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‘Soul House’

26-11-2020  Gday India

Created by Daizy Maan, the Australian South Asian Women’s Wellness Space offers South Asian women a chance to rest, recover, connect, and gather strength through sisterhood.

At just 26, Daizy Maan has a dizzying list of accomplishments and wisdom that extends beyond her years. From being the youngest manager at Deakin University’s start-up initiative, to leading the Australian Digital Job Accelerator program, her newest venture has been to create a healing haven for South Asian women. G’day India spoke to Daizy about her inspiration and journey to establish the Women’s Wellness Space, which she calls ‘soul house’ with love.

Daizy Maan spoke to us from the Wellness Space, which spans over three cottages in the Dandenong Ranges, one of which she lives in. Warm afternoon sunlight streamed in through the large windows in the spacious, cosy room, through which we glimpsed the sprawling lush greenery of the mountains. Daizy, who moved into one of the cottages a few months ago, realised that there were two more cottages neighbouring hers, and thought of helping South Asian women in difficult home environments by providing them with the opportunity to stay there.

Daizy explained that during COVID, any excuse to stay out of home had been taken away from these women, leaving them increasingly vulnerable in their toxic home environments. Musing on this, Daizy was inspired to create a space where these women could come to stay, rest, and experience sisterhood.

‘I didn’t have a strategic plan, I just went with what sounds right and trusted my gut, and COVID has helped me reflect and realise what’s important to me. I’ve been very fortunate, but I thought there’s something missing and I want to do some sort of seva that’s a bit beyond what I’m already doing,’ Daizy confessed.

[caption id="attachment_49919" align="alignleft" width="1200"] Diwali gathering and fundraiser at the South Asian Women’s Wellness Space (also know as the Soul House)[/caption]

As soon as she had the idea, Daizy shared her own story of abuse online and started fundraising for the initiative, putting her own savings into the project too. In just a short time, she had taken a lease on the full acre with all three cottages and opened its doors to women who could contact her and ask to stay there.

‘After experiencing abuse from my family when I was younger, I decided now that I wanted to do something for other women. It’s quite common, especially in the Punjabi community, to get abused at home physically, emotionally and financially, but we’ve had women from South India, Pakistan, and from all different areas that have come and stayed here, and they just pay what they can afford to. Seven women have stayed here so far and twelve have visited,’ Daizy informed.

The program is on a six-month pilot and has evolved from the time of its conception. ‘Originally it was just for women undergoing domestic abuse and then I realised this stigma is huge, and after one month of operating this I’ve had to make some changes,’ explained Daizy. While initially she had expected people to stay for a few weeks and fill up forms to apply to stay there, she quickly realised that writing down their trauma was hard, and many women weren’t filling up the forms and often wouldn’t commit to staying for as long as they intended.

Fortified by this knowledge, Daizy made it easier for the women to contact her through Facebook, enabling them to reach her, or ambassadors who had already stayed in the Wellness Space, by phone. ‘I just invite them to come for Chai and I talk to them, and if they feel confident, I invite them to stay here,’ said Daizy.

While a lot of women aren’t used to leaving their homes and get scared, often changing their mind about staying for a longer time, what worries Daizy is that often these women don’t have a sense of independence, and aren’t aware of what their rights are.

‘I had one woman who stayed here and said to me “oh no my husband is not abusive but he just hit me once…twice,” and then she went on to say that he did all these very abusive things but obviously she didn’t have a language for abuse,’ said Daizy, who realised that many women in difficult situations weren’t getting in touch because of the language she’d used to describe their experience.

‘Now I’ve changed it to say all women are welcome, whether they’re in toxic homes or not. They can just come and relax. If I say it’s a place for women in domestic abuse, they might not consider themselves victims of that. If someone asked if I was getting domestically abused when I was 19, I would say no, but I was being hit, I was being choked, I was being hurt. There’s a reason why Indian and South Asian women are not using the existing domestic violence support services available, because the language makes you feel like a victim. I don’t want to be called a domestic abuse survivor and be victimised. These women are actually very strong, they just need some time to find themselves again, to find their own power to reclaim their strength.’

Daizy shared the story of one of the guests there—a woman who got married at 22 because of family pressure and stopped pursuing her PhD to try to fix her marriage. ‘A lot of the time, these women form dependent and toxic relationships, because their parents were overprotective and raised very dependent daughters who went on to be dependent on their husbands. If those husbands are abusive, it becomes a very toxic relationship and it’s not easy to leave. They’re not going to leave, they’re going to do everything to make their marriage work, so I never judge the women who come here, I don’t say don’t go back to your husband. I say it’s up to you,’ Daizy reassured.

However, after staying for one night, the woman sent Daizy a message—’I felt so energised from just spending one day with you at the Soul House…I want to let you know that I finally gathered the courage to speak to my parents about my situation, and that I’m planning on getting a divorce…Thank you immensely for empowering me, I love you so much.’

With an emphasis on creating a non-judgemental space, Daizy runs a guided meditation session most nights, and is curating a series of talks by inspiring women including civil rights activist Valarie Kaur and burlesque performer and activist Sukki Singapora. ‘We have a good time, we dance, we eat food and it’s fun and that’s important. It’s not up to me to tell them what to do, even if they’re in an abusive home, they know what’s happening to them is wrong. I don’t need to tell them—I just need to provide a space where they feel loved and cared for.’

Musing on what legacy she wants to leave, Daizy said ‘I’ve seen a lot of suffering in the world, and I don’t want other people to go through suffering. I’ve always been a very sensitive soul, I went through my own mental breakdown when I was 19 and ended up in the Himalayas meditating.’

Gathering inspiration from the ashram, she goes to every year to recharge, and from her own experience with abuse and healing, Daizy Maan has created a worthy haven known as the Australian South Asian Women’s Wellness Space. This ‘soul house’ invites self-reflection, growth and rest. In addition, the generous, resilient and trailblazing Daizy is quickly becoming a luminous role model to young South Asian women, who look up to her with admiration, just as she looks to the inspiring women who came before her.

By Shivani Prabhu

26-11-2020  Gday India

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