Arta is an asylum-seeking mum from Albania, who was trafficked and has survived sexual violence and exploitation. She has been a member of the Happy Baby Community project OURMALA runs in partnership with Helen Bamber Foundation and other small charities for more than 1.5 years. Like many of the mums in our Happy Baby Project, Arta has survived some of humanity’s worst atrocities, including years of repeated physical, sexual and psychological violence.
This project offers a safe, happy place for her and the other mums and children to meet and play. The importance of this cannot be underestimated as without family or friends to support them, the project is the only place for many mums struggling to confront and overcome their experiences of torture and human cruelty to feel safe and make new friendships.
"When we go they’re there with their hands open and they hug you, which you know I don’t get from no one. I don’t have no-one in this country, like no family, no-one who’s gonna hug me if I don’t have these people there waiting for me…," said Arta.
Arta goes to the Trauma-informed Yoga Classes but before this she had never experienced yoga, though keen to try it out because she’d heard it might give her some much needed time to focus on herself. As a single mum, time is something of which she has very little. She soon realised that her yoga practice helped her to relieve her bodily tension and find moments of calm. ‘…it’s like a space you can be relaxed a bit and just concentrate on yourself because it’s really hard, especially when you’re a single mum, you’ve got a kid to look after, it’s really hard to think about yourself.’
In time, Arta also discovered that her mental stress and anxiety had decreased and she started to worry less about things. She sometimes uses the breathing practices in her everyday life and she feels her yoga practice helps give her a sense of control, which is so important given her prior experience of lacking all autonomy over her body and life. ‘(Yoga) is good for your body and for your mind too. It works in both ways.’
Her young daughter also enjoys yoga, so it has given them a healthy activity to share and explore together. More recently, Arta has developed a painful condition called Fibromyalgia, which leaves her in a great deal of physical pain. On some days, she finds herself unable to rest comfortably in either a standing or sitting position. Thankfully she has been able to find some relief through a sequence of yoga postures, which have been designed specifically for her by one of the Our Mala teachers.
In addition to the health benefits of yoga practice, Arta has found value in the friendships she’s made with other participants and the voluntary staff. She has a sense of connection to the small community. ‘I don’t have anyone in this country and that group, it feels like home, like family. That’s how important is it.’ Due to her life experiences Arta struggles to trust people but she strongly feels the community that has built up around the weekly practice is a safe and nurturing space, a place where she can talk and express herself freely. ‘…it gives us the strength to understand and know that you are here, you’re in a better place, you’re not in that horrible place that you were.’
Mehret*, a refugee from Eritrea, has been separated from her children and husband since she fled for her life. There is a dictatorship in Eritrea; torture, arbitrary detention and severe restrictions on freedom of expression are routine, while military conscription is mandatory but has no end date. Mehret has lost two children and her husband to war. Despite restricted mobility and pain in her body, she is dedicated to her yoga practice.
“I miss my children and husband and I am lonely. My body hurts. But yoga helps me relax from stress, and sleep. My body pain all goes and I feel more positive. The people are friendly; we are friends. I can touch my toes now. Never before!”