Havilah Collective Q&A: How The Healing Power of Touch Is Transforming This Cape Town Community
I’ve held a dream in my heart for almost a decade. To take the healing power of touch to people: pop-up-spa-style. Making these restorative, transformative spa treatments available and accessible, especially for women who need it most. On a trip to South Africa back in 2018, a friend told me about a small group of women who were already doing this dream — and how I had to meet them.
South Africa is a place where immense beauty and intense heartbreak, gracious hospitality and the cruel corruption, unwavering resilience and ever-present fear all coincide. With a breathtaking view of Table Mountain to one side and the vast Atlantic coastline to the other, being surrounded by such beauty is in stark contrast to the reality of those living in Ocean View.
Ocean View is one of Cape Town’s government housing communities (or also known as a township) and all too known for its abuse, violence and poverty. Densely packed tin shacks line the dusty streets and families fear for their safety on a daily basis.
In the middle of this township consumed with immense pain, a small group of women saw a deep need for embodied care in their community and created a place of rest for those who were desperate for a respite from the winds and the wounds of their daily realities.
So they completely transformed a shipping container into a simple, serene spa space.
I was invited to visit Havilah Collective and was introduced to the local women who felt called to this kind of care — learning restorative touch techniques with essential oils and listening to stories of deep pain and divine redemption. Isabel and Debbie have dedicated their days to wholeheartedly showing up for their hurting sisters (even in the midst of their own stories of struggle and loss).
Stories of trauma, tragedy and transformation were shared through tears as we sat together - an esthetician from Southern California and a mama who (unexpectedly) became massage therapist from South Africa - inside a shipping container.
With its calming hues of blues, intentional touches of nature and uplifting essential oils infusing the air, this shipping container turned spa has become a place of peace for the surrounding township and a space for healing in the midst of unspeakable devastation.
Having a place where the parasympathetic can finally engage and the nervous system can actually regulate is a rare experience in this township. Fight or flight has become a normal, natural state for so many — bodies and minds consumed with fear, stress and tension. A state that does not allow healing to happen on a cellular or soul level.
Havilah Collective was created to change that.
Understanding the deep need for healing in a war torn township, and believing in the profound impact that being held and being heard can have on restoring homeostasis, Havilah Collective transformed a shipping container into a spa on a mission to transform their community.
A space where healing hands touch pain points and offer hope to a hurting soul. A space that provides solace from fear, where the mind can be still, the body feels safe, the soul can finally find rest, the spirit can hope once again.
Foundational aspects of human flourishing are experienced through intentional, healing touch.
From that first encounter with Havilah Collective and seeing firsthand this dream I’ve held on to for years come to fruition through these women, I knew I wanted to come alongside what they’re creating and support my South African sisters in their calling — which I knew deep down was also mine.
And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing through our holistic spa, The Spa at Primally Pure. We’re on a mission to support wellness through non-toxic products and healing touch, not just within our Southern California community, but around the world. Since day one of opening our spa doors in 2019, we’ve been donating 10% of every spa treatment to Havilah Collective to provide even more treatments to impact women holistically.
This past summer I had the insane privilege to visit Havilah again.
This time with the purpose of loving on the women who pour out their heart and soul every single day. I flew to South Africa with a suitcase of Primally Pure products and facial tools to share the same restorative touch and time of rest they offer women in their own community.
I had the most profound opportunity to stand in Isabel’s shoes. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year she has stood here, over this same table, offering this same touch. But this time, Isabel was the woman melting into the massage bed. This time, the caretaker was being cared for, her cup was being refilled, her soul becoming refreshed.
Inhales, exhales, silent prayers, sweeping oils over her skin, holding acupressure points, touching pain points, melting tension, experiencing healing, restoring beauty.
What a gift to get to share a gua sha facial in this shipping container, on this sacred ground.
Through hope-filled prayers, cleansing tears and of course, teaching her simple gua sha techniques to continue to care for herself and others, it was as if everything has culminated for this moment. I knew this trip was for her.
The ripple effect and impact of one woman is profound.
