190 – Wellness Training: A Path to Empower

Dr. Sandie Morgan and Dave Stachowiak are joined by Ramona Braganza, celebrity trainer and global fitness expert. Ramona shares her 30-year journey of wellness, and how she is using her passions and expertise to contribute to the fight against human trafficking. She shares her goal of providing real-world education and skills training in the health and wellness sector to young female survivors caught in the vicious cycle of India’s Sexual exploitation and trafficking business through a North American based non-profit organization she established, 321 Empower.

Key Points

  • According to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, approximately 20,000 women and children were survivors of human trafficking in India in 2017, a rise of nearly 25 percent from the previous year.
  • Ramona empowers victims on a personal level and manages to give them job skills for a growing 1.8 billion dollar fitness industry in India, that’s mostly dominated by male fitness trainers.
  • 321 Empower is a perfect example of how anyone can start right where they are, with the expertise and skills they already have, to be a voice and make a difference in ending human trafficking.

Resources

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Transcript

Dave: [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. This is episode number 190, Wellness Training: A Path to Empower.

Production Credits: [00:00:08] Produced by Innovate Learning, maximizing human potential.

Dave: [00:00:28] Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak.

Sandie: [00:00:34] And my name is Sandie Morgan.

Dave: [00:00:36] And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. Sandie, every time we get together we are either having a conversation ourselves or we’re bringing in a conversation with a partner, someone else in the world who is doing some incredible work on helping us to end human trafficking. We’ve had so, many amazing partnerships and conversations that have emerged over the years. And this conversation is going to be similar, right?

Sandie: [00:01:04] That’s right.

Dave: [00:01:06] I am so, glad to be able to welcome to the show today Ramona Braganza. Ramona is a celebrity trainer and global fitness expert, and maybe most known for sculpting hot Hollywood bodies including that of Jessica Alba’s and Halle Berry’s, but also, for her love of fitness and her quest for excellence that has facilitated the transformation of hundreds of people’s bodies and attitudes worldwide. Recognized as one of the top personal trainers in the world among the entertainment industry. Ramona has worked as Jessica Alba’s personal trainer for over 12 years and continues to train many other celebrities. Ramona has over 30 years in the fitness industry and has contributed editorial content to a dozen magazines including Shape, Marie-Claire, Men’s Health, Allure, Fit Pregnancy, and many others. She is also, a regular contributor to The Huffington Post. And she has established 321 Empower, a North American based non-profit organization with a goal of providing real-world education and skills training in the health and wellness sector to young female survivors caught in the vicious cycle of India’s sexual exploitation and trafficking business. Ramona, we are so, glad to welcome you to the show.

Ramona: [00:02:19] Thank you very much. I’m excited to be here and thank you very much to Dr. Sandie Morgan and to you Dave for having me here.

Sandie: [00:02:26] Well, we’re excited about what you’re doing and let’s start off with what exactly is the 321 Empower nonprofit that you’ve started.

Ramona: [00:02:39] Well it’s a passion project that I’ve started working with girls in India and it takes girls that have been saved from trafficking and helps to transform their lives through fitness. So, I empower them on a personal level and then I also, manage to give them some job skills for a growing fitness industry. It’s a 1.8-billion-dollar industry currently in India, that’s mostly dominated by male fitness trainers.

Sandie: [00:03:05] So, one of the things I want our listeners to pick up right away that I love about talking with you is you start right out with the business model. You’re not just about oh we want to do something to help the girls, but you’ve done your research. And when we want to do something to help survivors we have to have more than just passion, we have to have some expertise. And you bring a lot of expertise. Tell us just a little bit about your background in wellness and fitness.

Ramona: [00:03:40] Sure. I actually started as a gymnast when I was very young, and I grew up in Canada. My parents are from India. And for me I grew up in a small town that was very, there were very few minorities, and so, I found gymnastics as a real help in my own empowerment. And through the gymnastics that led me to do some dancing, I became a cheerleader with the NFL and then I went on to do fitness strength training and a lot of the fitness competitions. So, my own personal journey with exercise, it’s completely formulated who I am. And having dealt with adversity, it really helped empower me. And as my life continued, fitness evolved into becoming a fitness trainer. I ended up having Jessica Alba as a client and went on to start my own fitness company in Canada. And during that time, I managed to make a trip back to Mumbai where my parents are from, be a part of the fitness industry there and I recognized a real need in an industry where girls aren’t necessarily treated as they’re treated here in the United States and Canada. So, that really empowered me to do something about it and my own wellness journey led me to this cause.

