“We have defined mental health as a basic human right… We have carried on defending human rights at the same time as we have tried serving the community.” — Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj, founder of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (2012)
Throughout our history, we have seen the importance of healing and wellbeing in providing movements with a bridge from the histories they have lived through to the future they are building. From our earliest days in solidarity with Palestine and onward, we have witnessed the collective intergenerational trauma wrought by ongoing settler colonialism, occupation, and militarization – and the centrality of healing to liberation. As Grassroots International has expanded our support to struggles in a diversity of geographies and contexts, we continue to witness how, in the face of often unfathomable violence and trauma, movements and communities use healing as a form of resistance.
As movements organize in diverse contexts, communities are turning to a variety of methods to heal. Some are organizing community mental health outreach. Others run healing circles of survivors of gender-based violence, and many tap into spiritual practices and rituals, theater, dance, and/or visual arts.
We have learned much from our decades-long partnerships — including to check in intentionally with our partners, who are often carrying the weight of others’ losses on top of their own. We have also learned to look inward and check in with ourselves, recognizing the connections between our wellness as an organization and what we project into the world.
While these issues have long been a common thread running through our work, we explicitly articulated them as a core part of our strategy in more recent years. This is reflected in our 2020-2025 strategic plan. In addition to healing and wellbeing becoming one of our five official grantmaking strategies, we also identified nurturing “a vibrant organizational culture that supports the wellbeing of the body, mind, and spirit as well as collective community building” as a core priority.
Just as we committed to more intentionally focus on healing and wellbeing, an opportunity arose for us to do so. The volunteer-run Martín-Baró Fund for Mental Health and Human Rights needed an organizational home to sustain itself after three decades supporting work at the intersections of healing and justice. It found that home with us, becoming the Martín-Baró Initiative for Wellbeing and Human Rights (MBI) at Grassroots International in 2019.
MBI carries the name of Ignacio Martín-Baró, a social psychologist and Jesuit priest committed to human rights, collective healing, and liberation, who was among eight people murdered at the Central American University in San Salvador in 1989. MBI keeps Ignacio’s legacy alive by bolstering grassroots efforts in communities affected by institutional violence, repression, and social injustice. The projects supported by MBI promote psychological wellbeing, social consciousness, political resistance, and social justice – often drawing from ancestral knowledge and practices.
While MBI has become a vehicle for our work around healing and wellbeing, this work also extends beyond MBI to our overall approach to solidarity philanthropy. When concerns around wellness became even more urgent with the Covid-19 pandemic, Grassroots responded. We launched an emergency fund to support social movements in keeping their communities safe, from ancestral healing houses in Afro-Indigenous Garífuna communities of Honduras to mobile clinics across Palestine. We support similar movement-led healing work as part of disaster recovery efforts, such as caravans providing holistic support to communities impacted by hurricane damage in the Caribbean.
In 2022, Grassroots International took two additional steps to deepen our work around healing and wellbeing. First, we joined the US-based group Move to End Violence and several of our partners for a learning exchange in Puerto Rico around these themes. This process brought together movement organizers from Honduras, Puerto Rico, and the United States to nurture transnational solidarity against violence in its multiple forms. In its intentionally intersectional approach, the exchange wove together struggles around gender and sexuality with struggles around race, class, land, migration, and more. And it centered and uplifted powerful work around healing justice – a framework that we have been deepening our understanding of, in dialogue with our movement partners and allies.
Second, we instituted the Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Healing (JEDIH) team at Grassroots International. Coming from a desire to advance racial justice within our organization as well as through the work we support, we identified early on that a focus on healing would be a crucial component. Both the learning exchange and this new internal initiative signal Grassroots International’s commitment to ongoing, iterative processes of learning, reflection, and practice to center wellness and healing in all that we do. We are eager to dig deeper into this critical area that our movement partners have lifted up as a fundamental starting point for social change.