Yoga for refugees with Citizen2be

Yoga for refugees with Citizen2be

Today is World Refugee Day and you probably remember the pictures when thousands of people arrived in Munich in 2015. Many people pitched in back then and many still do today. Today we would like to introduce you to a very special project and the woman behind it: Citizen2be and Bettina Schuler. Bettina and her team have set themselves the goal of helping people who are persecuted because of their ethical, political, social or religious affiliation to integrate into Germany with the help of yoga. Citizen2be helps traumatized women, especially refugee women, to overcome their traumas with yoga, because they are convinced that in order to arrive healthy and permanently in a new country, you first have to arrive at yourself. The name “Citizen to be” is derived from the Canadian term for refugees. Because instead of refugees or refugees, the people who seek refuge there are directly referred to as future citizens. A term that is more appreciative and stands for hope and perspective. The inspiration of Citizen2be.

Dear Bettina, today is World Refugee Day. Many people helped out during the big wave of refugees. You had a very special idea. Tell us about it!
Bettina: I founded the non-profit organization Citizen2be in 2016. Our idea is and was that we help traumatized women, especially refugee women, overcome their traumas with yoga. Because trauma doesn't just take hold in the head, but also in the body. This is exactly where our work comes in: We try to help women feel at home in their bodies again. We are convinced that in order to arrive healthy and long-term in a new country, you first have to come to terms with yourself. We respect our boundaries at all times. We have a psychologist on our team who we can always rely on when things get difficult. We also provided some refugee women with one-to-one yoga trauma therapy free of charge. In this case, the yoga teacher takes care of the patient and her physical traumas in individual sessions and the psychologist takes care of the psychological ones. This worked very well and I hope that we can offer this form of therapy to even more women in the future. Unfortunately, this is very time-consuming and costly.

Do you only teach women?
Bettina: Yes, we only teach women. Since the women who come to us come from very different cultures, some women would feel uncomfortable if there were men in the course. Some also wear a hijab, but they take it off during the course. That wouldn't be possible if men were there either. Plus, it's a completely different mood when there are only women in the room. Everything is much more relaxed and open and there is also much less shame about the body.

Bettina with one of her yoga students

Were your lessons accepted immediately? And what obstacles did you not expect?
Bettina: It took a while. But luckily I'm very tough. Now there are sometimes more, sometimes fewer women. But all in all, things are going well and we have a colorful group here in Berlin with whom we practice yoga.

What were the biggest challenges? Were there situations that pushed you to your limits?
Bettina: There were and are always. At the beginning there were mainly intercultural communication problems, but as both sides get to know the other culture better and better, these problems become significantly fewer. I struggled with unreliability for a very long time. But after understanding that the lethargy and lack of motivation is a sign of her trauma, I can understand it and deal with it better.

Is there a story in which your involvement was particularly important?
Bettina: One of the refugee women, Duaa, was particularly interested in yoga from the start. Thanks to a scholarship that we were able to arrange for her, she is now even a yoga teacher herself. It really touched me to see how much she has changed through yoga, how much self-confidence she has gained and the perspective she has created for herself. One day Duaa gave me a letter in which she wrote that yoga had helped her regain the courage to live. “If yoga hadn’t existed,” she wrote, “then I would definitely have died very young.” That touched me very much and showed me how good and important our work is.

What motivates you most to continue your work?
Bettina: The women themselves, their joy in yoga and their relaxed face after savasana. And my vision that we can save the world with the power of yoga. We just have to finally start doing it!

In 2016 you started a crowd-finding campaign for yoga trauma therapy. Was the campaign successful and what has happened since?
Bettina: Phew, where should I start? Thanks to crowdfunding, we were able to rent a room for over two years in which we offered yoga up to three times a week. We were nominated for the German Integration Prize, did numerous workshops on the topics of health, work and career orientation and went on a short weekly trip to the countryside together. We are currently in the process of giving up the space to save costs and are teaching in yoga studios again. We have also registered Citizen2be as a trademark, although the aim is less to make money with the brand than to establish it as a quality brand for trauma-informed yoga.

You started alone, now you are a team of 9 women. Does everyone work on a voluntary basis at Citizen2be?
Bettina: Almost. I now have a mini-job because the work has simply become too much and some employees occasionally issue invoices when the work goes beyond the normal voluntary scope. The therapist is also paid from the donations. But the yoga teachers and many others work entirely on a voluntary basis.

Do you have plans for the future and what do they look like?
Bettina: And yes! We are currently in the process of expanding Citizen2be's offering throughout Germany. So if anyone wants to offer a Citizen2be yoga class in their studio, room or village, please contact us! We will be offering workshops in various cities in the fall where we will train all future teachers and give them a good package to start with. My dream would be that by the end of 2020 there would be a Citizen2be yoga class in 20 German cities and that our community would continue to grow. I want us to become a real community that spreads the idea that yoga is an extremely helpful tool for trauma and gives everyone the chance to participate.

Can we support you even if you are not a yoga teacher?
Naturally! Always a pleasure! You can donate money to us in the classic way, organize a charity yoga class or book one of our teachers for a private or company lesson. The money we take for these hours also benefits Citizen2be. Some people have asked for money for their birthday instead of gifts and then donated it to us. Such actions move me incredibly and give my team and I a lot of energy to keep going.