An incredible journey from being a victim to a healer
Posted by Trupti Pandya on Aug 26, 2016
It takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than it does for a solider to fight on a battlefield- W.B.YeatsThis year I witnessed this incredible journey of six Bangladeshi girls transforming from being victims of human trafficking to therapeutic dance and movement practitioners. The home where they stay is surrounded by high walls, heavy gates and security. I enter the premise after my official check and as I walk in I see coconut trees swaying and stretching tall as if trying to reach the sky. I see few girls sweeping the unkempt play ground, few more sitting on an uneven raised platform chatting, applying oil in each other’s hair and making braids. From one of the corners I see few girls carrying a big pot of poha from their common kitchen for their breakfast. I hear the care taker calling out names of the girls who are going to participate in our nine month long program. I enter this huge room with a tin roof, walls painted pale yellow with a small T.V suspended from one of the wall and a few windows wired with rods blocking the light and ventilation. I was here looking at a group of twelve 13-18 year old girls, six from India and six from Bangladesh.
I could see a veil of shyness and some discomfort with curiosity about our visit. Our introduction began with a small Q&A session:
Q. When we get a boil on our body, whom do we go to?
The girls responded- We go to the doctor.
Q. What happens next?
The doctor cleans the wound and applies medicine
Q. Right so what do we do when we are feeling sad or hurt?
We cry, throw a fit, don’t eat food, feel angry, hurt ourselves and others, sleep…
Q. So how do we heal these wounded parts within us? We would do it by using movement and dance said one of the facilitators.
Listening to this one of the girls said that, “I don’t know how to dance.”
Q. Have you seen a flower move with the touch of the wind? Think of a butterfly – Can we move our hands like a butterfly? (The girls started moving by then.)
Put your hands on your heart. Feel the movement. (The expression on the faces of these girls changed – movement started happening.)
This was the beginning of my journey with them. Out of twelve girls, six girls from Bangladesh were with us till the end.
Every day was unpredictable, just like a high altitude Himalayan mountains with a rustic unpredictable weather. There were days when the girls were bored, de-motivated and hated seeing us. There were days when their bodies did not support them because of physical aches, sleepless nights and low appetite. Past memories overpowered present. Emotions like guilt, shame and anger churned them inside out. Future looked uncertain, often triggering suicidal thoughts.
Once a month the girls were allowed to meet their families. There was mix of emotions that floated around on that day. All the girls from India eagerly waited for this day every month. They got up early and wore their best clothes. On the other hand this was a sad day for the Bangladeshi girls, who were allowed a 10 minute call with their family. On most days the phone would not connect and they will be sad remembering their family, whom they have not seen or heard from since a year or more.
One day a girl was going back home. Her home was found, her family was there to happily take her back and her papers were cleared. That day I saw the other girls smile and tearing up at the same time as they said goodbye to their friend. I looked again and was wondering what was happening inside them. Maybe every heart is aching for the day when they will be free, not only from their past but also from the physical confinements of the home. What would it be for them to breathe free? We asked them:
Q. What worries you?
We do not know if our families will accept us, after knowing our past. We do not know what our families would have gone through because of us. How would they have found the strength to face and answer all sorts of questions from family, neighbors and the society? How would have they explained our absence? How will the society react once we return? Who do we trust? (These came from girls who were pushed by their most trusted people into sex work or were sold for money.)
Going back was like walking on the edge. It was a bigger battle field than what they were facing in the confinement of the four walls. A girl shared, “Many a times while I try to walk ahead, I feel something pulling me back. I cannot articulate this when it is happening in the sessions. But, just before sleep I find some quiet time and wonder about the session. This is when I realized that something was happening inside of me. Every session was bringing some shifts inside me. I was changing. Instead of seeing what others did to me or blaming someone, I have started seeing how I could have been different. I have started to see inside.”
