How does one person in suburban California manage to raise $20,000 to fight sex trafficking in India?
Enlist the kirtan troops!
That’s been a big part of the winning strategy for Srutih Asher Colbert, a Palo Alto yogi mom and hair stylist who is now within sight of meeting her ambitious fundraising goal by the end of the year. The troops who signed on to help include none other than the Chant Master himself Krishna Das, who contributed his share of the proceeds from NYC’s Bhajan Boat charity cruise in late September (check out the video here). That pledge alone added $3,000 to Colbert’s coffers.
Coast-to-Coast Kirtan Fundraisers
The drive also benefited from a gathering Oct. 20 at Brooklyn Yoga School when the best known bhaktas in the borough, Nina Rao, Devadas, Ambika Cooper and friends, joined forces to lead a four-hour kirtan in support of the project. The chants to fight sex slavery continue this weekend, back in Colbert’s home ‘hood in the San Francisco Bay Area, with Prajna Vieirra and David Estes leading the call. Local favorites in NoCal, Vieira and Estes are among the rising stars on the national kirtan scene as well; each had a debut set at Bhakti Fest West in September,Vieira with producer/multi-instrumentalist Ben Leinbach and Estes with his band Ananda Rasa Kirtan.
Both jumped at the chance to help raise money. Vieira told us: “As kirtan leaders, we’re here to serve the devotees in their practice and help provide the conditions for exploring the depths of love and devotion. To me, expanding that sweetness of devotional service into the world is the whole point.”
“As a woman,” she added, “sex trafficking is an issue that is very dear to my heart, and I wish I could do a thousand kirtans for it…If we have an opportunity and the means to contribute even a little bit of time, energy or resources toward the solution, it’s a great blessing. Kirtan is not about getting blissed out and escaping life’s problems. It’s a call to wake up, to broaden our capacity to love and our willingness to serve.”
Off the Mat Into the Bhav
Colbert’s funding drive is part of the Global Seva Challenge, a worldwide service project created by Off the Mat Into the World (OTM) that has raised over $2 million since 2007 for a range of international humanitarian causes. The 2012 campaign is focused on battling sex trafficking in India through locally based empowerment and rehabilitation programs, and Colbert is one of about 200 yogis who have taken the $20,000 challenge this year; so far about half a million dollars has been raised, collectively. (OTM is the charitable organization founded by Seane Corn, Hala Khouri and Suzanne Sterling with a mission to “use the power of yoga to inspire conscious, sustainable activism and ignite grassroots social change.”)
Colbert got involved with Off the Mat at Wanderlust Festival three years ago, where the OTM session is always a favorite. (No wonder: two years ago at Wanderlust VT, Michael Franti and his band joined Seane Corn on stage for a rockin’ 2-hour party-for-a-cause. This summer, MC Yogi riled up the troops with a rousing rendition of “Give Love” (watch it below), then Suzanne Sterling knocked it home with a foot-stomping, soul-stirring rendition of a civil rights anthem called Ella’s song — “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes” — that flowed right into the yogi’s anthem, Om Namah Shivaya.)
A top fundraiser for OTM three years running, Colbert kept earning herself a free ticket back to Wanderlust — and doing it all over again. When she heard that the 2012 Global Seva Challenge was directed at helping the young victims of sex trafficking in India, she signed on.
‘We Live in This Little Bubble’
“I have two daughters myself — 5 and 8. I just felt moved to try to help these girls, and inspired to show my own girls how important it is that we help people who can’t help themselves,” Colbert told The Bhakti Beat. “We live in this little bubble. There’s so much suffering in the world and we can do something to help other people.”
OTM works with six different charities in India that are working in local communities to rescue, rehabilitate and empower women and girls affected by the sex trade. “They [OTM] talk to people who are already doing this work to create sustainable change, instead of just throwing money at the problem.” The funds might be directed, for example, to build a new wing on a safe home, or to teach women self-sustaining skills.
Reaching out to friends in the yoga and kirtan worlds to support the drive was natural, she said, because “those are the two things I love and practice regularly. It’s been an amazing blessing to reach out and have people say, ‘absolutely, how can I help?'”
People like Krishna Das. Not bad.
Colbert first met Krishna Das at her Yoga Teacher Training at the Sivananda Ashram in the Bahamas, at a time when she “didn’t know anything about chanting and thought it was weird.” After five straight nights of kirtan with KD, “it really clicked for me,” she said. “I totally fell in love with chanting. It completely changed my life from that moment forward.”
Ten years later and $3,000 away from her goal, with bhakti yoga strongly at her side, Colbert is paying it forward, hoping to help change the lives of girls trapped in India’s sex trade, from this moment forward.
“It’s been quite a journey,” she said.Links TO DONATE to Srutih Asher Colbert’s Global Seva Challenge (Type “SR” in the first box to support her project) Srutih Asher Colbert’s Global Seva Challenge on Facebook Chanting for Change w/ Ananda Rasa Kirtan & Prajna Vieira, Nov 10 in San Francisco Off the Mat Into the World www.prajnavieira.com www.anandarasa.com www.chantkirtan.com (Nina Rao) www.devadasmusic.com www.krishnadas.com