On July 23rd, 2018, 10 women met each other for the first time in hopes of sisterhood, growth, and healing. Each of us came with our own experiences and traumas, however the common goal was allowing ourselves the opportunity to be vulnerable to a transformative journey. We quickly realized that our vulnerability had been capitalized by a fraud and a charlatan, who abandoned us three days into the retreat.
Below, we share our collective experience during the July 2018 WOCHR in hopes of preventing further harm to Black women who have already been through too much. It is with our foundational values of sisterhood, growth, and healing that we urge Black women across the globe to NOT patronize the Women of Color Healing retreats. Andrea Vernell Smalls aka Satya X does not possess the credentials or the ability to heal others, as she has yet to heal herself; which was evident through her lack of introspection and self-awareness. Though she claims to be a proponent for the health and wellness of black women, Andrea perpetuates the racist, capitalist, harm she claims to despise.
There was no true transparency in what you receive for the price of $3,333 (the retreat is now $4,444). The website advertised accomodations, a wide array of activities/programming, meals, and all transportation (outside of airfare), were covered by the cost of the retreat. 4 days prior to leaving for the retreat, we received a last minute invoice for $50 to cover ground transportation. If we did not pay within 48-hours, we risked losing our spot and would be unable to attend the retreat. Two of the participants were overcharged by more than $1000. When this was brought to Andrea’s attention, she negated the situation and the two ladies were met with resistance from Andrea to return their money (eventually the ladies received a partial refund).
The mode of payment was abruptly changed from PayPal to wire transfer as a result of the fees Andrea had to incur. Instead of paying those fees, Andrea demanded we wire the remaining balance to her personal account instead of a business account. This change made many in the group very uncomfortable, however at least half of the cost was already paid (all payments were non-refundable). Fear of losing a large sum of money forced many to move forward and make the remaining payments to Andrea’s personal account; against our better judgement. In the end we spent far more than the original $3,333 that was quoted.
Transportation was highly unorganized. Participants were told to meet at a local hostel for a 6am pick-up. The van was too small to accommodate our group, the driver was unsure of who he was picking up; as he only spoke Spanish, and was unsure about the location of the retreat. We attempted to contact WOCHR to ensure we were in the correct van but was unable to reach anyone. During the drive, we inquired about refreshments, such as water and we were informed nothing would be provided. Furthermore, the driver did not know where to stop for food or the restrooms.
During the 6 hour drive that was originally supposed to be 2 hours, the driver became lost and his attempts to contact WOCHR only led to more confusion and frustration. Eventually one of the organizers responded to our calls 3 hours into the ride with little information or help. We would not hear from them again for the remainder of our drive. They NEVER contacted us to see if we were okay or why it was taking so long for us to arrive at the retreat.
We arrived at the retreat around 1:30pm, there was no one to greet us, or assure that we had arrived at the correct location. A woman who we never communicated with during the planning process named Sarah, eventually approached the van with disinterest on her face. She ushered us to a common area without providing refreshments after a 6-hour drive.
We had to haul our luggage through the rocks and jungle to our cabins. We were then informed we would not have dinner until 7:00pm. The retreat center staff, who are not affiliated with WOCHR, were very nice but entirely white. Andrea led us to believe we were staying at a Black/POC-owned center.
The retreat accommodations themselves were pleasant and very rustic, but there were not enough rooms to accommodate all ten participants. Because of Andrea’s lack of communication, many of us were unprepared to be situated in the middle of the jungle for 8-days.
Despite some obvious initial hiccups we collectively decided to give Andrea and the retreat a fair chance. Generally, communication via email, text and in-person was unprofessional, sparse, and aggressive. Most of the correspondence regarded payments and contained veiled threats stating spots would be forfeited if payments were late or if participants did not respond in a timely manner (usually within 48 hours).
During the retreat Andrea never engaged with the participants. She never asked any of us why we decided to come on this journey. She simply did not care and it was painfully obvious. On the third day of retreat, Andrea left and we never saw her again for the remaining five days.
Our diet was vegan and consisted of fruit, granola, and smoothies every morning, lunch and dinner. The food was fresh and obviously prepared with care by the staff. However, the food lacked flavor/seasoning (at Andrea’s request). Many participants were starving, as there were no snacks provided and the meals were at times sparse or inedible. As part of the programming, we were to obtain knowledge on the benefits of a vegan diet. However that workshop did not occur.
There were multiple workshops offered on the WOCHR website, however we experienced subpar programming. Many of the activities that were advertised did not occur. The activities that did happen were often unorganized and many times consisting of a journal prompt with very little content. We anticipated informational handouts and tools to take back with us to utilize when we returned home; unfortunately we left empty handed. The workshops that did occur lacked substance and depth; often utilizing our responses as avenues to generate conversation. The information presented by Andrea and Sarah were reminiscent of google and wikipedia searches.
Out of the ten women who attended this retreat, nine of us cannot in good faith recommend Andrea Vernell Smalls or the WOCHR. We feel duped and disappointed by many aspects of the retreat. There were wonderful experiences, such as yoga, coffee bathing, and connecting on a spiritual level with beautiful, strong Black women. The takeaway is please do your research and due diligence when booking a retreat such as WOCHR. We truly hope anyone seeking to embark on a healing journey through spirituality, health, and wellness finds exactly what they need, when they need it and not be taken advantage of by someone possessing characteristics of Andrea Vernell Smalls.
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