Every girl in the home had more or less the same story of carrying an enormous baggage of emotions and not knowing how to channelize this energy in a healthy way. And therefore this clogged up baggage of emotions led to internal quarrels and fights adding more to their already existing scars. But as the sessions progressed, things were changing. One girl shared, “In the past when a girl use to shout or misbehave I would react and do the same ending up fighting. But now I don’t as I am able to understand her suffering that I was going through few months back. Through dance and movement I got this opportunity to shed my stress which she hasn’t yet”.
Another girl who always surprises me with her insightful sharing said, “After coming here I thought that I was in a prison and my life is finished, I wanted to end my life but today I have my own identity, a tool with which I will not only shape my own future but even of those girls who knowingly or unknowingly end up here”.
Their ability to let go of their past and embrace the present with so much compassion moved me look within deeper. In a very unknown way I felt held, their compassion and stillness opened up a space for me to let go of anger and mistrust, I was long holding onto. I saw this group standing again and again against all odds facing and breaking the walls of their own fears. It was incredible to see that they did not take their falling as failing. The group had evolved, their biggest strength was that they had become sensitive and respectful of each other’s pace in the process of healing. They slowly started inspiring and supporting each other. It was a stormy journey of nine months for them, but then every girl wanted for the other to move on. And, that I guess was our success.
But then, we were in for a surprise when the group came up with a unique request and a dream. A group of six girls wanted to become dance movement practitioners themselves and help other girls back home. It was a rare and a special moment to witness a group of survivors requesting training to become practitioners, and with the intention of taking others through a similar healing process and sharing the benefits of what they had experienced themselves.
We asked them –
Q. How did you think of becoming a practitioner?
A girl shared, “For those two hours during the session I use to feel as if I was in a different world, under the open sky where I can be myself, I can share my heart out, I can dance, where I can forget all my tension and be happy. But after the session I was again surrounded by other inmates whom I saw sad and suffering. Seeing them used to make me sad reminding me of my old days. When I shared these feelings with my group, they were feeling the same. We wanted to let them experience what we did and so we started with the little knowledge that we had. We wanted to teach them the way we were taught and so we requested our didi’s (mentors) to take us through the training for the same and God listened to our prayers”.
All the six girls were taken through an intensive training in Therapeutic Dance and Movement and it was precious moment for me to see them get certified as Therapeutic Dance and Movement Practitioners in the month of June 2016. They were standing tall and confident on their day of convocation. They narrated their entire journey using dance and storytelling in front of more the fifty people including the superintendent, delegates from the government, police officials and many more who had heard about their journey and wanted to meet them.
One girl shared, “The opportunity of ‘knowing’ oneself came to us by going deep within and it helped us to feel other people’s suffering. Dance movement therapy came to us as a beacon and it is unbelievable to think that we have become practitioners in a totally new country where we knew no one, not even the language, where expressing or communicating was a challenge.”
Another girl shared, “I use to fear and tremble even when I heard someone calling out my name in the home and today I could share my journey in front of so many people. I use to cry for hours inside the bathroom but today I am capable of easing someone’s pain. I have started finding joy in every little thing, people may see me as mad but I have started laughing and smiling all day and that keeps me away from thinking about all the negatives”.
Another girl shared, “I felt weak while talking to the officials, police or in the courtroom but today I talk confidently making eye contact. Other girls have started approaching me in a very respectful way when they feel sad or need help.”
These girls had already started their work in the home. Their compassion was rippling out and so many other girls in the home.
For me, this is a life event I will always cherish. I have felt held and loved on my low days. These girls have been my teachers and inspiration. Every time I looked at them, I wondered what brought them here, who are they and all that they have gone through at such a tender age. The line is so thin between where I am today and where they are, I could have been on the other side too. Thinking of this I felt very grateful to my family, to the blessings, to the higher power and to life. Before a year I knew no one from my neighboring country but now I have six homes, six sisters, six inspirational souls thinking about whom warms my heart.
While these girls are the true heroes, unfortunately we cannot show their faces to the world. All the artwork is also by the girls themselves.
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