Sandie: [00:04:54] All right. I love how you call that a wellness journey because we’re recording this in January and lots of us start out the new year with goals for diet, nutrition, and exercise, and how many miles we’re going to walk every day. And so, this journey concept is a powerful image. But let’s look at how you chose to do this in India. You have your own personal connection, but on your website, you talk about the problem and you say that there are almost 20,000 women and children who are survivors of human trafficking in India, just in the year 2017, up 25 percent from the previous year according to the Thompson Reuters Foundation. And child survivors make up 40 percent of India’s prostitution industry. And for people who know me using the word child and prostitute in the same sentence is just an oxymoron. Children don’t make decisions to sell themselves. So, now with this whole idea of eradicating trafficking, vulnerable people need to have opportunities to escape that cycle. And what you’re doing is a training program that would allow them to succeed. And so, let’s talk about what you’re doing there and let’s, first of all, give a little bit of background on the organization that you’re working with, Prerana, is that right?

Ramona: [00:06:40] Yes, correct, Prerana. Sure, I’ll give you a little bit of the idea of how this all came about. As I landed in Mumbai, where my parents grew up, and my mother actually grew up in an area called Mahim. There’s a lot of poverty there, but her family actually was able to afford an apartment. So, six children grew up in an apartment. And at the age of 13, she lost her mother and her father within three months of each other and the children were almost given up for adoption in the various orphanages. So, there is a huge problem with just children in India not having homes. And it can be because of hardship or poverty, and Prerana is an agency that actually works within the red-light district called Falkland Road. And they have a center where they take the children of many of the young girls that are working as prostitutes in that area, and these young girls, by the way, aren’t willingly working there, they’ve been trafficked from small villages sold by their families or coerced to work in the big city with a promise of receiving money for the family. So, these young girls are kept in this Falkland Road area. And I actually visited the area just to visit Prerana. So, I was taken walking down through this red-light district which is probably scarier than any movie set that I’ve ever been on. It was very dark and very dirty, and you could just feel the bad energy in that area. And these young girls are kept either in cages or in the back rooms and it’s just I didn’t see any of that, but I could feel it in the air and it was very scary. And so, Prerana is located in the middle of this area. They take the young babies and give them a place to stay in the day and at night when these girls are working. And so, these are the children that are then growing up in a vicious cycle. If they weren’t saved they would be part of this environment. And so, these children are then taken off to a safe house at the age of two or three, and then they grow up in a safe house. And I visited the safe house, and it’s on the outskirts of Mumbai and that’s where the program is being implemented because these girls are now 8 to 18 and they need to have job skills for them to live independently.

Sandie: [00:09:10] So, when you started this you were dreaming of what an eight-year-old might be able to achieve 10 years from now?

Ramona: [00:09:21] Yes, I saw the girls and I thought these girls could be anybody’s daughter, anybody’s sister, they’re girls that should be given a chance. And exercise worked for me in my life. So, I thought let me just give them a fitness class and exercise class and they took to it so, well they really wanted me to come back and give them more. So, really it bloomed into the idea of turning them into fitness trainers while I was actually just exercising with them.

Sandie: [00:09:49] So, you started out working with them and coaching them really as a trainer in wellness and fitness. And we listened to a little bit to your own personal history and I want to know just a little bit more about how you became a certified fitness trainer.

Ramona: [00:10:09] Sure. I think in my journey, it was experience based. It went for eight years as a competitive gymnast, so, naturally, you learn skills, you learn to focus, you learn mental skills actually to keep you very on track. And then from there, the dance world opened up so, that was a lot of aerobics and dance movements. And then I went into weight training for fitness contests so, my whole journey has been developing skills that I use now in my program when I train a client in Hollywood when I train a new mother when I train the girls in India. It’s the same skill, but it is something that I’m passionate about and I do every day. So, I feel like even though I have certifications, it’s not that that I’m relying on it’s more of an internal, intrinsic love for exercise.

