What does it mean to be born in privilege? To have the financial support and education that has enabled you to follow your dreams? To have supportive and loving friends and family that you trust with your whole heart? Being born with privilege applies to anyone who is fortunate enough to have all of those things. And there is no denying that if born into these circumstances that it is easy to forget how fortunate we really are.
Born into a big, loving family, I spent my childhood carefree – 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, leaving my family distraught. Mum became a shadow of her former self and as a teenager, I learned life is fragile and precious, 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 took more than time for me to overcome my trauma of loss. I needed a ‘toolbox of support’ to get me through this period of my life and without the love of my family and friends, education and financial support; I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Consider what happens if you are born into unimaginable poverty. What happens if you and your family live on the streets without food or roof over your head? How do you survive on a daily basis, let alone cope with trauma? In 2016, the Seva Trip with Yoga Medicine® supplied an opportunity to see firsthand how people born into poverty in India live day to day. This trip was an opportunity to understand how these women and children, who are victims of such horrific forms of sexual exploitation and abuse, can rebuild their lives in the wake of such trauma.
The Yoga Medicine® Seva Foundation (YMSF) supports shelters in India that provide what I consider to be similar to my own ‘toolbox of support.’ They are given a safe place to sleep, health care, food, education, and vocational training as part of their rehabilitation process. When I met and listened to the workers at the homes and shelters, it was clear to see how each person is passionately involved in the process of improving the lives of these women and children. Above all, they were a non-judging family providing love and care for all.
The shelters provide a safe haven for women and children who have been abused, trafficked, or exploited. Each new arrival has counseling to help them overcome the traumatic experiences and also takes part in trade skills training. There are a number of different skills to choose from, including block printing to jewelry making. Training the women and children with trade skills is a vital part of the rehabilitation process because it means that when they leave the home at 18 years old, they have the capacity to independently earn a living, which in turn reduces the risk of falling prey to the cycle of exploitation again.
When local women in the sex industry were asked how they would like to be helped, many had resigned to the fact that prostitution was their only form of income. Their main concern was not to change their own lives but to protect their children from joining the same industry. The shelters funded by YMSF provide a safe place for children before and after school while their mothers are at work. Here, children have a safe place to continue their studies, eat a meal, have regular health checks, and even practice yoga. While visiting the shelter, we met several young adults who used to come to the shelter during their younger school days and were now at college with plans to go into further education and training.
When I heard about YMSF 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 were contagious. The people I met reminded me that the future is in our hands and does not need to be dictated by sadness from the past. Every woman and child taught me that no matter where we live in the world and what traumas we have faced, we are able to grow with love and support from the people who surround us. Moreover, it reinforced the importance of education as a tool of self-empowerment that can enable anyone to move forward and build a new life. Although financial support is essential to a certain extent, the simple lives that many of these empowered women and children lead served as a poignant reminder that so often, less is more. Our role as Yoga Teachers is to be of service to our local and global community, and I feel fortunate to be connected to such a worthy charity in India that I can continue to support with the Yoga Medicine® Seva Foundation.