The yoga community has come together in unity in the past to support varying causes from cancer cures to rebuilding Haiti. Yoga Freedom Project, a campaign started by Off the Mat NYC leader Heather Snyder and The Somaly Mam Foundation is on a mission to unite the yoga community to help put an end to sex trafficking.
Read on to learn more from Heather about the cause and what we as a community can do about the issue of sex trafficking. In NYC? Come out for the big event on the 31st! We’ll see you there.
What is Yoga Freedom and how did it come about?
Heather: Yoga Freedom started out as just a small idea back in the Spring of 2011 and has turned into a much larger movement, fully embraced by the global yoga community. For me, it traces back to when I read Somaly Mam‘s book 3 years ago. After reading the words of this courageous, inspiring woman and hearing what she went through and the work she is doing to rescue and empower trafficking victims, I knew I had to get involved. At the time, I would search the Somaly Mam website looking for opportunities to help and I even applied for an internship there. I just wanted to do something but I didn’t know what. Then last year SMF created Project Futures, a volunteer platform for people to get more involved in supporting Somaly Mam’s work.
How did Yoga and Off the Mat get involved?
I went to a first Project Futures meeting last Spring and after hearing about all the ways to get involved, they mentioned that they wanted to somehow engage the yoga community in a campaign. I got chills at this statement as I knew that was something I could do. As the regional leader for NYC Off the Mat Into the World, I am amongst an amazing group of yogis dedicated to service. I knew I had found my way in to help. That was how Yoga Freedom Project started, as a collaboration between Off the Mat NYC and The Somaly Mam Foundation.
Who is Somaly Mam and what type of work is being done with the Somaly Mam Foundation (SMF)?
Somaly Mam is a Cambodian born sex trafficking survivor who was sold into slavery at a young age. She was brutally raped and tortured in the brothels of Phnom Penh for nearly a decade. She managed to escape and has dedicated her life to saving women and children, creating a system of shelters and safe houses in Southeast Asia, and empowering survivors to lead lives of dignity.
Somaly has rescued nearly 7,000 women and children from the same fate she was dealt. The Somaly Mam Foundation supports over 10 direct victim service organizations in five countries. Seven of the shelters are located in South East Asia and were founded by Somaly Mam. The shelters provide a range of services for victims of human trafficking, including outreach, rescue, medical, psychological, education, vocational training, reintegration, legal support and follow-up.
How do you hope Yoga Freedom will help SMF in their mission to stop sex trafficking?
In Cambodia, where sex trafficking is amongst the worst in the world, children as young as 3 are sold for virginity, and are forced to service up to 20 clients a day. Girls are being tortured and raped and starved every day. What is happening is horrific and we need to educate people and shine a light on this issue if we ever want it to stop.
What we have created with Yoga Freedom Project is a monthlong campaign within the yoga community to bring awareness to the issue and to raise money. Throughout January, there have been over 50 donation-based classes taking place around the world from the US to England to Singapore. On January 31st in NYC the month culminates in Practice for Freedom, a inspirational class and celebration led collaboratively, by Elena Brower, Sri Dharma Mittra, Dana Flynn, Alan Finger, Cyndi Lee, Jodie Rufty, Sierra Bender, Tricia Donegan and Off the Mat’s Suzanne Sterling. All of these powerful teachers from varying yoga lineages are coming together to give a voice to this cause and stand in unity.
Tricia Donegan (Bikram Yoga LES) expressed, “I’m involved because: we are raising funds and awareness for women who have very little to believe in themselves and in this world, I am ready to show these women I believe in myself, I believe in yoga, and I believe in them. We are here to give more than we think we have.”
Come out on the 31st!
Yoga Freedom Project: Practice for Freedom
When: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 from 6:30 PM to 9:30 PM (ET)
Where: 12 West 21st St, New York, 10010
What: This global initiative will culminate in an inspirational Yoga for Freedom practice led by NYC’s leading yoga teachers; Elena Brower, Dana Flynn, Alan Finger, Sri Dharma Mittra, Cyndi Lee, Tricia Donegan, Sierra Bender, Jodie Rufty, and Suzanne Sterling.
The yoga community has come together and shown how powerful, loving and compassionate we are, and this campaign is just the beginning. For more information, please see our website www.yogafreedomproject.com and to buy tickets to the event click here.
About Heather: Heather Snyder is the NYC regional leader for Off the Mat and currently lives in Brooklyn, NY. She is a yoga teacher, pilates teacher, Alexander Technique teacher and a birth doula. She is co-creator of the Yoga Freedom Project whose mission is to unite the yoga community around the issue of sex trafficking. Heather is committed to bringing together communities of inspired, empowered and like-minded people, and exploring the possibilities of what a community can create together.
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