McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — A Colorado-based migrant advocacy group held a nationwide webinar Wednesday to teach the benefits that yoga, meditation and holistic remedies can have on traumatized refugees.
The organization, Casa de Paz SLV, hosted the program called Emotional Wholeness Holistic Trauma Support for Asylum Seekers, New Immigrants & Refugees.
It was free for nonprofits and migrant advocacy groups and stressed that most refugees suffer physical and emotional damage during their journeys and when they relocate to a new country.
Gina Barrett, director of Casa de Paz, said it’s called “complex trauma,” which means multiple experiences.
Barrett was awarded the 2022 SEVA Award for Humanitarian Service at the Border by the International Association of Yoga Therapists.
“This webinar is really helping people to go a little deeper in understanding the effects of trauma, and it’s complex. It’s complex trauma, which means multiple experiences,” Barrett said in response to a question from Border Report.
“The immigrant journey is incredibly dangerous and trauma-full,” she said.
Offering basic yoga stretches, neck massages, art therapy using rocks or paper to color and express their feelings with, are simple methods that can help, Barrett and other panelists said.
“Our bodies hold trauma. They hold emotion. It lives in the body,” said yoga therapist Mona Flynn, founder of the nonprofit the Yoga Connection told participants. “But we are capable of surviving and erasing some of the heaviness.”
Flynn’s organization also offers yoga for women, immigrants and refugees and Yoga Connection won the 2020 SEVA award.
Migrant advocacy groups estimate that as many as three out of four women are raped as they try to journey north to the United States. Many children, including boys, are often victims of rape, as well.
A 2020 report by Doctors Without Borders found most migrants endured some type of violence during their migration. They also reported coming from countries with high violence rates, such as the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
“The high levels of violence in the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA) is comparable to that in war zones where MSF has been working for decades—and is a major factor fueling migration north to Mexico and the US,” the report said.
The report found 61.9 percent of respondents said that they were exposed to a violent situation during the two years prior to leaving their home country. Forty-five percent cited their exposure to violence as a key reason for fleeing. And more than 75 percent who came with children reported leaving due to violence, including forced recruitment by gangs.
Barrett’s organization has made 10 trips to the Rio Grande Valley and has worked with over 2,000 migrants including asylum seekers released from detention centers in South Texas by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and those granted humanitarian parole into the United States by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers
A migrant girl works on an art project in Reynosa, Mexico, in April 2022 (left.) Volunteers with Casa de Paz SLV traveled to San Benito, Texas, in April, and helped offer yoga and art therapy to migrants in South Texas. (Courtesy Photos by Gina Barrett)
Her group also has crossed into northern Mexico and offered yoga, art therapy, and massage for migrants living in refugee camps in Matamoros and Reynosa.
Barrett describes seeing migrants who appear “shattered” after being released by ICE, or after being allowed to cross into the United States.
“I just feel that people can’t be educated enough about this and these little simple ways that we shared today could help so many people,” she said.
She said her organization is now working to expand internationally.