With a little help from our friends…
Lakshmi is a mother of three who was married at the age of 16 years to a man much older, an alcoholic who beats her again and again. Looking much older than her 38 years , she lives in fear and lacks confidence.
Unfortunately, her story is not exceptional among the 3,750 women that Auroville Village Action Group (AVAG) work with. AVAG works in many areas of rural development in Auroville's bio-region including a growing network of men's groups but it is in empowering women that it has excelled.
An extensive network of over 200 self help groups of village women has been created who meet regularly to share their lives and support each other.
They are affiliated to the Udhayam Women's Federation, an umbrella organisation which helps AVAG to frame the guidelines for the groups, to implement the activities, and develop new projects.
Every month AVAG organises a seminar on topics from family health to purifying drinking water to global warming, and has organised many training programs for the empowerment of women. In spite of all its efforts, twelve women committed suicide in the past two years. Discussions with women revealed many hardships at home in a society that tells them not to share their problems with others creating an environment of vunerability and depression .
The team at AVAG provide regular support and training skills for these women and one recent initiative proved highly successful. Lotus Circle International, an American based organisation, which provided post tsunami trauma healing to survivors some years ago, offered to provide workshops introducing participants to a neuro-biologically based trauma resolution approach that supports a reduction in trauma symptoms while bringing balance to the nervous systems.
When Lakshmi arrived on the first day , fearful, nervous and with severe headache, she told the facilitators that she was always angry and on edge. Two of the therapists worked with her by teaching orientation and grounding skills for her anxiety and then body work techniques such as pushing to develop confidence and to discharge trapped emotions. By the end of three sessions she expressed feelings of clarity and much confidence in terms of her mental, emotional and personal life and a sense that she'd left that confused state behind .
The workshop provides trauma resolution approaches that support the reduc t ion in symptoms and balance s the nervous system. In an exploration of the senses, the natural “inner observer ” is cultivated, born from the direct sensory experience of the body/mind in the present moment. Teachings included discussion of the core principles of Somatic Experiencing and healing: such as What is Trauma? , Orientation and Stabilization, Nervous system Activation/Deactivation as well as practical means of implementation.
Shanti, a fearful and nervous woman developed suicidal tendencies after her daughter was burnt alive. After 2 sessions with the therapists she expressed her gratitude by telling the m she felt they were g oddesses who have given her back the desire to live again and that she would never forget them . S he left the training with bright eyes and armed with tools to help her overcome stress and anxiety.
Many of the staff members of AVAG also took part in the training, and the male members of the team got a valuable insight into the problems carried by women in their society . O ne man expressed his pride about being part of a team who were assisting women to empower themselves. Team leader Anbu expressed her gratitude for the skills she was aquiring , saying they will help her cope with the heavy weight of sorrow for these women that she often carries in her heart and allows her to serve these women more effectively. And young Priya, who helped with translation, expressed the development she felt in herself over the programme with a growing confidence and new skills set to help her be an empathic listener and deal with the problems of life.
Where to from here? Anbu and the AVAG team are providing an excellent follow-up service with their trained social workers in the villages checking-in with people and providing follow-up therapy sessions. Future plans include a follow-up course next year where both men and women will be invited. Since many women expresssed their willingness and readiness to bring their husbands as well , couples will also be int ro duced to the techniques.
Beth Neilsen, President of Lotus Circle International recently wrote to Anbu " The women's self-help groups you have formed were the perfect forum to introduce this material. With so many men and women being caught in the web of domestic violence and such a high rate of suicide, it is important we continue to teach them this method in order to break the cycle of violence and offer skills for self-regulation. It was clear from the beginning that our work was only touching the tip of the iceberg. I would be honored to bring another team to work with both men and women. I am immensely impressed by your loving dedication and commitment to serving those most in need in the surrounding villages of Auroville. I look forward to us setting a date for another Lotus Circle International team to return in 6-12 months to continue our work.
It is early days yet but it looks like the potential is very bright for the self development of many women and men in this region which can in turn lead to many other openings .
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