Ramona Braganza is beloved by her celebrity clients – she’s worked with everyone from Jessica Biel and Kate Beckinsale to Scarlett Johansson – but she’s recently endeared herself to a whole new group of women halfway across the world.
Six months ago, Braganza, 54, started working with 15 women in India between the ages 8 and 18, who were rescued from the sex trafficking trade and put in school in Mumbai. She teaches them fitness, with the aim for them to eventually become certified as trainers and start careers.
“The goal really is to get them out working and making a salary in a profession that’s growing in India, but not with the women in India,” Braganza tells PEOPLE. “Hopefully they’ll be an example.”
“Fitness in general doesn’t exist in their life, there’s no form of exercise in their curriculum, they’re rescued, they’re put into schooling, and they never have any way of letting out steam,” she says. “This is a way for them to get healthy and get a career in this field.”
“I did a little bit of yoga last time I was with them, and I could tell they really enjoyed that and it was ironic because yoga comes from India, but they’re not exposed to any sort of practices. It’s just mind-boggling when you think that we have so much access and they have nothing.”
Braganza started out slowly with the girls and young women, and she’s thrilled with how much their fitness has progressed.
“Oh it’s amazing, they had no upper body strength, but now they’re all able to do 5 push ups. They had no leg strength to do the stairs, and now they’re jogging up and down the stairs.”
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The women’s excitement for exercise is even surprising their doctors.
“They want to work out five or six days a week, but actually the doctors, they’re not used to girls doing so much activity like we are in the U.S., and they said they need to do less,” Braganza says. “But I said, ‘No, if they’re excited about it let them do it,’ so they’re doing at least 5 days a week of about 45 minutes of working out.”
“It’s only been six months, so they’ve made just subtle changes so far, they’re maybe more empowered, maybe stronger. I do a Skype call with them and say, ‘How are you doing?’ and they all make a muscle!”
Braganza visits a few times a year to teach them her 3-2-1 Empower program, and hired a trainer to work with the women one day a week on fitness and learning terms to pass their trainer certification tests.
Braganza plans to give them the certification test when she returns in this fall, and is raising funds online to build a proper gym and pay for their salaries.
“It’s an online test, an oral and a practical test, and they can do things like spell ‘rotator cuff,’ ” she says. “And these girls don’t even speak English, so it’s kind of amazing when they can go up to the board and write a body part, or they know who the founder of aerobics is.”