Collective Care and Radical Healing
August 17, 2021
Calala Fondo de Mujeres is a feminist foundation that contributes to strengthening feminist movements in Central America and Spain through donations, training and networking so that they can continue to build a fairer and more equitable world.
Fondo Centroamericano de Mujeres (FCAM) is feminist organisation that mobilises resources to contribute to strengthen feminist and women’s movements of the region, through direct financing, close accompaniment and the facilitation of opportunities that contribute to their sustainability and their struggles. As part of these movements, FCAM was created with the purpose of contributing to their financial, political, physical and emotional sustainability, and that of the organisations and activists that embody them.
Feminist Hiking Collective is a feminist non-profit organisation that aims to build collective feminist leadership and power through hiking and mountaineering, and to contribute to transformative system change based on feminist popular education.
We acknowledge and honour the collective work, practice and knowledge from different territories and contexts of the groups, collectives, networks and movements that led to the creation of tools, reflections, knowledge and practices for collective care and radical healing, wehonour and foreground this collective wisdom and the resistance and liberation struggles that are intrinsically connected. We are grounded in our gratitude for this space of sharing. This article is the beginning of a longer resource we are collectively creating, which is open to wider contributions, on collective radical healing and collective care, to keep sustaining this practice, continue learning from each other, and keep grounded and anchored in our interconnection and our collective transformative power for the common good of all nature.
Journeys to radical healing
Helen, FCAM – In 1996, peace accords had just been signed in Guatemala. I was working with an organisation that supported domestic workers who came from the countryside and the provinces of the country to the capital city. There was a congregation, the Sisters of Mernol, who were doing emotional wellbeing work – and I don’t remember exactly how I came to this meeting that they had. There, they began to move things that I didn’t know I had – like pain. They were working on healing the violence that indigenous women had suffered during the internal armed conflict. When we began to do this healing work, it totally marked my solidarity and my connection with indigenous women, it touched my deepest fibres as I understood that the whole issue of violence against women is transversal, historical and structural. In that collective search, I became interested in a search within myself, to heal these wounds I had because of the simple fact of being a woman. In that process, I realised we had so many things in common, and to be able to embody that healing, and experience it together with other women, has been very decisive for me.
The theme of healing connected with me and stayed with me. Another very strong entry with the theme of healing was that I was in a personal crisis, I wanted to throw everything away, and talking with my therapist who is a Guatemalan ancestral healer with whom I have a strong friendship, she told me Helen, why don’t you dance? And that’s what I always loved, to dance. What I learned through dance was that I had to work with the body, with movement, and I discovered that there were other ways of doing dance, so I did biodanza as well, because my way of reconstituting myself is through the body and movement. I have always been connected with training processes in which women were collectively guiding the process, so I stayed there, to continue learning and building with others the multiple ways to heal ourselves together. That is what I am so grateful to life for.
Daniela, CALALA – In 2011, I became very involved with a movement that was at that time called ‘the movement for peace, with justice and dignity’. From there I became fully involved in activism, we did caravans, we accompanied victims of forced disappearances, mothers in search of their children, accompanying processes that were very hard but at the same time full of life, situations where death and life crossed each other all the time, on one side hope and on the other the harsh reality of the violence faced. I was filled with all these experiences and at the same time I emptied myself a lot, I fell into a logic of urgency, of not stopping, and of not talking about how we were relating to each other, what dynamics were perhaps being reproduced within the movement, that we didn’t want to reproduce but that we didn’t have time to think about this because what was outside was much more important and urgent.
From these questions, with my own collective and organisations in Mexico we started to introduce other activities and ways of doing activism. In Latin America they also talk about mysticism – how to introduce the spiritual perspective into what we are doing, to open the space in an energetic way, not just theoretical or intellectual, but literally how to unite our energy to open a space, to reflect, to organise ourselves, to exercise, to move. From there, I got involved in other ways of being in organisations and collectives. But that wasn’t enough. In 2013 I had a strong burnout, and I had to stop everything. I couldn’t find a compromise, I had to leave the movement. I was burnt out. Sometimes we are not so sensitive to know the burn out is coming, until it’s already there. I stopped for a while and got away from everything.
