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India Seva Service Trip – A Tool Box of Support

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by Alice Blunden (Yoga Medicine Assistant and 500hr Student).

What does it mean to be born in England? To have supportive and loving friends and family that you trust with your whole heart? To have the financial support and education that has enabled you to follow your dreams? Of course, it means the world to anyone who is fortunate enough to have all of those things. But there is no denying that sometimes it is easy to forget how fortunate we really are.

Remembering our Place of Privilege

Born into a big, loving family, I spent my carefree childhood laughing and playing with my sisters and friends in our happy home by the sea. My biggest resentment was wearing a maroon blazer and boater hat to school each day! That’s not to say my life has been completely pain-free. When I was 16, my dad died of cancer and left my family distraught. Mum became a shadow of her former self. As a teenager, I learnt how fragile and precious life is. And how dramatically it can change in such a short space of time.

Life moves on and it is true that time, to a certain extent, is a healer. However, it takes more than ‘time’ to overcome trauma. I needed a ‘toolbox of support’ to get me through this period of my life. Without the love of my family and friends, education and financial support; I wouldn’t be where I am today.

So what happens if you are born into unimaginable poverty? What happens if you and your family live on the streets? If you have no food or roof over your head at night?

How do you survive on a daily basis, let alone trauma? The Yoga Medicine Seva Project was an opportunity to see for myself how so many people born into poverty in India are living. I was able to understand how these women and children, victims of such horrific sexual exploitation and abuse, are rebuilding their lives in the wake of such trauma.

A Toolbox of Support

The Women’s Interlink charity, which Yoga Medicine supports, provides what I think of as a ‘toolbox of support’ for so many exploited women and children. We visited 2 orphanages and 4 shelters and met over 500 women and children benefitting from the facilities, care and support. Meeting and listening to the founders of Women’s Interlink, it was clear to see how passionately involved each and everyone was in the process of changing the lives of women and children. How in fact, above all, they were a non-judging family providing love and care for all.

The orphanages provide a safe home for women and children, who have been abused, trafficked or exploited in another way. Within the homes, they are given a safe place to sleep, health care, food and education and support in their rehabilitation process. Each new arrival has counselling to help them overcome the traumatic experiences and also takes part in skills training. There are a number of different skills to choose from ranging from block printing to jewelry making. Training the women and children with new skills is a vital part of the rehabilitation process. It means that when they leave the home at 18 years old, they have useful skills that will enable them to earn a living and reduce the risk of exploitation once again.

Protecting a New Generation

When women who were working in the sex industry in Kolkata were asked how they would like to be helped, many had resigned to the fact that prostitution was now their form of income. Their main concern was not to change their own lives but to protect their children from entering into the same. The shelters provide a safe place where the children can go before and after school while their mothers work. Their children have a safe place to continue their studies, eat a meal, have regular health checks and practice yoga. While we were at the shelter, we met several young adults who were now at college with plans to go into further education and training.

When I heard about the Yoga Medicine Seva project and decided to take part, I thought that I would go there to help the women and children. However, in truth, they have helped me. Their smiles, laughter and beaming sense of pride was contagious. It reminded me that the future is in our hands and does not need to be dictated by sadness from the past. Every woman or child I met taught me that wherever we live in the world and whatever trauma we have faced in our lives, we are able to grow and move on from it with love and support from the people who surround us.

The Importance of Empowerment

Moreover, it reinforced the importance of education in this process. It is the empowerment that allows us to move forward and build a new life. Whilst financial support is essential to a certain extent, the simple lives that many of these empowered women and children lead reminded me that so often, less is more. It’s not about having the latest colourful leggings or yoga mat. Our role as Yoga teachers is to be of service to the people and the world around us. I feel fortunate to be connected to such a worthy charity in India that I can continue to support with the Yoga Medicine.

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