Sandie: [00:11:03] And the idea of using that passion for a career journey, tell us how you implemented that as a business model that now you can transfer to survivors?

Ramona: [00:11:18] Well I was given an opportunity to work with a young actress, she was 18 years old and it was Jessica Alba. And really it was luck, or it was being in the right place at the right time, or it was the fact that I showed that I really enjoyed what I did. And I think that’s important if you love what you do then naturally you attract a lot of good energy. So, I was given an opportunity to work with her which turned into 12 years of being her trainer. I had no real desire to be a trainer, I really wanted to be in some entertainer. And it worked out very well because from there I started a fitness company and there is a fitness trailer involved that works on a lot of big movies. So, I built the trailer and then I have DVDs and all that. Now I’m hoping to be a motivational speaker for I think a lot of people. And I would listen to one of your podcasts on adversity and resilience, and exercise it really does something for us mentally, physically, emotionally and I see it working with the girls in India and I know it can work with girls in Canada and the US. I’ve trained a couple girls in Canada who are in my hometown and I’ve seen a change in two sessions in how empowered they feel, they feel much stronger and I think they can become more resilient, face adversity when they’re physically more empowered.

Sandie: [00:12:47] Okay so, tell us what happens from the time one of the girls says I want to become a physical trainer, then how will her career start?

Ramona: [00:12:58] Well if they’re in India, which is where 321 Empowers funds are sent to, they would become part of the process of the learning business skills or perhaps opening a gym in their home where they can open it to the neighborhood women. A lot of women are not familiar with exercise and it starts out with a very simple aerobics program, or yoga, or anything like that. And these girls will have the skills to teach this so, in an environment it’s a group training environment. And I plan to mentor them the whole way. I have a trainer in India on the ground that goes weekly to teach them new skills, to get them into a program. And the 321 workouts, which is what I teach, has cardio circuit training and core work so, they’ll learn all of that and be able to run a class.

Sandie: [00:13:46] Okay so, now you have to translate for some of us who maybe lead a little bit more sedentary lives, so, let’s go back to 321. So, the first part is telling me again, cardio?

Ramona: [00:14:00] Cardio, which is anything that raises your heart rate. Some sort of dancing, some sort of boxing movement, some sort of running on a treadmill which in India right now we don’t have treadmills so, in place running around the room. It’s just something to elevate your heart rate so, that you, you know, support your heart and lungs. And then the strength circuit training is really strength training with weights which currently we don’t have weights so, we have water bottles, we have any kind of weighted books or anything like that. And because that actually increases your strength and muscle growth and just even body weight is fine. So, we’ll do pushups on the ground something like that. And I have girls that could never do a push-up and now can do 10 push-ups. So, that really makes me excited when I see that. And then we have core, which is obviously the center of your body and for functional movement, it’s very important. So, we’ll do planking things like that and they aren’t familiar with any of these movements. They’ve never used their body in a way to gain strength. It’s always been an abusive situation. So, it’s very exciting to see them connecting with their bodies in a different way.

Sandie: [00:15:15] Well and it’s so, good to hear the way that you describe this physical fitness and wellness and a link to empowering for very vulnerable women and children and how that might actually build their self-esteem as they are more connected to the strength. And that has a lot of validity in a lot of the studies on resilience. So, it’s exciting to listen to your plans for that. My question is then as a business model will they be able to support themselves as a trainer?

Ramona: [00:15:57] They will because the sickness industry in India has small gyms, they have large gyms, they have private clientele. There is a huge middle income currently happening in places like Mumbai, where there are mostly women that are looking to start exercising. And when these women attend these large gyms, there are only male trainers and they’re not comfortable with having males in that close of proximity that its part of their culture. And I feel that having more female trainers is really something that’s needed. And whether it’s these girls I work with or other trainers, my goal is to increase female trainers in India. I think it’s something the time is right and it’s calling for it and it’s an industry that I feel I can help because of my Indian roots. I guess the thing I struggle with is Hindi is not my first language, but I have a lot of trainers and actually the girls will be required to learn English and many of the jobs are in English so, this will be another aspect here.

