“Joy,” “Love,” “Believe,” “Relax.” Those are just some of the words that adorn the walls of House of Gaia, a nonprofit community center in Naples and project of Bee Gaia Inc.
It’s those simple concepts that founder and president Maria Luisa “Lulu” Malta Carter hopes to teach children and adults who visit the facility.
“We build up self-esteem, we build on their own skills. We give them room to exercise their own selves without fear of being judged,” Carter says.
Carter, who also owns a travel company with her husband that connects companies and organizations to enriching programs abroad, created the nonprofit in 2008 to help people form meaningful relationships, regardless of differences.
Programs offered celebrate various cultures. They hold tribal dance classes, African drum workshops, exotic potlucks and monthly meetings for Kirtan—a devotional chanting accompanied by Indian music. Art, health and wellness courses are also mixed in and professionals sometimes come to lecture. There is no restriction on age, ability or belief.
“People from all over the world come to our place,” Carter says. At one event, “we had people from Tanzania and South Africa but at the same time we had people from Jamaica, Mexico, Americans from the North, Americans from the South … so we see many different cultures, populations and ages.”
Brazilian-born Carter says she understands the overwhelming need people sometimes feel to fit in, but the best way to learn is from observation, appreciation and acceptance.
“We need to build a global society based on sense of equality and equal opportunities,” she says. “Being more emotionally intelligent brings awareness to how life can be better if we learn to share. And learning and sharing doesn’t mean we are going to lose ourselves or lose anything—we are just gaining.”
When Carter gears up for new trips overseas, she buys a giant canvas for House of Gaia members to paint on. They express themselves with colors and brush stokes of their choosing, then Carter takes the canvas with her on her journey.
When she returns, the canvas has been filled in by children and adults from other countries. She hangs it proudly at the community center.
It’s her way of demonstrating that even in a world so big, people can still come together and create something beautiful.