How the owner of Juici Yoga used her struggle with poverty, domestic abuse and racism to inspire change

Students are taught to consider how they move in the world, and whom they affect. “I live by the words of Maya Angelou “I come as One, but I stand as 10,000.”

Written for Kitchener Today

Selam Debs, owner of Juici Yoga, has become a voice for the voiceless in our community. Her empathy stems from personal hardships most of us could hardly fathom.

By hosting events like the Femcare Health Initiative, Inclusivity Diversity, Social Justice courses and Woke Women’s events, she heals.

Born in Amman, Jordan to Ethiopian parents – who left their birthplace due to conflict – she arrived in Canada at two-years of age.

Her parents would soon divorce, leading her to be raised by her mother who took on multiple low-paying jobs to stay afloat.

Molested when she was just nine-years-old, she would then be raped by two men, in the same night, at the age of 16.

“I experienced poverty, systemic racism, abuse and fear-based living.”

Debs relocated to Waterloo Region as a teenager. As an escape from reality, she would daydream about becoming a famous singer/songwriter. She would eventually find herself working with producers in the U.S., but her path would again lead her elsewhere when she found out she was pregnant. “The biological father walked away when I was six months pregnant and I became a single mother,” at the age of 21

Life experience, for Debs, would create a tireless empathy towards those who struggle. “I believe my purpose is to elevate the hearts and souls of those who are most marginalized, those who feel forgotten, to create spaces that feel safe and to share my story, unapologetically.”

She returned to K-W to raise her son and took a corporate job – soon realizing this wasn’t a path that would serve her, “it felt as if I was selling my soul.”

She describes finding her awakening during an abusive marriage, saying she became “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” During their separation, and later divorce, she studied to become a yoga teacher, became a Holistic Life Coach, and purchased Juici Yoga.  

Juici became her safe space to begin to “interrupt and end the generational cycle of abuse, poverty and fear. “Through my own healing and self-reflection, I am able to impact a generation of little girls and boys, and raise a new generation of hearts and minds to overcome their own personal history.”

Together, with her clients, they discover fullest potential.

She says she took over the studio when the opportunity literally fell into her lap. “I was going through a toxic divorce and the most overwhelming time of my life. At first, I taught almost all the classes as I couldn’t afford to hire more teachers. Clients left as they were not happy with the change – a common result of new business ownership.”

She rebranded and regained the trust of her clients and community.

Her practice, like her purpose-driven life, focuses on the importance of diversity, inclusivity and social justice. Students are of all backgrounds, ethnicities, body types, religions and creeds. “We support, and celebrate, initiatives such a Pride & LGBTQ+, FemCare Health Initiative for Menstrual Health and Equity, Black Lives Matter movements, Sexual Assault Centre of Waterloo, and African Camp.”

Students are taught to consider how they move in the world, and whom they affect. “I live by the words of Maya Angelou “I come as One, but I stand as 10,000.”

Embracing the power of storytelling Debs was instrumental in co-building the Woke Women’s Event, showcasing an army of diverse women in our community through TED talk style delivery of music, dance, and poetry. This sold-out event was the first of its kind in Waterloo Region featuring keynote speaker Marva Wisdom director of the Black Experience Project and co-founder of Canadian Black History Projects.

You can join Selam and explore the healing power of community here

How a stay-at-home mom found purpose by getting published

Set in the early 1950s “Little Girl in the Mirror” takes you inside the mind of a child named Cathy during her ‘rollercoaster childhood’ that would take her from Glace Bay, Nova Scotia to Stratford, Ontario. Names are unchanged, details unaltered as Mondou bravely writes in the perspective of a little girl, who happens to be her mother. “Through writing your story, I feel like I have taken little Cathy’s hand and I have saved her, held her and loved her.”

Written by Natasha McKenty – originally published on Kitchener Today

With no previous experience, Tara Mondou would endeavor to write her first book. Her purpose-driven journey would begin with an intent to share her mother’s legacy and bring her peace. Growing up, Mondou’s mother would often share stories of Mrs. Wren, the woman who began to emotionally abuse her at the age of five. “As a child, I didn’t like these stories, I didn’t want to hear about the woman who was mean to my Mom, and I especially didn’t want to hear about how my Grandmother didn’t save her. I told her she was exaggerating and that it probably wasn’t that bad. I basically told her to get over it.”

