#GladToBeHere with Project Air: Supporting Trauma Survivors in Rwanda

John Foley and his wife, Carol Rees, have a huge vision to which they’ve committed themselves: help a billion people reach their full potential through a focus on purpose larger than self.  What that means to them is spreading the #GladToBeHere message and supporting the needs of people worldwide through charitable giving. It’s well documented in studies of happiness levels that when people feel deeply connected to their communities and to others, they lead more fulfilling lives; that when a person is able to feel and express gratitude for the positives in their lives, it enhances joy. John and Carol believe that seeking a purpose larger than self creates a ripple effect that spreads outward and impacts the world in a positive way. John Foley travels worldwide speaking to business audiences about #GladToBeHere, increasing team performance, and the power of gratitude to change our daily lives.

Seven years ago, seeking to connect more deeply to a purpose larger than self, John and Carol started the Glad To Be Here Foundation, through which they have supported more than 335 charitable causes worldwide to the tune of $1.6 million and counting. In order to enhance the impact of the Foundation, John partners with his business clients to identify charitable causes important to them, to which he donates up to $1,000 of his net speaking fees. Engaging in philanthropic giving together with clients allows John to increase the scope of giving, by discovering non-profits that have special meaning to his clients and their teams.

In the first quarter of 2018, John and Carol have chosen to spotlight a non-profit organization called Project Air in Kigali, Rwanda. Project Air provides critical programs, specifically therapeutic yoga and meals for girls and women who have experienced intense physical and psychological trauma. Referred to Project Air five years ago by a close friend, John and Carol have been donors since that time to this grassroots effort to help girls and women affected by regional violence heal their trauma through yoga and meditation.

“We in the U.S. can’t wrap our minds around surviving something like what they experienced. The emotional and physical scars are intense. These are people that need help to return to a fully productive life, and the Project Air founder is a woman who is giving her life to do just that,” Carol said. When asked what about the organization touched her most, Carol explained, “the wounds and trauma of genocidal violence are deep and difficult to heal and they will affect the following generations if left unaddressed. We need to help the healing of this generation to ensure all the generations that will follow will not be affected, too.”

When a person experiences trauma, Carol explained, “they shut down, these women haven’t been able to relate to their bodies, they haven’t felt safe in a very extreme sense, since the genocide. At Project Air, women have a private place where they can be comfortable with the group and it’s the first time they’ve laughed and smiled. They have the opportunity to re-learn to relate to themselves physically in a safe environment.”

A key component offered by Project Air is anti-violence education for boys. “Rape as a weapon of terror has escalated and the educational piece is important to help challenge the current culture and provide momentum to the prevention effort, “ Carol said.

Recently, Project Air’s landlord raised rent on the studio space where the programs are held, risking a loss of the safe space where women and girls are learning to heal. The founder, Deirdre Summerbell, made a video where women tell their stories through song and dance, their traditional way of showing respect to honored people, while preserving their privacy by not speaking directly about what they have experienced. It was challenging to get them to appear on camera, but to preserve their beloved space, they worked together to create this video requesting support.

Carol and John saw video and learned about stories of individuals served by the program, and were moved to increase support. “A dollar spent on a woman has profound impacts on her family and her community,” Carol said. She and John chose to support Project Air exclusively in the first quarter of 2018 to help them advance the healing of a traumatized, underserved population with wonderful potential. Carol described her connection and commitment to Project Air, “all of these causes grab you. It’s emotional. But this one…”

You can learn more about Project Air’s work to support women and girls in Rwanda here. For more details on the impact of the Glad To Be Here Foundation, see here.

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