International Model, Emily Bodhi, Opens The Doors To Her Byron Bay Animal Sanctuary
Dreaming of starting an animal sanctuary? International model Emily Bodhi did exactly that, giving up a glamorous life in Dubai to open a rescue haven in the Byron Shire of NSW, Australia. Here’s her story:
I grew up in a small town in rural England where many of my friend’s families ran meat and dairy farms.
I used to love visiting these farms and playing with the piglets and calves. Yet, I would also sit down to a traditional Sunday roast each week, not thinking about where my food had come from.
It was only when I saw a video of cows going to the slaughter house at school that I made the connection between what was on my plate and the beautiful animals I’d been lucky enough to play with!
The penny dropped with a huge thud and I went home and declared to my family that I would no longer be eating meat. I remember hearing my Mum worriedly confiding to her friends about this new turn of events. Her friends comforted her that it was bound to be a phase and that ‘this too shall pass’.
Well it turned out that this ‘phase’ was and is a lifelong commitment, which has only grown stronger over time.
On cold, rainy days, when I would watch my family enjoying their meat dinners, I would sit and dream of the life I would create. I would live somewhere warm and build a place where animals would be free to live out their natural lives, treated with love and respect. I would grow my own vegetables and sit and paint in my art studio. I didn’t know how I would create this dream life, but it kept me going through cold British winters at a time when vegetarian was an alien concept.
Fast forward some years later to the age of eighteen. I was approached by a modelling agency in the street who invited me London to do a test shoot. I’d just left school and was set to embark on a gap year but was unsure of my plans, so I thought ‘why not?’
A week later I was signed to the agency and within the first month won a high profile campaign for a British designer. Until then, I’d been working as a part time sales assistant to earn some cash. Headlines were spread across newspapers ‘From Shop Girl to Top Model in 30 Days!’ It was change of pace and lifestyle to say the least! I was suddenly invited to high profile events, was meeting celebrities and made lifelong friends. But in my heart, I still yearned for a more simple life and shocked my agency when I announced I was retiring at the age of 20.
I packed a rucksack and headed to Portugal. I’d saved enough money to live without any cares for a while and went to a surfers’ town to live in the sunshine. For two years, I spent long lazy summers in Portugal and would travel to far flung places in the winters. One winter, life took me to New York and running low on funds, I got a job in a restaurant. But I was finding the city expensive and so when yet again I was asked by a model agency to sign up with them I decided to give it another go. I was sent to live in Miami to work on my portfolio, but I struggled with the superficiality of the whole scene. However, I had come to realise modelling paid well and gave me the freedom to travel so I decided to continue on, but head back to Europe.
Through my contacts in Portugal, I signed with an agency there and intended on staying six months. Ten years later I was still there. Portugal was my base, but I would travel for work to Italy, Spain and Germany, amongst other places. I had found my balance, but would sometimes get in to trouble for my refusal to model fur. I walked out of one job when I saw it was full of fur and the client set on a quest to sue me for losses! But I always stuck to my guns and over time seemed to gather respect from the Portuguese community for my convictions. I started working for an animal rights charity, using my contacts to organise high profile events to help them and it was then that I felt most alive, most on purpose and I knew that was where my true path lay.
It was during this time I met my first husband, a Portuguese airline Captain. We lived a life of travel and adventure. He gave up meat when we met, and we embarked on years of exploring and fun. We met when I was 22, married at 29 and had our first child at 32. By this time my modelling career had wound down and I was concentrating on being a mum. It was then that he was offered a job as an airline captain for Emirates, based in Dubai. We went for it.
It was fun at first and I loved the opportunity to be exposed to so many different cultures. But I started to feel uncomfortable. I felt that Mother Earth didn’t intend on this giant city in the middle of the desert, scant of resources.
The whole place existed by running against the flow of nature. I felt deprived of green and couldn’t settle myself. This resulted in me taking large chunks of time away with my son. We travelled to Bali, where I fulfilled a long-term dream of training as a Yoga teacher. We then went to live in Sri Lanka for a while where I was the resident Yoga teacher at a retreat space.
