Yoga means “union” in Sanskrit. Many of us have seen yoga’s power to unite people firsthand, but it wasn’t until we launched our nonprofit organization, Alo Gives, that we truly understood the extent of that reach. Alo Gives was founded on the basis of bringing yoga education to children and underserved communities, and is currently working with Baale Mane—a home for disadvantaged and abandoned girls in Bangalore, India—to further this mission. While Baale Mane offers these girls food, shelter and the opportunity to practice yoga, their living quarters aren’t hygienic or spacious enough for them to stay healthy and really thrive. Alo Gives is working to change that, with a project underway to improve their space and build a yoga pavilion that will allow them to practice without disturbance every single day—an extremely important part of their overall well-being, the Alo Gives team has learned. We talked to Alo Om-bassador and humanitarian professional Josh Kramer, who helped launch Alo Gives, about his experience with visiting Baale Mane, why the cause is so important and what he’s learned from the girls.

You’re a humanitarian professional. What led you to get into that work and why is it so important to you?

I was born in Zimbabwe. I grew up around a lot of poverty and crime, so I became very sensitized to that at a young age, and it led my family to leave the country for New Zealand when I was 14. Once I finished high school and moved onto university, I had this really strong passion to make a difference. For about five years, I studied international development, which is essentially where the term “humanitarian professional” comes from. I did my research in communities in Fiji, and, after my university experience, I worked with a few humanitarian organizations—Oxfam and ChildFund. I would set up and manage projects in Asia, Africa and the Pacific in all realms of poverty, from gender-based violence to natural disasters to post-conflict and war. My latest focus was on child development, so looking at all those issues and how they related to children. That’s where my passion stemmed from.

When did Alo Gives come about?

I was building a relationship with Alo and traveling back and forth teaching workshops, when Amanda, Alo’s head of marketing, asked me to help run Alo Gives. It was an eye-opening moment—I had always wanted to combine my humanitarian work with yoga, and I had never really seen a way to do that before. Our strategy for the first year was to really focus on youth and education, and using yoga as a way to improve the physical, mental and emotional health of children around the world. The first project that we worked on together was Baale Mane, this home for girls in rural Bangalore, India. They had initially reached out to Alo because they needed to rehabilitate and expand their space, but our relationship with them turned into something much deeper.

What is the Alo Gives mission, and how does your work with Baale Mane play into it? 

Alo’s mission is to bring yoga to the world, and the Alo Gives mission is to change the world through yoga. What I love about the Baale Mane project is that they’re based in India, and India is known as the home of yoga. It’s been really inspiring for Alo Gives to work with this organization where these young girls are doing yoga every single day to help them deal with issues they face. We’re learning from these girls as much as we are working to help them improve their lives. We wouldn’t be doing yoga if it wasn’t for India, and it only makes sense for us to start giving where yoga originated. There’s so much need in India, and this was a cause that’s in line with what we’re passionate about at Alo.

What specific projects is Alo Gives working on with Baale Mane?

We’re working on a campus expansion project, which will essentially make their home more livable because, at the moment, it’s very cramped. All the girls sleep in one room on dilapidated bunkbeds—that’s 40+ beds in one room. The toilets and bathrooms that are attached are really unhygienic, as is the kitchen facility. Currently the girls do yoga outdoors or inside the hall where they eat every morning, and it’s not really sustainable. There are a lot of mosquitos and dengue fever, sometimes it rains, and the ground is uneven. This new expansion will include a new wing with more dormitory space, a renovated kitchen with new cookware, hygienic facilities, new activity halls. Included in that is a yoga pavilion, which will be a really great space for them to practice yoga every morning without being interrupted. There’s also going to be a separate living room for girls when they get sick. Right now, if one girl gets a communicable disease, it spreads to all the other girls in the dormitory because of the bad hygiene and close quarters. I’ve been working with the chair of the trust based in the UK as well as the president of the Baale Mane foundation in India to refine the project and get the bricks on the ground because India’s a very tough context to work in. The monsoon season is coming up, so we have to make sure construction goes ahead before that.

What have been the most inspiring parts of this experience so far?

The most inspiring part was when I went out there to meet the girls. So much of managing projects like this is about technical detail, but you see these young girls—you see how happy they are and how yoga makes them feel—and it touches your heart. I always have these experiences after when I just break down and cry because it’s so moving. These girls come from very tough backgrounds—some of them were abandoned on trains in the slums of India or their parents were unable to take care of them, so Baale Mane took them in and gave them food, shelter and yoga. Knowing that Alo Gives is supporting that—it’s changing lives, and that’s what’s inspiring.

What have you learned from working with Baale Mane?

I’ve learned a lot about how yoga is able to unite people. Yoga actually translates to “union.” I’ve heard that definition before, and it’s never really held much meaning for me until this project with Baale Mane because we’ve been able to come together. Not only are we able to create profound change in their lives, but they’re creating change in our lives too. We’ve been able to learn and grow from them, and that’s inspiring. I’ve learned so much about what yoga truly means beyond just asana from these girls.

What do you envision for the future of this project with Baale Mane and Alo Gives in general?

In terms of the future for Baale Mane, this construction is the start of a relationship with them. Once this new building is complete, and they have space to live happily and healthily in, we’re hoping it will open them up to inviting people in from around the world to come and share their passion for yoga with them. Adell, one of Alo’s yogi influencers, recently went out there and practiced yoga with them. From holding workshops for these girls to help them advance their yoga practice and become better teachers, if that’s something they want to do, to having them teach workshops there as a source of income, there’s so much potential for what can be done. They act as seeds of inspiration for other things we’re working on with Alo Gives.

Want to learn more about Baale Mane? Visit their website here and keep checking our blog for updates on the Alo Gives project.