I concentrated on how I positioned myself in activism and I connected with my body again. I always did dance, and reconnecting with dance and my body, and realising that there were many answers there too, and many possibilities of being in other ways, was what made me migrate here in Barcelona and look for this master’s degree in dance movement therapy. I began to then consider how is it that from the activisms we can go ahead together full of life and sharing it. This does not mean that the reality is not hard, as we are facing a system that crosses us in many ways, but it is about learning how to generate spaces that are grounded in collective care and radical healing.
Elena, FHC – I came closer to learning (after a lot of unlearning) about radical healing and collective care around the time just after the Covid-19 pandemic started, at the same time as co-founding the Feminist Hiking Collective. Before then healing and care to me meant mountaineering, hiking, community music, togetherness, and transformative feminist work, but it remained a bit on the surface.
I guess the urgency of co-creating a feminist organisation grounded in radical healing and transformative feminist power came from the shock of the pandemic, from the interruption of the status quo that it brought, from the realisation that we couldn’t procrastinate any longer, we couldn’t just “wait to have time” – that possibility to procrastinate with the excuse of not having time is a form of privilege that I have had, the possibility to procrastinate transforming the spaces I am part of, has always been a priviledge. The pandemic brought the realisation that we needed to dismantle that comfortable procrastination, and start with a deep process of collective radical healing and transformation as part of broader collective feminist transformative work. It brought to us a deeper realisation of everything we knew within ourselves, our inner wisdom, and a deeper awareness of the neoliberal self-centred society we live in, and how it underpins and perpetuates oppression, violence, dominance and hierarchical power, how it is collapsing whilst it continues to make every form and shape of life collapse, and an awareness of how that led to such an evident sign that this system is leading to the destruction of all nature. We realised how transforming and changing collectively existing structures and spaces was not enough for us – we felt the need to co-create something that reflected the vision of a collective feminist future, of a society dismantled of that violent, individualist and competitive system.
So we co-created something small, humble, and grounded in the realisation that we need to restart from a collective capacity and from being one and whole with all nature. We are accountable to each other and to our vision, we ground ourselves in our interdependence and interconnection, we reflect, unpack, analyse and plan together, not having the pressure to “know-it-all”, “learn-it-all” or “transform-it-all” as we are grounded in our collective power. In this time of profound un-learning and collective learning, we nurture our soul and our essence with the collective knowledge of feminist movements, groups and organisations that have worked since a long time to gather and make accessible tools and knowledge for radical healing and collective care – and here I mean collective care as inclusive of self-care and care for all nature, as they are intrinsically connected and part of a whole – it was so liberating to un-learn the neoliberal meaning given by Western mainstream culture to self-care. We found a video with a poem from the Red Nacional de Defensoras de Derechos Humanos en Honduras called Vuelve a Tu Raiz and it deeply resonated. Nurturing dialogues and collaborations with groups, organisations and movements transnationally, many of whom are those who wrote or gathered the tools and knowledge that grounded our understanding of healing and care, has been radically healing for us – healing from the neoliberal, individualistic and oppressive narratives of wellbeing and empowerment, healing from the euro-centric knowledge production system.
What does radical healing mean? Why are radical healing and collective care fundamental?
Helen, FCAM – Radical healing and collective care sound wonderful, it is wonderful, but it is not easy. Because of this, because our spaces are made up of people, of women who have a lot of pain stored up, this continuum of violence marks us independently of the fact that we have suffered direct or indirect situations of violence, so in order to organise ourselves in processes of healing and self-care, we need to start with small things, small steps that little by little are going to be taken in a broader way within the organisations.
Due to our contexts, and always in social conflicts, historically we have had contexts of much pain, of much loss, in all of Central America there have been conflicts where death and violence have been present, and as women receive violence from all sides. We live it daily, continuously, and historically. So this is what has to move us to take small initial actions, even in terms of how we treat each other. Taking care of the ways in which we treat each other in our groups and organisations, our words, how we articulate our speeches, what values we are giving strength to, these small details of language are a very important beginning. And then to be willing to share with each other, to open up, to start small, to talk and to do these rituals that help us to connect. This can be through the body but this is not the case for all women as as some of us are blocked by a lot of violence in our bodies. A very important factor for me is the type of space we create in our collective work.
