Dawa Apothecary: Wellness at the Intersection of Race, Gender, and Culture

Sulafa is a trainer, facilitator, project manager, but more than anything else, she is a connector. She is the founder of Dawa Apothecary, bringing her expertise as a health and wellness consultant together with her desire to connect women of colour to a wellness space that is tailored specifically for them. 

At its core, Dawa Apothecary aims to bring together women of colour who are interested in healing and living well. They focus on developing conversations, moments and connections by creating a safe and inclusive space. 

I spoke with the Dawa founder to learn more about her organization and the importance of creating spaces for women of colour within the health and wellness sector. 


This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Q: What is Dawa Apothecary and where did you come up with the idea for it? 

A: Dawa is a health and wellness social club for women of colour. It really focuses on bringing together the intersection between gender, culture, and race. It looks at these things from the perspective that they are intertwined and intersecting areas of our identities. They are not mutually exclusive - particularly for women of colour. I often say that on the streets it’s race that you interact with, within the home its culture, and gender is everywhere else. 

The concept for Dawa was created a number of years ago when I was living in the UK. At that time I was living with a girl who was half chinese and half english. We had been talking about how when we would go to different wellness spaces they felt very exclusionary. I thought that a health and wellness space should be all encompassing and safe, yet they were replicating a lot of the experiences that you might have at work, school, or in any wider setting. At that time I had really dreamed of having a brick and mortar space where I could have women come in and participate in drop in classes, there could be conversations, and philosophical debates. I wanted it to be a space where we could move away from the idea of normative thinking or collective thinking.

You tend to find this idea in discussions of race that there is a normative experience, and that is just not how it is - we all experience life in very different ways. The way we are perceived might be similar, but how we experience that is very different because we all come from different places. So the idea came from wanting to create a space where we could have these hard conversations, but I also wanted it to still be a fun and dynamic space. 

Making it a space where health and wellness was going to be at the center was really important to me. At Dawa we define health and wellness under three areas: moments (which is active learning), conversations (which is talks, round tables, and discussions), and lastly connections (which is about building connections with other women of colour). These three areas moments, conversations, and connections is what Dawa Apothecary is all about. 

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Q: How did Dawa move from an idea to a reality and what events have you started with?

A: Moving from ideation to creation is one of the hardest processes. For me, being a project manager, a lot of it came down to planning. I didn’t want to begin without coming up with an actual execution plan. So I knew that I wanted to do a soft launch first before fully launching.

I worked to really think through it first - to really think about the methodology because I am rooted in the idea that Dawa Apothecary has a methodology. I settled on the methodology: Reflection Through any Movement. So at any Dawa event we do free writing at the beginning and set intentions, and at the end of the movement participants get to reflect on whether they gave themselves permission to be present in the activity. It’s important to me to connect intention to action with each Dawa event. 

The soft launch event in January was a body awareness event. It wasn’t about ‘how does my body look’ but more so ‘how does my body move and feel’. It was a fairly small turn out, and a learning experience for Dawa Apothecary. But the lessons learned at the soft launch lead us into a successful official launch. Dawa has since had 2 community events and they have created a very free, open, and loving space that we look forward to continuing! 

Q: Why was it important for you to have Dawa Apothecary be a space for all women of colour (and not just for one specific race or culture)?

For me this was really important because very often people from hybrid cultures can be left out of specific POC spaces. I come from a hybrid culture myself, so it was personal for me. I culturally identify as being East African and Yemeni, but I also see myself as a black women. However, I understand that there are some spaces that may not perceive me as a black women.

I think it’s particularly important to have women of colour together, because we all have shared experiences that we can heal from together. It’s not about the degree to which we feel oppressed, but it’s about the fact that we all experience oppression. 

It’s also very interesting to me that we live in this diverse city, with something like 50% of the people living here being born outside of Canada, and yet there is almost no intercultural communication. I think creating that space for that intercultural dialogue is something I’m really craving. I want to see people actually building empathy for each other, rather than saying, ‘oh they have it worse than I do’. I don’t want people to have sympathy, I want them to experience a deeper empathy for human experiences - wherever they come from.

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Q: Where do you hope to take Dawa Apothecary in the future?

The long term goal is that within 2 years Dawa will have a coworking space where people who are wellness practitioners can run workshops, and community members can have memberships to access the space.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to building a captive audience, people who are willing to open their hearts to have these experiences. I think that unfortunately women of colour - black and indigenous women being at the forefront of that - have a lot of past stress or even PTSD from a lot of life experiences. I think that, unlike many white women, women of colour don’t believe they are worthy of these great wellness experiences. I want to make sure I build a space for them to know they are worthy of these experiences. 

Q: What is your next Dawa event?

We are holding a Mother’s Day event on May 6th at The Drake hotel! It’s going to be a Mother’s Day speed dating brunch, you come with your mother or anybody who holds that role in your life - but you don’t get to sit with them, you will sit with someone else for the brunch. It’s an opportunity to honour other mothers and people who represent mothering in our lives. It’s about paying homage to what you have and at the same time introducing inter-generational communication and learning about other ways that people have been mothered. 

We also have a storytelling event coming up on May 29th at The Drake Hotel. It is about creating a space for our oral traditions to stay alive. All the speakers at the event will be women of colour, but it is open to anyone to attend. It leans on the fact that so many women of colour come from cultures that have oral traditions, it will be about connectivity and learning through the stories being told. 

Keep an eye on our facebook page for more details about both events!

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You can connect with Dawa online at the following links:
- Twitter
- Facebook
- www.dawaapothecary.com