Opoka is using dance to highlight mental challenges and how to overcome them

Geraldine Opoka found true love in Zumba and over the years has worked mostly with women the people that thronged her classes when she started out as a trainer in 2014.

She has run her classes on three pillars

  1. self-love (we are who God created us to be- in his image thus should love us),
  2. body positivity (appreciate your unique body and its journey through this life) and
  3. confidence (I am who I am, and this is the best version of me today).

That way, she and the women work without competing with one another to be a better version of them every day.

Starting out, her target audience were people like her who had gone through similar struggles, who were in her age bracket (30 years and above), and women struggling with several things. For example, Opoka was teased about her complexion in school yet there was nothing she could do about it. Others struggle with confidence, body changes after childbirth and they needed to understand and appreciate who they are.

Opoka cannot help but smile at the thought of the success stories shared with the biggest being women falling in love again with who they are, where they are in life and realising that they matter, and they must love themselves in order for someone else to love them.

“If you do not love or value yourself, how do you expect another person to? Getting people to love themselves was a big success and birthed my business. The tagline for Soul Fitness is you are enough, because we surely are enough.”

The women also experienced pressure-free weight loss coming from a point of loving themselves enough to appreciate the journey. Opoka says even before weight was lost, the women were already getting positive comments about looking better as a result of the glow brought about by body positivity.

Out of the inner healing she was experiencing, Opoka understood that mental health owing to physical health is very important because as you move your body to music, you are lifting your spirit and soul. “Any clogged energy that is not moving in your physical body is also not moving in your spirit body. Therefore, as you dance and move, you are unlocking and releasing whatever you need to let go of. When your mind’s wellness is better, you look at people with love and you are kinder to yourself because you are no longer focusing on external factors for your happiness but you.”

Upon noticing the changes, she and other women were going through physically and mentally, Opoka realised there was something happening to them on a soul level; healing which none had envisaged.  In 2017, she made a choice to extend her services to patients at Butabika Hospital, Uganda’s National Referral Mental Hospital. The sessions were so enjoyable and before long staff members also joined.

“It was here that I started appreciating mental health issues better. Along the way (2018), I started an organisation – Soul Foundation with the aim of raising mental health awareness to deal with stigma faced by people with mental health issues. We also provide support in other areas that include nutrition, physical fitness and patient welfare. This is coupled with infrastructural support and through a grant we secured (Shs350m), we are constructing new toilets and showers in the wards.”

The organisation also shares stories with the other non-patients so that they can understand that mental patients deserve to be loved and taken care of. That is why Opoka invites people on every visit so they can see and understand that mental illness could happen to anyone.

For example, some are in a mental hospital because they lost their jobs, or someone close and the deep grief affected them mentally. “These visits have helped many appreciate mental health and seek help sooner for themselves or loved ones who are unwell instead of waiting until the person has completely fallen apart,” she sums it up.