AZAHAR means orange blossom. It is a Spanish word of Arabic origin and is symbolic of the cross-cultural juxtapositions that color and flavor our beautiful blue planet. Being the first and last letter of the Roman alphabet, the A&Z symbolize the beginning and the end, the all-encompassing, the point and the zero. A blossom is a sign of new beginnings, and it indicates a new level of consciousness where humanity is able to live in peace and harmony.
The idea of AZAHAR developed organically with my life’s journey. The initial vision for cross-cultural work came while standing on the Alcazar in Cordoba, Spain, looking over fields of orange trees and into Africa and the Americas through the horizons.
After years of studying various styles of modern dance and classical ballet, I immersed myself in African and Afro-Caribbean Dance in New York. Along with that came a deep interest in cross-culturalism, as well as a preoccupation with issues of baseless prejudice and racism. Based on that foundation, I ran two multi-media, multi-cultural dance companies in New York. A vision quest in the Native American tradition revealed AZAHAR’s purpose as a peace building force, primarily led by women, combining arts and spirituality.
Having been a close witness to the 9/11 attacks in New York, I found solace in in the teachings of Jivamukti Yoga and inspiration for a peace village in Thich Nhat Han’s Plum Village. AZAHAR’s first project was with Fundación Para La Paz in Colombia, adding yoga to a rehabilitation program for guerilla soldiers. In 2007, the organization began supporting a group of young people from an orphanage center in Cambodia with yoga and supporting education.
As the young people matured, we started organizing annual Peace Camps and a 2-year Peace Curriculum, both of which served to deepen their practice of yoga and meditation, and to expose them to the arts and methodologies of peace-building and social development.
AZAHAR also sponsored two local yoga teacher trainings for mostly disadvantaged youth. In 2017, the AZAHAR Center for Peace, Yoga & Arts was founded in Phnom Penh, with a smaller sister-center in Siem Reap, which also housed the first vegan Cambodian restaurant, Mahob Buos (Monk’s Food). These centers have provided employment for our beneficiaries, both in administrative capacities and as yoga teachers. The center and restaurant in Siem Reap were closed due to Covid-19, whereas the center in Phnom Penh still works at reduced capacity.
In 2016, Yogeswari and Jeanine Munyeshuli identified local teachers and started a program in Rwanda, teaching yoga to genocide survivors in 4 NGOs.
In partnership with Jivamukti Yoga NYC and Jivamukti Global, AZAHAR has provided scholarships for the international 300-hour Jivamukti Yoga Teacher Training to o teachers from Colombia, Lebanon, Cambodia, Rwanda, Ivory Coast and Syria.
YOGESWARIGrowing up in a multi-lingual household in Switzerland, while also traveling the world with my family, I developed a keen interest for world cultures, their languages, arts and spiritual traditions.
After two years of studying ethnology and theater at the FU Berlin, I went on to study dance and choreography in the US (BFA McL Temple U, Philadelphia; MA NYU, (New York). In my 20-year career as a dancer/choreographer, my main interest was the juxtaposition of different cultural aesthetics and media, as well as socio-political issues and multi-culturalism.
In 1999, I completed a Yoga Teacher Training at Jivamukti Yoga School in New York. I am advanced certified in the method and have been teaching classes, workshops and teacher trainings around the world. I founded AZAHAR Foundation in 2007.