Set in the early 1950s “Little Girl in the Mirror” takes you inside the mind of a child named Cathy during her ‘rollercoaster childhood’ that would take her from Glace Bay, Nova Scotia to Stratford, Ontario. Names are unchanged, details unaltered as Mondou bravely writes in the perspective of a little girl, who happens to be her mother. “Through writing your story, I feel like I have taken little Cathy’s hand and I have saved her, held her and loved her.” 

So how does someone, with no prior writing experience, publish a successful novel?

“After my mother died, I went through her things and found her diary.” She uncovered detailed narratives of an abusive woman know as Mrs. Wren, “and it wasn’t until then that it really hit me that her time with Mrs. Wren was never acknowledged by anyone. Not by me or my grandmother…certainly not by Mrs. Wren.”

In between the pages of her mother’s diary she had found her purpose, “the only way to try to fix this hurt that my mom carried with her for so long, was to write in a book and that way, perhaps freeing her and finally giving her the acknowledgement, she always needed.”

Mondou, a busy mother to two young children and dedicated volunteer in the community, found her motivation through the intent of bringing light to her mother’s heartbreaking story. Knowing she is deadline driven she created self-prescribed targets that entailed 1500-3000 words per day. She finished her first draft in just 10 weeks. That first draft was published by Meraki House Publishing.

When asked where she found the discipline to write and get published in such a short period she says, “If you really want to do something, you’ll find the time,” and encourages first-time authors to “find like-minded people to surround yourself with,” to help ease the burden of doing this alone. She goes on to say that during the process of writing her first book she learned the value of knowing why you are writing and discovered the message of her mother’s story.

It’s about the power of acknowledgment, “more than saying ‘I’m sorry’, acknowledgement is the key to forgiveness. And if someone has hurt you and not acknowledged that hurt, forgiveness will forever be unobtainable. And that’s really what this book is all about.”

She encourages first time authors to self-publish, “it’s so easy, you have all the control and you own your own file.”

Mondou is already working on her next book, another autobiography based on her own childhood. “The story of Tara, who lived a great life, but there will be a dark tinge to it.”

Tara is the 2018 recipient of the Bernice Adams Memorial Award for Communication/Literary Arts and co-founded the Happy Writer Connection support group. More information about Tara Mondou and “Little Girl in the Mirror,” can be found at taramondou.com

Noah’s POGO story

One cannot comprehend the need for the Pediatric Oncology Group of Ontario without first living vicariously through the people who rely on them.

This is Noah’s POGO story  – shared by his mother, Rachel Wahl.

Pediatric cancers receive less than four percent of all research money raised for cancer. Less than four percent for our future generations, our most precious gifts…how is that even possible?

Pediatric Oncology Group of Ontario dedicates their research funds to only pediatric cancer, with all the new research that they spearhead, I have confidence that those kids are getting a fighting chance.

Our POGO story begins on August 21, 2008

On this day, our world changed forever. That was the day we found out our seven-year-old son was in for the fight of his life. Noah was diagnosed with A.L.L. ph+ Leukemia. Due to the ph+ diagnosis, Noah’s battle was that much harder. He endured a longer treatment protocol then the regular Leukemia treatment.

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It meant we would spend years in and out of a hospital.

When Noah had to be admitted, in London, Ontario, we faced a one-hour commute. Kevin (Noah’s Father) and Paige (Noah’s sister) would head to London on Friday night for dinner, and then I would take Paige home for the weekend – to spend some time with her. Kevin would spend the weekend looking after Noah. He would leave London on Monday morning and drive to Guelph for work.

Monday mornings I would drop Paige off at school and head back to London for the week.

Noah and I made up a game – when we were inpatient –  because being in a hospital can be boring. We called it, ‘What are we going to do when we are all done with the hospital and treatments?’  