Her touch can touch many and multiply immeasurably more than we could ever imagine. She’s worth it. The women she touches are worth it. And the women they touch are worth it.
May we never underestimate the power of touch, or the power of rest, or the power of women, or the power of one.
This one’s for her.
While I’ve had the privilege of visiting Havilah a couple of times, I felt the best way to get a real glimpse into the deep brokenness and divine beauty was by having the Founder, Christina, and local women, Isabel and Debbie, share their experience with us. Although this post may be a little longer than usual, every word holds so much weight and I hope you feel a little tug in your soul as they share snippets of their story and how touch truly holds the power to transform lives.
Can you give us a closer look at your community and where you call home?
Christina, Founder of Havilah Collective: “South Africa is a new republic, just a few decades old. It was only 1994 when the right to vote was extended to all citizens of the nation. Apartheid, literally pronounced apart-hate, was a racist political policy in demanding segregation of the nation's white and non-white populations. During the apartheid years of 1948-1990’s, more than three million black and coloured citizens were forced to move from their homes to segregated neighborhoods.
The community of Ocean View was created by one of those forced relocations from the city of CapeTown. Local fishermen, teachers, artisans and workers were forcibly removed from nearby areas. Their homes were bulldozed. They were allowed to take only what would fit into suitcases and boxes. They were given assigned flats in concrete buildings, triple stacked, poorly constructed. There, generations of people are expected to live just miles from where their families once lived. The areas where their families once lived are some of the wealthiest in the country, now selling for millions of dollars. Auntie Debbie, who is part of Havilah Collective, recalls how when growing up, her parents taught her to not go to the ‘all white beaches’ or to sit in certain compartments on the train. She had a nice employer, and as a nanny was allowed to eat with the family and eat from the same dishes as the family used.”
Isabel, Massage Therapist: “Ocean View is a beautiful place. It has beautiful people. It is buried underneath gangsterism, drugs and violence, unemployment and lack of opportunity. But the beauty is there and I can see it.”
We’d love to learn a little bit more on how Havilah Collective came to be and what inspired its conception.
Christina: “The concept started one day in Ocean View…I was called into one of the offices to talk and pray with a woman whose 14-year-old daughter had just been raped. She was inconsolable, understandably. I was clearly out of my depth, had no business being asked to step into that role and had absolutely no idea what to do. There were trauma counselors there but they were booked solid. This mother needed something in between. There was this moment when her heart was devastated, when no words would suffice. There needed to be something for her body, for her emotions, for the wild emotional upheaval that shook her from the inside out. I had nothing. I started searching for something.
Havilah Collective was born from the need to offer a safe space for mothers to grieve the loss of their children and a safe space to rage against the pain of ongoing domestic violence. So often, there are not enough resources in the community, there is not enough help and there is nowhere to turn in an already troubled and traumatized community.
What can one say to a mother who has lost her daughter to senseless violence? What can one offer? Words are inadequate. But what I found, (divinely found I say because it was not my own idea for sure) was the power of healing touch in a safe space.
Offering a dysregulated nervous system the opportunity to rest, to enter into homeostasis, a place for repressed emotions to surface and to be released in a comforting environment is quite therapeutic. It was only years later that I read The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van der Kolk that I realized why this space was so effective.
We offered women a treatment with essential oils that involved the spine, ears, and feet, effectively engaging many nervous system pressure points. Combined with light touch, soothing music and an inviting atmosphere, even the sound of bullets firing outside couldn’t be a distraction. Many women experience such powerful healing that 90% are in tears on the massage table. They encounter themselves in ways that they never have before. Their body responds when their mind is in turmoil. They encounter peace.
Then, after the treatment, many women have a felt need to talk through the most immediate burden they are carrying. They need to process what they just experienced. Through principles of interpersonal neurobiology, we know that ‘feeling felt’ is a healing modality that is just as healing for the listener as it is for the speaker. Deep listening is not problem solving. It is stepping into the pain and grief and carrying the burden with someone. To know they are not alone, to be heard, is enough for many women to take the next step they need in their journey. Hearing someone's story, knowing that we are walking on sacred, holy ground is the beauty of what we do. There is healing that happens in the sharing of stories, in the whispering of pain that moves from shoulder to shoulder and lifts the burden, giving the speaker reprieve.”