There cannot be dominance, discrimination or violence between us in these spaces. We have been educated and our contexts – some more some less – have been patriarchal because that is the prevailing and immersive culture. We need to recognise that it is collective strength that heals.
It is very important that we talk to each other about what are the values that sustain us. What are the values that inspire us to move forward? In one of the techniques that I have learnt over the years with a group of wonderful women called Capacitar International, is a very beautiful technique called holding the body – the person doesn’t touch you, they just energetically place their hands in specific places, and this holding is really felt, it is lived, you can experience it in your body and then you can give it to others, this holding implies being there, but it implies being there with joy, with laughter, but also with tears, with anger, with everything. To be there not only when we are at the march, making reports or preparing the workshops. This support, this agreement between us, is very powerful.
For me it is very important that we recognise the value of our words, our gestures, our knowledge, the knowledge that we put together collectively, that we develop together. That power is transformative. We can’t give that power a place if we have a lot of pain, anger, sadness. When we enter feminism, we know almost nothing about this patriarchal world, so everything makes us angry, everything hits us, everything shocks us, but this is what we have to organise and manage collectively. I have noticed that when there is a moment of crisis, it is like the light, let’s get into a process of healing, of care. However, it is not a daily practice. I think there are many organisations that are already working on this, that are making materials to share with other groups, and I think this is fundamental: to have the tools and the necessary guidance to incorporate it step by step, so that it can become integral and fundamental.
Daniela, CALALA – Especially coming from where I come from in Latin America, with the processes of colonialism that there have been and still are, for me it means to reconnect with that root, and to heal that root, and our relationship with that root. How we relate to each other is for me basic to understand what is radical healing, self-care and collective care. Because it goes from the micro to the macro – when I talk about radical healing, I talk about my ancestors, I talk about my roots,my lineage, and what I am healing now is also healing past lives, not just my presence in this moment. So from the micro relationships, and in the movements etc, to the macro level, our relationship with the world, it’s about how I heal these relationships as well. There is a great power of transformation in making a structural change in how we relate to the Earth, to nature, to everything, without appropriation and extractivism.
Elena, FHC – Radical healing to me is essence, centre and roots. There’s a breathing and grounding exercise I really love: with my feet on the ground, paying attention and feeling my breath going in and out, when breathing out, feeling my body continuing with roots in the ground like a tree. This is how I see my roots: I feel that I have returned to my roots when I feel grounded, protected by the mountains, surrounded by trees and rivers. I feel I have returned to my roots when I am part of collective power and collective efforts to transform the world together, at the deepest structural systemic level. My roots are where I feel connected with my essence, that is intrinsically collective and connected in harmony and togetherness as a whole. My roots are where I feel rooted and grounded, it’s Mother Earth, it’s where I feel community, where I feel collective power and where I feel free from any influence, dominance, oppression of the capitalist, competitive, individualist and self-centred patriarchal system. Roots can be a physical or spiritual place; it can be somewhere or within you.
Radical healing for us is choosing and collectively engaging in building a different self and a different community. Radical healing is remembering that we are seeds. It is so fundamental because we need to radically heal from the system of structural violence, dominance, oppression, individualism and competition. Radical healing is also a rebellion to the patriarchal capitalist and neoliberal urgency alarm – that stress that we receive constantly from the system and hegemonic media. We reject and we detoxify from that. It is grounding and rooting in feminist collective power. It foregrounds collective strength, energy and humility.
Radical healing is reclaiming and regaining our inner energy and our collective strength, grounding ourselves in our inner wisdom. Connecting in our interdependence with all nature, with our wholeness, is radical healing. Learning a non-binary and non-discriminatory vision of radical and collective wellbeing, is transformational. Mindfulness and meditation reminds us that we need to let go, we need to be present in the moment. We need to elevate our intentions, we are what we co-create with our collective actions.
