On Human Rights Day 2022, we are focusing on the powerful ways communities are engaged in collective healing in their struggles against human rights abuses. These efforts are exemplified by the grantees of the Martín-Baró Initiative for Wellbeing and Human Rights (MBI) at Grassroots International.
As emphasized by M. Brinton Lykes in the recent Martín-Baró Initiative fall newsletter, in the context of overlapping ecological and social crises, the dominant approaches of the psychological community tend to fall short. We see clinical approaches focused on individual psychiatric care and self-care practices that are often rooted in consumerism, but there is little recognition of the need for structural, transformative change. In contrast, there is a groundswell of work being done by communities and movements around healing justice, which prioritizes collective care and “reflects a set of beliefs and practices articulated through the lived experiences of traditional communities and the praxis of social movement activists.”
Healing Justice and Liberation Psychology
MBI uplifts this very type of work — work which has also built up new understandings of the intersections between healing justice and liberation psychology. Brinton describes her work with Maya women who have experienced gendered racialized violence and genocidal harm, as the women retell their lived experiences through drawings, collages, dramatizations, and testimonies. The newsletter also details inspiring work carried out by MBI grantees over 2022 along a similar vein. From mutual aid centers in rural Puerto Rico to feminist healing spaces in Guatemala and Nigeria to healing through art in Palestinian refugee camps, these projects are fostering supportive communities by and for people who have experienced violence on the basis of sex, race, and/or class, while helping survivors regain autonomy and seek justice.
The interweaving traditions of healing justice and liberation psychology is seen in the oral history of Nery Brito Ramírez, which is also featured in the MBI newsletter. Ramírez is a farmer, translator, and human rights defender from Nebaj, a community that was subject to a genocide and deeply impacted by the civil war in Guatemala. Through the talks he gives and workshops he facilitates, Ramírez is working to build a culture of care and eradicate the racial discrimination and patriarchal domination that the Ixil people have experienced. He describes himself as “a multicolored thread that strengthens the social fabric of my people.”
Healing and Reconciliation
The newsletter issue closes with a moving story about forgiveness in the aftermath of horrific abuse. During the Bosnian War in the 1990s, the Bosnian Serbs began a campaign of ethnic cleansing in which they sieged the capitol city of Sarajevo and tortured, raped, and killed Muslims. Although forgiveness is unimaginably difficult, survivors are working to define what it would mean and finding liberation through the process.
MBI grantees are similarly grappling with questions of reconciliation and restoration as steps toward healing from unthinkable human rights violations. As they are, they are generating new practices, understandings, and ways of being to build toward a brighter, most just, and more generative future.
Cameron Calhoun is an intern at Grassroots International.