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Healing Minds, Bodies and Mother Earth

#Articles & Analysis#Healing and Wellbeing
July 2021

Chris Morrill

Digital Communications Coordinator

Bombs fall on families in Gaza. Swathes of lush forests are burned to make room for palm oil plantations in Brazil. Narco and police forces kidnap and murder Indigenous activists in Honduras.

These are some of the countless traumas the planet and its people face every day. But in the face of trauma, movements and communities are healing as a form of resistance — as exemplified by our partners.

For this month, we are focusing on stories of healing justice and collective healing — and how these practices address trauma, bring communities together, and create spaces for restoration and sanctuary. Our partners are healing minds, bodies and Mother Earth.

Our decades-long special partnerships have taught us how important healing is. We have learned to intentionally check in with partners and to materially support their well-being and mental health. While these have always been baked into our political and programmatic work, over the last few years we have made healing and wellbeing an explicit and core part of our strategy.

Martín-Baró Initiative

This concrete investment is greatly benefited by the Martín-Baró Initiative for Wellbeing and Human Rights (MBI). In 2019, we brought the previously independent Martín-Baró Fund into close relationship with our work.

For over 30 years, Martín-Baró Fund has operated as an independent fund housed with the support of Boston College. Inspired by the work of liberation psychologist Ignacio Martín-Baró, scholars and activists have provided $1.3 million in health and wellbeing funding for organizations in 32 different countries. As M. Brinton Lykes wrote, the MBF prioritized “projects in countries negatively affected by U.S. political and military policies and practices” and organizations who see state-sponsored violence and gross violations of human rights as systemic and structural.

Now housed at Grassroots International, the MBI represents a new solidarity and synergy between our organization and the Martín-Baró Fund board to most effectively support this essential work around healing justice.

But MBI is just the start. Between facing COVID-19 and the traumas of land grabs and oppression, there are many more ways our partners are engaged in healing justice.

Physical and Planetary Health

The world over, healthcare filters through the inequalities we live under every day: capitalism, white supremacy, colonialism, and heteropatriarchy.

There is no better example than COVID-19. As countries like the United States declare the pandemic over — opening up with largely vaccinated populations — the virus still rages throughout much of the Global South, from Brazil to India. Vaccine hoarding by major world powers has left countries like Haiti without a single vaccine dose until just recently. Indigenous nations in North America suffered the highest rate of deaths from COVID — and poor data collection may even undersell those numbers.

Mutual Aid and Movements

As COVID both highlighted and deepened existing injustices, movements stepped in to address the crisis through mutual aid. In Puerto Rico, where mutual aid had already been a key strategy in the aftermath of hurricanes, movements there were able to build upon this work to confront the pandemic. For instance, the Centros de Apoyo Mutuo Jibaros (CAM-Ji) expanded their support systems for farmers (jibaros) facing hardship while Comedores Sociales (Community Kitchens) continued to provide meals to communities. They even developed a Solidarity Warehouse to offer foodstuffs amid the lockdown on the archipelago.

In Brazil, the Landless Workers Movement similarly used their movement’s nationwide infrastructure to provide more than 5,000 tons of food and 1 million meals during the pandemic. This is a country where agribusiness has raked in record profits while leaving 125 million Brazilians food insecure. This is also a country that has seen some of the highest rates of COVID infections and deaths thanks to the misleadership of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro.

Movements have also provided direct medical care and public health information. The Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) has provided care to more than 80 communities across the occupied Palestinian territories through its mobile clinics as well as organized a cohort of 1000 community health workers in response to COVID. These volunteers have mobilized in all districts of the West Bank (including Jerusalem) and Gaza to contribute to COVID prevention efforts.

Some groups have drawn upon traditional and culturally specific healing practices in their pandemic response. In Honduras, the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH)  tapped into knowledge on traditional medicine to help community members strengthen their immune systems, while disseminating both information and supplies for COVID prevention. In Mexico, the pandemic response of the Union of Organizations of the Sierra Juarez of Oaxaca (UNOSJO) not only provided medical care, but also raised up Indigenous health practices and addressed domestic violence in Zapotec communities.

Healing and Justice

Not only do Indigenous and peasant communities themselves face threats to their physical health. So do the territories and planet they steward. The murderers of Lenca activist Berta Cáceres were aiming to ruin Honduras’s Gualcarque River for their profits — violence against both an Indigenous mother and Mother Earth itself.

Likewise, healing includes winning justice for both people and the planet. The recent conviction  of energy company president David Castillo as a key architect of Berta’s murder is one small (but incomplete) example of that. This victory flows directly from the tireless work of partners like the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) and OFRANEH to hold violators accountable.

Mental Health and Liberation Psychology

Colonialism, patriarchy, white supremacy and capitalism inflict deep trauma the world over. When an agribusiness steals land, for example, they are not only taking a physical space but severing an emotional connection — with violence. Women and LGBTQI individuals face are even harder hit from these systems. In response our partners are mobilizing to address the trauma even as they confront the systemic causes.

The Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP) has been a Grassroots partner for decades. They work in Gaza to address both immediate traumas from Israeli bombings and the collective and sustained traumas from Israeli blockade and the daily indignities they impose on the community.

As we wrote in 2018, “Amid rolling power outages during Israel’s 2014 attack, GCMHP ran a 24-hour mental health hotline. It now sees nearly 50,000 patients annually and normally adds between 750 and 900 cases each year.”

But this work is not limited to partners like GCMHP but exemplified in this year’s MBI grantees. As the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) fights land grabs in Maranhao, Brazil, it is creating space for women in Black and Quilombola communities to heal from the trauma of violence in the region. With an MBI grant, they have provided resources, readings, and strategies so women’s resistance can grow stronger.

Likewise, Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Center is doing similar work in Nigeria. With counseling, story-telling sessions and more, they are supporting women as they heal and become more effective environmental justice campaigners.

Our grantee Kouraj, which organizes the LGBTQI community in Haiti to advocate for their human rights, is providing mental health support for HIV-positive members of the community. With MBI funding, Kouraj will provide a psychologist for trainings and individual counseling.

Solidarity and Healing Justice

These are just some of the ways our partners are putting collective health and liberation front and center. On our end, our support for healing justice is rooted in some core practices and principles in our grantmaking:

  • Centering the voices of the oppressed and offering long-term grants so they can survive and thrive.
  • Recognizing how important sustaining the capacity of the frontline groups to fight for equity. Since these organizations’ leadership and staff often represent the most marginalized and oppressed, our grantmaking must prioritize organizer and movement health and wellbeing for long-term resistance.
  • Reflecting our understanding of the impact that the traumas of white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy have on communities and individuals.
  • Honoring that healing approaches will look different based on particular contexts, cultures and experiences — in all their diversity.

We are honored to accompany our movement partners and grantees in this work and re-emphasize its importance in our collective vision.

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