train Afghani citizens to become yoga and meditation teachers and spread the practices in their homeland. Money is also being raised for a mobile theater drama that will promote the legacy of Abdul Ghaffar Khan, an advocate of nonviolence among the ethnic Pashtuns in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and a close friend of Mahatma Gandhi.
To date, the Amanuddin Foundation has reached roughly 1,ooo Afghanis, but expansion has stopped due to potential dangers. “In a country that’s never peaceful, we’ve been able to connect with so many hearts,” says Roche. “We’re all born wise, and through the inner peace achieved through yoga and meditation, the children and people of Afghanistan can remain in peace as they were in the beginning.”
Sponsor a child
For $25 monthly, you can reach 350 school-aged children, who are being taught peace and nonviolence, and help develop a mobile theater program and a mental-health program for those suffering from PTSD (more than 80 percent of Afghanis).
For more information and to donate, visit amanuddinfoundation.org.