Sandie: [00:17:09] You identified a market need, and the part that’s really I love it feeds back to the whole idea that this is a journey and it’s partly a journey that you’ve created a path forward for these girls. In 2014 you were given an award by Vogue. Is that right?

Ramona: [00:17:32] Yes.

Sandie: [00:17:32] In India? Every Vogue has a cover in all kinds of different nations so, it’s not just for our listeners here in the U.S. So, India has its own. Tell us about that award and what that means for changing the landscape for women.

Ramona: [00:17:49] It means that it’s very recognized fact of life now in India. And I actually went and released my first book in India through HarperCollins. It was called Feel Fit, Look Fantastic in 321, and the goal was to really define Indian body types and Indian diseases. I’m genetically predisposed to many things like heart disease and diabetes, there’s a big problem of that in India. So, a lot of the exercises were geared towards that. So, when I released that book I was also, recognized by Vogue magazine in India for the fitness expert of the year in 2014. And it’s just continued since then, every time I go for at least three times a year to promote exercise and fitness, and they have a lot of conventions now. And so, it’s a growing industry and I think it’s just lacking in one area, and that’s something I can do something about. So, I’m hoping to have some help with structuring a business plan and I really lead from my heart and I know that experts like you and many people in the world can help me grow this idea into a viable position for girls in India.

Sandie: [00:19:03] Well when I was reading through your Website and this really captured my imagination because at first, I mean looking at the number of magazines that you’ve been published in and their magazines that I don’t usually read. They’re you know very glamorous and Hollywood and a lot of your clientele has been very celebrity based. And yet here you are as a fitness expert addressing issues like your own understanding of the predisposition to certain illnesses and addressing how fitness counters those things, so, it’s very holistic in your approach and I really applaud that.

Ramona: [00:19:47] Thank you very much. I think being from the east in many ways, and in my lifetime, I haven’t addressed being Indian enough and realizing that that’s a whole half of me that I need to get to know better. And there’s something I can do with all of the experience I’ve had in the West. There is now a global shift and it’s important that we reach out to people who need our help. And so, I see these girls, and I think of my mother and she could have been one of these girls, and our journeys are meant to be enriched and evolving. So, I’m hoping this is a new venture and that I have some great help along the way and that we can help the girls there and here because here as well I feel girls could benefit greatly from fitness in a part of the program in their recovery.

Sandie: [00:20:41] You’re actually going to launch a stateside based headquarters if you will, but some sort of a part of this. Tell us about, because I’m involved, tell us about what’s happening on February 9th.

Ramona: [00:20:59] Sure we’re having our first U.S. based fundraiser. And I’m so, grateful for your help to be our keynote speaker at the event. It’s called Fitness, Foods, and Financial Freedom and it’s an empowering event for the attendees to learn about exercise and I’m presenting a very easy fit into your lifestyle exercise program, not a Hollywood boot camp. So, it’s much more instructional. There will be a food segment with a chef from New York City who works with celebrity clientele and then we also, have a financial speaker. But you will be speaking I believe about a very important topic, resilience, and the whole event is really to help raise funds for the India project and raise awareness to what’s going on locally in Orange County and in the U.S. And it’s not just in India this problem and I think we need some awareness, and we need to be talking about this. So, thank you for your collaboration on that and so, grateful we went to Vanguard’s Priceless event, to meet you, Dr. Morgan.

Sandie: [00:22:09] Oh it was wonderful to have you there, and to get this connection, and to learn about what you’re doing. So, that’s going to be for listeners that hear this in time, it’s on February 9th in Huntington Beach and you can go online to get tickets to that. And we’ll put that link, and we’ll post it on our Facebook, and other social media as well. What I really want people to take away from this is the innovation and the journey aspect, over and over again I get calls people make appointments just to come by my office and talk to me about how can I get involved. And what you’ve done, Ramona, is start right where you are with the expertise and skills you already have and you’re really going to make a difference and I just want to applaud you for that.