On my return to Dubai I fell pregnant with our second child, a little girl. I was grounded in Dubai for most of my pregnancy due to some complications. As soon as she was born, and I got her a passport and we headed off again.
I found the life of a pilot’s wife lonely. Far from family and friends and alone for the best part of the month, I longed to travel and connect to nature and feel rain! The children and I moved to Bali for some months. There were cracks in my marriage. I’d been hurt and lost trust, but apart from that my soul was restless. Time was ticking on. I was getting older. My husband was settled for the rest of his career in Dubai and I knew that following his career meant sacrificing my own dreams, my own life purpose and living a life far removed from the one I had envisioned. But I gave my marriage one last shot. I returned from Bali. Worked on trusting, worked on compromising, worked on making the most of life in the Middle East. But it wasn’t meant to be…
One year later, I took the plunge and decided to leave. I didn’t know where life would take me. I presumed it would be myself, the children and about 40 dogs. But life had other plans. As soon as I left my marriage and became firm in my decision, life rolled out the red carpet. It was like the Universe was waiting for me to fully commit to my path and then it lit my way bright and clear. I met a new love. A love who was aligned to me, my ideals and my path in every way. A love who mirrored all of my ideals, principles and dreams. A love whose intensity took me by surprise and asked me to delve deep in to commitment.
And together our path unfolded effortlessly. I moved to Australia to be with him. I was so used to being a free spirit that it took me a while to settle myself, to not have plans to go away and travel, but gradually I’ became we’ and he started to feature in all of my plans.
I was amazed at how when you find someone who believes in you, who doesn’t think you’re crazy, who supports all of your dreams and talents, that you start to achieve things that never seemed possible.
I started painting again, a long term passion that had been all but abandoned during my five years in Dubai. I then started experimenting, turning my paintings into T-shirts. I started creating, designing and before I knew it, a long dream had been born. I launched my company Bodhi Glow – an online vegan shop, selling my T-shirts, jewellery, posters and art. The idea was that the profits from this shop would go to starting up my animal sanctuary. It was a five-year plan, that got fast tracked when we found our dream home and land in the Byron Shire. We didn’t know how we could make it happen but somehow, through faith and support we did.
We have now moved into our farm and live our lives in the sunshine, in a space of complete compassion and harmony where all beings are free to thrive, be loved and respected. My dream has become a reality! I am starting a permaculture market garden, I have my very own artists’ studio and mostly importantly we have the space to rescue much undervalued farm animals and love them like they deserve. It may have taken me 25 years of visualising to manifest but it happened and I’m forever grateful!
We are now at the stage of building the business side to make the sanctuary sustainable. I am proud of my shop and we shall also be offering onsite, farm stay retreats including yoga, permaculture and plant-based cooking courses.
I look forward to sharing this slice of paradise and our journey with you all!
For updates on Emily’s animal sanctuary check out Bodhi Glow
About the Author
Emily Bodhi is the founder of ‘Bodhi Glow’ farm sanctuary in Byron Shire and online shop, whose profits support the running of the sanctuary. Emily is a mother, artist, Yoga teacher and vegan cook. Emily spent 12 years working internationally as a professional model before training as a Yoga teacher and setting up her own successful company running classes and retreats, as well as teaching on Yoga teacher trainings.
The realisation of Bodhi Glow followed years of dreaming of a space, where animals could live in love and respect, a template for the change we wish to see in the world and a space that exists in harmony with nature and non violence.
Emily used her skills as an artist to create beautiful paintings of animals which she then turned in to her collection of vegan t-shirts. In addition she designed a range of graphic t-shirts, posters and jewellery which together form the range in her boutique shop.
A keen cook, who’s always experimenting in the kitchen, Emily also includes vegan recipes on her website to provide a complete template of ethical and wholesome living.
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