Collective healing means to ground ourselves, to heal together interconnectedly, so that also our understanding and practicing of power heals and is grounded to build collective power. Healing our power within, to dismantle it from the structures and narratives and cultures of oppression dominance and individualism, egocentrism, competition and oppression, and build our collective consciousness, in a way that is intrinsically connected to healing collectively and building collective power, is radical healing. Our power within has meaning, purpose and strength as part of collective power, so our healing as well is part of collective healing. This groundwork of self-transformation and self-awareness and consciousness is radical healing from a system and society that pits us one against the other, that grows us up with self-centred individual role models, that destroys collective power and the fundamental power of movements, that teaches us that success is framed in terms of individual recognition, “influence” and achivement, that equals power to role and followers, and that we need to compete to “get somewhere” or “become someone”, to be “the youngest” to do something or “the first” to do something else. And let’s not be misled by this being applied to women: the dynamics and the narrative are the same. They can be even more damaging as they are sugarcoated as gender equality or women’s leadership/empowerment. There is nothing transformative with a woman claiming to be “at the top” or “the first/the most…” of something. Those metrics of success and competition have led to the destruction of collective power, of community, and of Mother Earth as a whole. Collective radical healing and collective care are fundamentally embedded in the healing of all nature – in defending the Earth, in protecting mountains.
At the Feminist Hiking Collective, we frame feminist mountain protection as an approach that centres our connection and belonging to nature, and that honours and foregrounds the experience and knowledge of mountain communities, especially of mountain women and marginalised groups, that have remained close to nature, communities who have resisted to the neoliberal capitalist ways, who have lived in harmony with all nature. We need to learn from resistance without extracting or decontextualising knowledge in protecting nature. This is radical healing for us.
Why are radical healing and collective care so central to transform power? And to movement and community-building?
Helen, FCAM – Radical healing means that by healing one, we all heal and healing is very contagious. Self-care and collective care are fundamental to transform power and build collective power- the patriarchy is individualistic, and we need to be collective – that’s why we are strong. The most important point is that we reflect, dialogue, laugh, cry and dance together, and in this united action we find the best answers to the problems that we are seeing on a daily basis. Collective self-care is about recognising the needs that we have individually and collectively, intrinsically and interdependently – we belong to each other. It’s how to recognise when we are tired, when we need to stop, when we need to move, when we need to feed ourselves and what we need to eat. It’s how to recognise how we need to nourish ourselves in all areas, how to recognise these individual and collective needs. It’s how we recognise what this group or movement needs today, how it is today, how we want to see it in five years, what routes we need to go so that in five years this group can be what it wants to be.
Daniela, CALALA – On dance movement therapy, something I’ve learned and that I apply to everything because it makes a lot of sense to me, is that ‘what belongs to one, belongs to the group, and what belongs to the group belongs to one.’ Many times we consider: this is only happening to me, and I’m going to solve it by myself. However, if you dare to talk about it you realise it’s probably happening to many others at the same time, and others will then say “oh, I’m feeling exhausted as well, why don’t we pause for a while?”. We need to change the logic of exhaustion, and trust that our comrades can support us. We also come from a very egocentric and selfish logic, like ‘if I am not there or I don’t participate, it won’t be done or it won’t be done the way I thought it would be done.’ These are collective movements, not individual leaderships! Breaking this logic and learning to support each other, to literally go on together, is a significant challenge.
The women’s funds are part of the feminist movement, they are like a bridge doing powerful work to get economic resources. Within the feminist movement, we have been reflecting on how we could practice organisational care – within the team and with the groups of women we work with, who face hard situations, reflecting on how we position ourselves in these relationships.
For the last two years we have started to think about and design this area of collective care in Calala, which aims to make care transversal and not as a separate thing, but really looks at self-care and collective care as integral to all the areas of the Fund, from labour rights, to being able to take a few days somewhere to be together and take a break together, it is a very broad way to consider the concept of care. We need to dare to be vulnerable amongst ourselves in our collectives, movements and organisations, and I think that’s the hardest thing too. We live in a system where being in touch with our emotions, to show ourselves emotionally affected, is seen as a weakness. Of course it’s a big step to show ourselves as being vulnerable in front of our collective, our organisation, to do this in solidarity as well. In the absence of that space, my answer was to leave the movement. How many movements, organisations and collectives end because there isn’t such space?
