Looking at Shanthi you could never guess that her young life was filled with loss and pain.
Despite being in her late teens, she is used to looking after everyone – except herself. So it wasn’t until she started working at the community bakery established by YEJ that she eventually started taking part in the mental well-being activities that are part of the YEJ youth enterprise and employment programme.
Shanthi’s family are from Garratola, a rural community in the jungles of Madhya Pradesh. When still young her mother died and unable to cope her father turned to alcohol to deal with his grief. This made his behaviour unpredictable and soon he lost his job plunging the family into poverty. Not only did Shanthi lose her loving mother, she was now responsible for looking after her father and young brother. At the age of 14, Shanthi had to leave school to become the head of her family. Continually seeking out work to feed and house the family and pay for her 6-year-old brother’s education, she found it hard to make ends meet. Without education or employable skills, she found it difficult to find gainful long-term employment.
In the early years of her loss she didn’t realise she was harbouring deep trauma.
The arrival of the Garratola community bakery was a lifeline for Shanthi. She trained as a baker and became the first woman in the community to get a driver’s license in order to drive the bakery delivery van to reach diverse markets. Her economic situation improved immensely but having survived a traumatic upbringing, she still felt the pain and loss of her mother and her longed-for family.
Shanthi is used to looking after everyone – except herself. So, it wasn’t until she came to work at the bakery that she eventually started participating in mindfulness and mental well-being activities and having counselling as part of the programme. The mindfulness activities help with physical and emotional pain, stress and anxiety, as well as building emotional resilience. This programme is designed to incorporate one-to-one work with participants, along with group work to enhance focus and attention, improves confidence, enhance creativity, increases self-awareness and the awareness of others, raise levels of resilience, and emotional intelligence and strengthen cognitive effectiveness.
In her early years of caring for the family, Shanthi didn’t realise she was not dealing with her grief and that she was a victim of abuse that arose from dealing with someone dealing with substance abuse.
She thought this was what life was like: her father controlling her money, the dutiful daughter expected to work to support the family, pay for her siblings’ education as well as deal with domestic duties and not question his authority.
However, despite all she has gone through Shanthi feels the future is positive.
Whilst her economic situation was relieved by becoming a member of the community bakery, Shanthi knew that through attending all of the mental well-being and resilience services that are linked to YEJ’s enterprise and employment programmes she has started to express herself and make sense of her experiences in 1-2-1 counselling, peer to peer work with her colleagues and through the safe-spaces and meditation sessions. In the support groups, Shanthi learned she was not alone. In the workshops, Shanthi started to learn to be more emotionally aware and develop a superior level of well-being. Attending creative and movement workshops including yoga and dance Shanthi is also gradually starting to value herself more.
Dealing with one’s mental well-being and building resilience can be a slow process, but Shanthi and the other young women at the bakery can feel positive change is happening through a sustained practice of mindfulness. For the first time in her life, she is starting to look after herself and she has hope for the future.