Ramona: [00:23:05] Thank you very much. It’s a long journey but it’s an exciting one because it has a very good cause involved.

Sandie: [00:23:13] So, for the future of 321 Empower, what is your vision and goals for the next year?

Ramona: [00:23:21] Well, for the next year I want to build awareness that this program is a valid program in the recovery portion when girls are rescued. So, I will continue to fight for it and make some appearances, I believe I’ll be appearing on its called California Live in the next few weeks and Extra wants to do a segment. So, really it’s the visibility of this great cause at 321 Empower stands for, changing girls’ lives through the world of fitness, through the world of exercise and wellness. And whether it’s motivating them through yoga or boxing or whatever movement really can empower them. And so, that’s my hope for the next year, just to keep building on this brand that started. And I want to thank all my board members because they put a lot of time into it. And so, that’s kind of my goal for the next year, just raise awareness.

Sandie: [00:24:19] So, if people want to connect with you, how can they reach you?

Ramona: [00:24:23] Sure, they can go to the website and there is a page on there for connecting or you can go ahead and email me, info@ramonabraganza.com. Any kind of question about 321 Empower.

Sandie: [00:24:36] Say your e-mail address slowly.

Ramona: [00:24:39] OK, it’s info@RamonaBraganza.com.

Sandie: [00:24:44] OK. And the website is?

Ramona: [00:24:47] 321empower.com

Sandie: [00:24:51] OK so, we’ll put links to that, but some of our listeners are driving and so, they remember later to go back to find those Websites. And if you’re listening to this and you think, “But I don’t do exercise, I don’t do this, I don’t do that.” But what we all do and what we all have in common is a passion to make a difference. That’s why you’re listening to Ending Human Trafficking. And so, we want you to figure out how you can become involved right where you are doing something that uses your skill set, you don’t have to learn a new skill set. You can take what you are, and do something, and make a difference. Ramona, I just am so, impressed with how you have figured a way forward that is going to transform lives, not just in India but I’m sure here as well. And I want to personally invite you to attend Ensure Justice, just a few weeks after your event. And I’ll make sure that you and your team meet all of our great presenters at Ensure Justice March 1st and 2nd. And our listeners, the Website to register for that right now and still get the early bird rate is ensurejustice.com.

Ramona: [00:26:16] That’s great, thank you very much.

Sandie: [00:26:18] So, I want to thank you for spending time with us this morning. And I look forward to watching 321 Empower grow.

Ramona: [00:26:26] Thank you very much, Dr. Morgan.

Dave: [00:26:29] Thank you so, much, Ramona and Sandie. Sandie, it is just such an incredible partnership that has been established. We talk so, much about partnership on the show and if you, like us, are really wanting to engage and to think of ways you can utilize your skill sets and your experience in order to help us end human trafficking, I invite you as well to take that first step. And the first step may be just to discover a bit more as we say on the show always studying the issues, so, we can be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. And if you’d like to take that first step, hop online at our Website at endinghumantrafficking.org. It’ll give you an opportunity to download a copy of Sandie’s book, The Five Things You Must Know, a quick start guide to ending human trafficking. It will teach you the five critical things that Sandie has identified that you should know before you join the fight against human trafficking. You’ve heard many of those five on these episodes, but you can get instant access just by going to endinghumantrafficking.org. And as Sandie mentioned, the Ensure Justice conference is coming up March 1st and 2nd 2019. Early bird rates are still available just for a bit, go over to ensurejustice.com in order to find out more. And Sandie, we will be back again in two weeks for our next conversation.

Sandie: [00:27:54] Thanks, Dave.

Dave: [00:27:55] Thanks, everybody. Take care.

Sandie Morgan

Sandie Morgan, PhD, RN is recognized globally for her expertise in combatting human trafficking and working to end violence against women. As Director of Vanguard University’s Global Center for Women & Justice (GCWJ), she oversees the Women’s Studies Minor as well as teaching Family Violence and Human Trafficking.
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