Ellen Jaronczyk, of Williamsburg, was familiar with the professional background of Tiffany Cruikshank, the bride of her son, Forrest.
What she didn’t know much about was that Cruikshank created the Yoga Medicine® Seva Foundation, a nonprofit group that supports a shelter in New Delhi, India, for women rescued from human trafficking.
Cruikshank owns and runs Yoga Medicine®, which trains yoga teachers to work with healthcare providers to teach more therapeutic yoga practices and train doctors to integrate yoga practices into wellness modalities. She is also a Chinese Medicine practitioner and uses that background to help train teachers and doctors who work for her company.
Considering that yoga began as an ancient practice in India circa 3,000 B.C. and was developed as a way to achieve harmony between the heart and soul, it is no wonder Cruikshank wanted to learn more about India and its culture. She has visited India five times and learned some very disturbing facts about life there.
According to the Yoga Medicine® Seva Foundation newsletter, every day 400 women and children go missing in India — many remain untraceable. Each year, millions of women and children are trafficked into India, mostly from Nepal. Almost 80 percent of all worldwide trafficking is for sexual exploitation, with an estimated 1.2 million children being bought and sold into sexual slavery every year.
I asked Cruikshank what motivated her to create the Yoga Medicine® Seva Foundation to address the severity of India’s human trafficking crisis. “I grew up working in a homeless shelter that my mom ran, so I’ve always been drawn to give back. As an educated woman, I have always felt compelled to empower other women; and as a yoga teacher I felt drawn to give back to the culture that has given us the practice of yoga,” Cruikshank said in a recent interview with the Gazette.
“We used to support a shelter in Kolkata, and now we’ve helped to build a brand new shelter in New Delhi. We raised $100,000 this past round and it was mostly from small donations, $25-$100. It costs about $400 to rescue one girl and it costs about $200 a year to feed one girl. Obviously, there are many other expenses, but it puts things in perspective,” she said.
“When I visit the shelters and see these girls, it makes all the work worthwhile. … To see them stand up confidently and have a skill they can use to be proud and support their families, it’s priceless.”
In fact, from her last visit to India, two memories stand out. “A girl, whose parents died, was knowingly trafficked by her own sister. At the end of our trip, we asked her what word comes to her mind to describe her feeling. She said, ‘trusting.’ ”
Another girl at the shelter who was trafficked was just about to start law school. Cruikshank asked her why she chose that profession. “I want to help other women like myself who don’t have a voice. So many lawyers are just in it for the money and I want to help (the women).”
It won’t be an easy task. According to Cruikshank, on the main road to New Delhi there are about 144 brothels, each has 50-400 girls and most girls see about 20 men a day.
“The Rescue Foundation we work with in India rescues about 450 to 500 girls a year,” she said. “We are passionate about providing and sustaining education that empowers survivors to rebuild their lives and support their families.”
Ellen Jaronczyk commented, “I couldn’t be more proud of my daughter-in-law.”