Emilie Cook, owner and yoga teacher at Find Your Center Yoga on the downtown Gainesville square, had the chance of a lifetime over the summer to visit Uganda with First Baptist Church’s Associate Pastor of Missions Ruth Demby through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Refuge and Hope International to teach yoga for a staff retreat.
“My part of it was self care,” Emilie said. “So, the retreat was a self care, self realization, empowerment retreat. I went thinking that I would be teaching people that helped other people, that they weren’t refugees or in danger themselves. What I learned was everybody in that room had some sort of trauma in their life and 90 percent had been refugees themselves.
“So, it made what I did next level.”
Ruth added, “Emilie is a gifted yoga teacher that makes it especially comfortable for beginners to learn yoga. So, with her engaging personality and then her training in therapeutic yoga it made yoga very accessible to the women we were working with and made it fun; and also really helped them learn how to relax.”
Emilie and Ruth worked with Missy Ungala, the director of the family ministry for Refuge and Hope International in Kampala. Missy moved to Uganda from the United States 10 years ago. She visited the country and immediately decided she was called to Uganda to serve the mission of Refuge and Hope International.
“When she settled there, she started the ministry there…she started a family ministry and in the family ministry she started a shelter for women and they serve women 15 to 30 years old and stay there from four to six months,” Emilie said. “They go to school, they are taught a skill, they are taught a language if they need to learn Uganda or if they need to learn English, or a different language…they are all refugees. So, most of the people that we worked with were at one time served by the center.”
During Emilie’s time in Uganda she had the chance to teach yoga classes next to the Nile and go on a safari; during the retreat.
“My favorite part was meeting all the people but I did want to touch every animal I saw, I had to keep reminding myself not to do that,” she said. “The trip is pretty hard to process, even still.
“The food was really good…we ate at a lot of restaurants that were Dutch owned, they weren’t local really. We ate Thai food, Ethiopian food, one night the shelter graduates came and cooked dinner for us. There were lots of rice and beans. Eating is no joke there, there is a lot of food served on your plate.”
Emilie added, “Another thing that surprised me was the level of not just tolerance but complete acceptance of different religions, backgrounds, and beliefs. There was a Muslim family who was served by the center several years ago, who now work and serve themselves alongside of the Christian ministers. There was zero fear or distrust.”