This is an interview with Peter Sterios, an internationally-recognized yoga instructor, architect, writer, entrepreneur, and former contributing editor for Yoga Journal magazine. He's probably most known as the founder and former CEO of Manduka, and he's also a nationally-published architect specializing in green retreat centers and yoga studios.
In 2011, Peter co-founded with Adrienne Ward karmaNICA, a charitable organization to help build classrooms and playgrounds for impoverished kids in western Nicaragua. In April 2011 he was one of 12 instructors invited to teach yoga at the White House for Michelle Obama's "Get Up and Go Initiative" to fight childhood obesity.
Rob: What originally motivated you to do this work, and what continues to motivate you? How, if at all, has that motivation changed over time?
When we travelled to Nicaragua, it became obvious to us that we needed to reach out and see if we could help in some way. As it turned out, the community in Nicaragua seemed to be waiting for us to offer, and was more than happy to have our support. What continues to motivate us is the people, specifically the kids, who have such bright spirits, even with the lack of some of the most basic things kids here in the U.S. take for granted. Our motivation has only gotten stronger over time, as we uncover more opportunities to get involved.
Is there a standout moment from your work with these children?
We visited a rural community near the city of Granada, which became the impetus to create karmaNICA, our organization that works with local community leaders and organizations to identify projects. We initiated our work with the community of Costa Sur, on the slopes of Mombacho Volcano, and the Cedric Martin School there. Our first contribution was raising enough funds to buy all the kids school uniforms, since their families were too poor to afford the mandatory uniforms required by the Nicaraguan Education Department. To see the pride these kids had in their new clothes is one such moment.
What did you know about the population you are working with before you began teaching? What were some of the assumptions you had about this population, and how have those assumptions changed?
I knew nothing, but I knew I was travelling to a developing country, and through Adrienne's previous experiences there, I had a feeling that something magical might happen. And it did... I assumed that Nicaragua was a war-torn, unsafe country with a poverty level that was high by world standards, with a people that were guarded, especially around "gringos." However, what I discovered was such a pleasant surprise. Although the average person there is living on a fraction of what most Americans or Europeans live on, their outlook and warmth for their families and friends, not to mention their openness to visitors that venture to their country, was remarkable. Although there are subtle reminders of the politics of Nicaragua, the people of the country seemed removed from the past conflicts with the American government.