I don't know about you, but I grew up dancing with my older sister. It started off to Disney musicals, then to N'Sync, and—I'll admit it—most recently "Jai Ho" from the hit film Slumdog Millionaire. But today, I danced in an entirely different and unexpected way. I joined hands with the women of the Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) despite both of our fears and uncertainties about each other. And we danced an amazing dance as part of their music therapy program.
This morning I still had mixed feelings and nerves about my trip to ASF. I couldn't fall back asleep after the 5 o'clock morning prayer from the loudspeakers outside permeated through my hotel window. I had to force down the last bite of mango from my breakfast plate even though I have fallen in love with mangos since my arrival! After all, I knew that the scars and burns I saw might very well make me a bit sick... Monira Rahman, founder of ASF, recognized the discomfort in my expression this morning and asked, "Will you be okay?"
But the ASF tour passed. I met the women and darling toddler Durjoy who survived acid attacks, and I was okay. In fact, I was more than okay! They were not victims; they were not their scars; they were brave women with dreams much like my own. And they soon became my sisters in song and dance.
I danced with 8 other women. And I could feel how the activity opened their hearts in the art therapy room. They overcame their physical and physiological pain in their circle of dance. And they welcomed me: a stranger who looked nothing like them, didn't speak their language, and couldn't do much to repair the damage already done. But then I realized that they did not need this from me. They had so much courage and hope already. In fact, I bet a few could actually give American women a lesson in self-confidence!
But the survivors appreciated my support; that I, an American was there; that so many women have declared themselves Americans for UNFPA and have supported them through their declaration; that they are not alone in their struggle to end violence against women.
Tomorrow, a press conference will announce Monira Rahman as the recipient of the 2009 Americans for UNFPA International Honoree for the Health and Dignity of Women. Human rights defender, a challenger of the status quo, and my personal instructor in dance, Monira taught me as we moved that together, we can all lead.