A quiet lake, the music of Chopin, and a roaring fire – although this serene retreat in Val Morin is only 75 minutes from the bustle of Montreal, for a select group of disadvantaged women, it feels a million miles away.

Ten women from Chez Doris – a day center for women in distress – boarded a bus bound for Le Couvent in Val Morin. The plan? To emphasize health and well-being during a two-day retreat.

This retreat from the hardships and business of life is something the group of women is experiencing for the first time.

Chez Doris’ Executive Director says the two day retreat is part of a starting point for a revamped holistic health clinic within in the shelter.

“A lot of women had anxiety about coming here, spending the night away from the city,” explained Marina Boulos. “But for those who did come—they’re really glad they did.”

During the retreat, the women are treated to healthy, organic meals – what one woman referred to as “international food.”

They also have access to massages, and time for quiet reflection and meditation.

The retreat itself is overseen by a team of caregivers for free.

Myriam Fournier-Tombs, an osteopath, says the retreat gives volunteers the chance to serve marginalized women, often left on the sidelines of society.

“I found it always difficult to just, you know, go to my work to help people – but then bypass a whole portion of the population that is actually documented to need care the most,” Fournier-Tombs explained.

“My reflection was: what am I doing about this?”

Other volunteers like An Nguyen, an acupuncturist, fundraised to ensure the retreat’s success.

“It’s beautiful that the sense of self-care is arising – that [these women] can receive from life,” Nguyen said.

Women like Charm, who found herself at Chez Doris because she was struggling to make ends meet and find her place. Or Nancy , who lost her husband to cancer and was diagnosed with cancer herself.

Nancy said she hadn’t slept properly in years – a problem easily remedied by time away in the country.

“Yesterday night – you know, after 9:30 when I take my shower – I sleep just like that and didn’t wake up until 6:30. I can’t believe it, you know. I never thought this was going to happen,” she explained.

“Now I learn to love myself, you know, accept everything and it just makes me calm.”