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On May 20, 2011, Noah relapsed for the second time and was immediately slated for a bone marrow transplant. The procedure was scheduled for September 30, 2011, we called it Noah’s new birthday. This was the day our daughter gave him the most precious gift, her bone marrow. To say having both of your children in the hospital at the same time is stressful is an understatement.

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Noah was in isolation, waiting for the bone marrow, in a room where only myself or my husband were permitted. My eight-year-old daughter was on another floor prepping for surgery. It was one of the most awful days a parent can have.

We were very hopeful that the transplant would be a success.

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On Noah’s 11th birthday we found out that the cancer was back, he had a less than one percent chance of survival.

On July 1, 2012, Noah earned his angel wings.

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After an exhausting four year battle, my son was finally free.

Why do I support POGO?

Living in a hospital with no income gets expensive. POGO offers after-care clinics, research and financial help for families. They also offer satellite centers for their kids that are a godsend.

When Noah was able to stay in Kitchener, at Grand River Hospital, we had a more “normal” life.

Kevin would sleep at the hospital and then head to work. I would drop Paige off at school and head to the hospital, pick up Paige after school – collect laundry, food, or anything else we needed – and head back to the hospital. Kevin would come back to the hospital after work, we would have dinner as a family and Paige and I would head home.

This was our life for four years.

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POGO’s Satellite Centers made it so much more manageable. We will forever be grateful to them for the support they provide.

When Noah was stable enough, some of his treatments; blood work, and over 70 blood transfusions were able to be done at GRH. This was so huge for us as we didn’t need to go to London or Sick Kids. I could drop Paige off at school, Noah and I could head to GRH, and be home in time to get Paige off the bus.

When Noah spiked a fever, we didn’t have to go to London, we could go to GRH with the confidence that he would be looked after according to the protocol POGO had set up. This was a major thing for us, Noah was always in the hospital so being close to home meant that we could function.

I did not have to spend the week in London with him or rely on the neighbors to drop my daughter off at school. We could function as a family unit, reducing our stress – and Noah’s.

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We cannot do any of the things we planned to do together, instead, Kevin and I sit on the Kitchener Kids with Cancer run/walk committee, to raise funds and awareness for POGO.

We do this to honor Noah.

We do this to give back to an organization that helped us be as “normal” as possible, through the most difficult time of our lives.

Never in a million years did I think he would not be here today, I do what I can to keep up my end of the “game.”

 

 

Find out more about POGO at www.pogo.ca

Get involved with KW Kids with Cancer www.kwrunforpogo.com

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Cancer is a thief that creates unwilling heroes out of children.

Like the true criminal it is, cancer doesn’t discriminate. It cares not about destiny or achievements, nor does is consider purpose. There is no hierarchy or class that is immune.

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This sweet boy taught my daughter to walk, picking her up every time she fell, both laughing hysterically. When he came to my house he requested water to drink “because the juice is unhealthy.”  His fear of being stung by a bee would send him running inside the house whenever something buzzed by his ear.

I know you know this boy, we all do.

The boy who lights up the room when he walks into it, who sees the good in everyone, whose laugh is contagious.

His name is Noah and this handsome, curious, polite boy lost his battle with cancer on his mother’s birthday.

We don’t like these types of stories, we want to ignore them. They are too sad, so we turn the page, scroll past them, change the channel.

Noah and his family have been to hell and back. They could have used this pain as ammunition to fuel resentment. Instead, they sit on a committee that plans opportunities to give back to POGO, the organization that supported them during Noah’s battle.

POGO stands for Pediatric Oncology Group of Ontario. They support pediatric cancer care professionals, provide families with services and programs to meet the needs of kids with cancer, as well as offering support for survivors.

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We need to stop tuning out, scrolling past and turning the page. There are many Noahs who need us to listen.

On September 9, a community of young warriors, and the loved ones who will do anything for them are attending the KW Run for POGO.

On this day they will give their support to the organization that has been supporting them, in hopes of raising awareness and funds.

I will be there for Noah, the boy who was terrified of bees but bravely faced childhood cancer.

Will you?

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Watch my interview with Dr. Jodi Rosner, the founder of this event:

In Studio Interview 2

For more information head to:

www.pogo.ca

www.kwrunforpogo.com