How have you experienced the healing power of touch to holistically transform your community?
Christina: “We’ve seen people who are completely broken in spirit and in body so much so that they can barely walk. Aunt Eliza was one of our first elderly people who visited our container for an Aromatouch treatment. She is one of the first citizens of Ocean View, once who can remember the forced removals. She was broken in spirit and rarely left her home. She struggled to walk. For whatever reason, she stepped into our container that day. She slept for an hour on the massage table after the treatment. Afterward, she got up, stood straight up and walked out of the container singing and laughing. It was reported back to us that she had walked to visit friends and family she hadn’t seen in months. She told everyone that they should come to our container because that’s where healing takes place. She was seen dancing in the street outside her flat. She was the best advertisement for us, a living, walking miracle.”
Isabel: “Another lady came to us so broken from her young son’s death that she couldn’t speak. She was in a state of shock. Her friends were worried for her so the four of them brought her in together. After her son drowned, she had stopped speaking and had gone completely numb. I began to gently massage this mother, gently, so gently, caring for her. About midway through she began to weep on the massage table. Then loudly she wept. I could hear her friend in the front room then began weeping along with her, for they knew the significance of her tears.
There are many stories of broken spirits who leave having experienced a sense of healing. There are too many to recount. A community like Ocean View, with trauma of its own is the last place one would come to experience healing. But it’s the place that knows pain so well that can offer healing readily. Pain is always present here, which makes comfort right around the corner.”
Auntie Debbie: “There was a local judge whose daughter was murdered at university. Shortly thereafter, his wife died. The judge heard of our container and what we offered with essential oils so he came to us for a treatment. This was significant to us because it was our culture, our people who had murdered his daughter. He enjoyed the treatment. He returned. Again and again. Unfortunately, he recently died. In his eulogy, he thanked the two ladies from Ocean View, who made his life better. That is what healing looks like.”
What is one of your most memorable or impactful moments working with Havilah?
Christina: “I once was giving a mother a treatment and she was sobbing on the massage table. When we had a chance to talk afterwards, she shared that her daughter had been murdered. The following week, another mother came in for a treatment. I had never met her before. She came to us on the referral of the mother whose daughter had been murdered. After her treatment, we sat down and talked. She was the mother of the son who had murdered the girl. From that encounter, we were able to facilitate a reconciliation circle, not just between these two ladies who led the way but between many neighbors and family members who came to the meeting to offer each other forgiveness. It was one of the most miraculous encounters I’ve ever experienced.”
As a massage therapist at Havilah pouring out to serve your community, what your experience was like to be on the table this time and receive a facial treatment?
Isabel: “The technique, the prayer, the atmosphere…you’re just… because it was my face… It felt almost like it was better. It felt like a face lift. There was just something different. I saw myself before I laid down and I saw myself after that. I could see a difference. I felt like I was shining. It lasted. It made a difference in me now. It still feels nice. Even if I don’t have a full facial, I use the gua sha. It taught me to care for myself. Courtney is strong but soft. We still keep in touch.”
What does beauty mean to you?
Auntie Debbie: “Anyone and anything bearing the God Image.”
Isabel: “Beauty to me means uncovering and unveiling someone else's heart, by loving them into wholeness. Like a diamond that has been dirtied by mud and dirt, the issues and struggles of life. When cleaned it shines so brightly, when light shines on a diamond it shines so many different beautiful colors. Beauty is making others shine, making others hope and helping them live and not just exist.”
Christina: “Beauty is the wrinkled face of a mother who serves hungry children food even when bullets have left her own children dead. Beauty is the sparkle in the eyes of the ones who see things for the first time…an orange tree ripe with fruit, a shiny sports car, an ocean angry with waves. Beauty is a smile that says hope is around the corner and tomorrow will be another day. Beauty is the warmth of rooibos tea and rusks and a listening ear. Beauty is the silky feel of clean sheets, the glow of a rested soul and the hands that massaged the knots of yesterday into the promise of tomorrow.”
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