Mariuma Ben Yosef

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Mariuma Ben Yosef

Founder & CEO, The Shanti House

Israel

I found the way to save a life. I was born with the knowledge – I just needed to take the journey to discover what was inside me the entire time… Life is a combination of nature and nurture – but I truly believe that the circumstances we are handed in life are not what forms us – it’s our passion, our drive and rising above to connect to universal love. After suffering violence and abandonment, I became a “child of the streets” – spanning 2 continents. I preferred the snow and ice to the pain and suffering I endured. I chose to live my life on my terms. I knew there was a higher power that was guiding me, a purpose, a reason. It kept me warm even throughout the toughest blizzards. I found myself in the deserts of Sinai and the streets of Tel Aviv. Despite suffering unspeakable violence and rape – I learned that every word, every action counted – and that there was a Karmatic force in the world – everything happens for a reason. I served in the Israeli Army as a teacher for at-risk youth. Things had come full circle – I had been and still was one of them and felt a strong connection but still, I wasn’t seeing the signs the universe was sending me. I was about to embark on a backpacking trip upon completing my service – but man plans and god laughs – I got pregnant and knew that my life was taking a 180 degree turn. I needed to find work – but I was pregnant, who would hire me? I tried to think back on the moments that I felt most connected, most alive – and ironically it was when I was with my “family of the streets.” I started to organize communal dinners for the children of the streets of Tel Aviv. It started informally, a handful of kids gathering, connecting, living. And quickly the word spread and tens of youth would throng to our gatherings. I would cook for them with whatever money or scraps I could scrape together. One of the girls who had just returned from India said that it was the perfect feeling of “Shanti” – that’s how we got our name. People like me – who went through extreme situations of violence, strife and pain have a choice – either to disconnect and dissociate from the world – or to overcome. A moment of enlightenment that shows you that everything that you’ve been through has led you to a point in time – your higher calling kicks in. I knew in a moment of clarity that this was my calling – to open a home for these children of the street. The House of Shanti. I knew that this gave me a reason to live. At the age of 21 I had found my path. The inner calling and knowledge became clear. Suddenly I listened differently, acted differently. I was on a mission and nobody would stop me. I knew I was put on this earth to help these children choose life – I couldn’t do it for them – I could just lead them there. In 1992 we became an official non-profit organization. In a chance meeting – I realized that we needed to open a Village of Shanti in the desert and in 2001 I started the second part of this journey. Over the years we grew, became more formalized and today we have the House of Shanti in Tel Aviv and the Village of Shanti in the Negev Desert. We have had 48,000 children come through our doors – on their own or through welfare agencies. Our homes are colorful, inviting and optimistic. I firmly believe that you can live as a victim or take life by the horns and thorns and choose to live – despite your circumstances. And I wanted our spaces to embody this. They have a home from the age of 14-21 for as long as they need – all religions, all orientations, all wakes of life. We offer educational, extracurricular and therapeutic activities best geared for each child and their background. We have a network of professionals that add so much. We encourage each child to work, earn money and get on their own feet. We are supported 20% by the government and for the rest we rely on the generosity of our supporters. I believe that we have found a language, a way, a means to reach these “lost” souls, to connect with them and bring them back from the precipice. This is knowledge that I wish to share with the world at large so that every country, nation, state and city can have a “House of Shanti” – a place that is safe, loving and accepting – because every child deserves a home…