December 2, 2011

Yogis Unite to Put an End to Sex Trafficking ~ Heather Snyder

 Originally published by our elephriends over at Yoga Modern

Photo Credit: Norman Jean Roy

Last week, Nick Kristof (NY Times journalist and co- author of Half the Sky) followed Somaly Mam, a prosecutor and a dozen or so police officers toting AK-47s on a raid of a brother in Cambodia. Reading his live tweets as the raid progressed, I was reminded, once again, why Somaly Mam is such a hero to me. At the risk of her own life and her family’s safety, she continues to fight for victims’ lives and risk everything she has to save girls from the same fate she was dealt.

This particular brothel was owned by a Cambodian military officer and his wife. Once they saw that a prosecutor and team was coming for them, they called in armed soldiers to protect the brothel and the brothel owners. After what seemed like a horrifying showdown, the brothel owners were taken to the police station. About 6 girls were rescued, the youngest, Kristof said, appeared to be about 13 years old. There were girls missing that they assumed must have been hidden from them by the brothel owners. The terrifed girls were comforted by social workers while the raid continued.

Although the brothel owners were eventually brought in by the police, it is unknown as to whether they will be let go or actually prosecuted. They were told this brothel had 10 rooms for sex, all rooms that locked from the outside. It is hard to grasp that this was all playing out while we, in the US, we’re sleeping peacefully in our beds.

Somaly is fearless in her work, rescuing girls from brothels and of nurturing them back to life with her love, compassion, and strength. She has helped save 7,000 girls from these brothels and is helping them to recover and reintegrate back into society. She has safe houses throughout Southeast Asia where girls live, learn, and receive education to take out in the world. Most importantly, the girls receive the love, kindness and tenderness they never received as children. Here they are able to begin the healing process in a safe, loving environment.

The most extraordinary thing about Somaly Mam is that she not only rescues these girls and nurtures them back to life, she teaches them about love and forgiveness. She believes holding onto the pain and anger is damaging to one’s self and says that to move on and become an empowered, loving leader, forgiveness is a necessity.

Somaly herself has been through pure hell, and yet she is a calm force in the world who meditates daily and believes you have to love yourself fully before you can be of service and truly love another. She is radiant. Being in her presence for a few days last month, it was sometimes hard for me to believe what she went through. She is literally glowing with peace, love and beauty inside and out.

Somaly Mam is my inspiration for getting involved in the work to end human trafficking.

After I read her gripping and inspiring memoir, The Road To Lost Innocence, I, along with other NYC yogis in the Off the Mat community, were determined to help and get involved with her organization, The Somaly Mam Foundation.  Yoga Freedom Project was born out of that desire to get involved.  The Somaly Mam Foundation was  interested in bringing their message to the yoga community and now yogis around the world are raising awareness of sex trafficking.

Yoga Freedom Project is a January 2012 global month of yoga to raise awareness and funding to bring an end to sex trafficking.

With Yoga Freedom Project, we are asking yogis and studios all over the world to have donation based classes, sell jewelry made by survivors as well as Somaly Mam’s memoir, and engage their local communities in whatever they feel called to do to raise awareness about the issue of sex trafficking. So far we have studios in 15 states and 5 countries on board. In New York, we are having a 108 Sun Salutation Celebration at the end of our month of fundraising with Elena Brower, Dana Flynn, Alan Finger, Cyndi Lee, Jodie Rufty, and many other talented teachers. We are excited to have an impact with this month and show the world just how powerful, loving and strong our global yoga community is.

Looking at what happens to these young girls is horrifying, totally heart breaking. It is much easier to turn away from it and hope someone else can face it and help put and end to it. I have had people say to me, “Oh that is so awful. I can’t even bring myself to think about it” and that is the end of that. Well I say we must think about it. We have an obligation to look at the horrific reality of sex trafficking and those of us whose heart it breaks the most may just be the best people to help put an end to it.

I have always felt such pain and and terror when I read, see and continue to learn about this. On a very small scale, through my own difficult childhood experience with a man taking advantage of my innocence for his pleasure, these girls’ and terror resonate with me. Their horror, however, is a thousand times worse than anything I can even imagine. And as much as I want to turn away and run when I read their stories, I know this is my work to do. I won’t turn away from it.

Through my work with Off the Mat, I’ve come to believe that if we look deeply at what breaks our heart, we will find exactly where we are supposed to be serving in the world. Perhaps that is exactly where we can be most effective if we allow ourselves to feel that heartbreak and we don’t turn away.

What breaks your heart? What do you read about or see that makes you want to turn and run in the other direction? Perhaps that is exactly what you should be walking towards. Perhaps that is where you can be of greatest service.


Heather Snyder is a regular contributor for Yoga Modern and Regional Leader for Off The Mat Into The World in NYC. She is a conscious activist, birth doula, and teacher of The Alexander Technique, pilates, and yoga. She brings together communities of inspired, empowered, like minded people to explore possibilities of what a community can create together. Heather is committed to the work of bringing awareness of sex trafficking to the yoga community as well as to mainstream America. In January 2012, Off The Mat NYC is partnering with the Somaly Mam Foundation to launch the Yoga Freedom Project. This project is a monthlong campaign in the yoga community that will raise awareness and funding to put an end to human trafficking. If you would like to get involved, you can read more on the OTM-NYC website or email Heather directly at [email protected].

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