By Ali Sirois
The Toronto Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre is a non-profit teaching centre named after Swami Sivananda, a celebrated Indian spiritual leader from the early 20th century who also practiced as a physician. Given this historical medical connection, it made sense to members of the Sivananda community to make Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) a beneficiary of the centre’s charitable fundraising efforts.
“Keeping in mind our Guru Sivananda’s life’s work, MSF was a natural fit for students of the Toronto Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre,” says Saraswati Vukadinovic, the centre’s senior director.“The service provided by MSF staff and field volunteers is inspiring.”
The centre held a month-long fundraising program this past fall, including an event called “Trek the Yogic Path,” which brought together close to 100 participants for a variety of workshops, yoga classes, special lectures and a concert featuring local bands. In total, the fundraiser raised $7,310 for MSF’s lifesaving medical work.
Focus on MSF's work in Syria
Of particular interest to participants was MSF’s response to the ongoing conflict in Syria, where more than four years of horrific violence has had a brutal impact on the Syrian people and has decimated much of the existing health system. “We made a conscious effort to share with our donors, students and staff about the plight of Syrian refugees and the work of MSF in the field in Syria and in neighbouring countries like Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan,” says the Sivananda centre’s Jothi Shanmugam.
Thus far, an estimated four million people have fled Syria, with the vast majority fleeing to neighbouring countries. The scale of the violence and the fast-moving nature of the conflict have made it exceedingly difficult to work inside Syria, but MSF continues to operate medical facilities and support more than 150 medical structures in the country — and delivers direct medical care to hundreds of thousands of refugees in surrounding countries.
The knowledge that their efforts would have a direct impact on people affected by conflict resonated with members of the Sivananda community. “Since over 80 per cent of the funds MSF raises go to programs, we believe our donations will be used in an efficient manner to support those in dire need,” says Shanmugam.
Shanmugam points out that bringing people together in order to help MSF’s work in the field had other rewards, too: “The most memorable aspect of the experience was creating a space for the Sivananda yoga community to come together to support an important cause, ” she says.