Two years ago, I was leading a dance movement session in the office and we were doing word circle, yoga, de-stressing exercises, which made us think that to stop and take time is so necessary. We called it a space for self-care but it was really about collective care. Then the pandemic came and now there is economic support for self-care for each of us in the team, one hour a week dedicated to self-care, and a monthly meeting in which we talk, we move, we put on music and we dance (remotely). These are things that are more ‘organisational’, they are structured practices, but they are resistant to the capitalist labour logics of production and being at our/the “top” and having this ‘permission’ (in inverted commas as we don’t need a permission really) to stop. We are thinking about all this on the basis that there is a rhythm out there that is real, that is going very fast, there are a lot of needs, and there is a lot to do, but we need to put in these ingredients that allow us to centre ourselves, heal ourselves and take care of ourselves collectively.
The area of collective care of Calala is more focused internally for now – for the team, and to apply care across the fund in a transversal way, including labour rights, we look at workloads, flexibility, and how we manage conflicts – we are thinking about a conflict management protocol from a process perspective, that is non-violent, transformative and dares to look at conflicts and not avoid them – the power of conflict, and this means collective care. Also more at the level of the movements and women’s groups we work with, we support them with resources for their collective care. Giving resources for that is basic because the groups and collectives generally don’t have time to stop for this, but supporting with dedicated resources and a little bit of intention, it is easier to do it and to put it on the table for the movements as well. We give resources for self-care workshops and gatherings here and in Central America.
Care has this very powerful and wonderful structure that is both bureaucratic and regulated which supports the other. The key though is that the structure is grounded in care and healing as it is then possible for the other to exist. If this is not sufficiently embodied within the organisation it vanishes so we have to have both structure and practices in order that the reality can then transcend. It is a work of resistance to get these funds and to be able to direct them in a free way – let the movements, the groups, decide how to use them. The work of fundraising is depleting. It’s a system that goes with a rhythm that doesn’t go with the times of life. In activism, either you are doing the paperwork for the funds, or you are on the streets fighting, so it is very difficult to combine the two things, especially in precarious situations, so what we do in Calala is to say that we do the paperwork, the computer work, to support with resources so that the money gets to where it needs to go.
Elena, FHC – Freeing ourselves from that egocentrism, from those self-centred aspirations and from that paradigm of the “inspiring individual” who seemingly does all the work and takes all the credit – thus erasing all the collective efforts that are really happening and sustaining that work – and focusing on co-creating and on building strong resilient movements together, on building spaces and collective initiatives for transformative change, is radical healing. Learning to be collective beings, interconnected and interdependent, belonging to community, building reciprocity with one another and with the rest of nature, is radical healing. Deciding we don’t care about what some of our networks and societal groups expect of us to consider us “successful” or “powerful”, as we ground ourselves in the fundamental consciousness that our power is our collective power for the common good of all nature, that we will nurture it together and care for each other collectively. We need to be anchored in collective care and radical healing in transformative feminist work because we cannot let the capitalist competitive system burn us and exhaust us, and we need to support each other in protecting our inner and collective energy.
Radical healing is intrinsically collective, but it needs to start from our deep core, from this transformative work on ourselves, and be supported and continued thanks to our collective care. We need to be grounded in radical healing and collective care as we can’t transform the system if we don’t transform ourselves, and our spaces and movements, with courage and radical honesty, and sustain our work to always be grounded in achieving collective joy.
Back to the body – grounding in the embodiment of healing
Daniela, CALALA – When I decided that I wanted to do dance movement therapy for activism: to bring the body into activism, my first reflection was to see, everything outside is super fucked up, there is so much chaos, so much violence, what is the most basic thing that unites us? The body. What could be more revolutionary and powerful than going back to the body, going back to feeling and being present in the body, and from there to act. Back to my most basic sense of agency which is how I want to be in my body.Within the western hegemonic education, we are not taught to read the body. The body is talking to us all the time because it is a tool – if we realise everything that is happening here is for a reason, we can use it to be more present in the movements. This is the catalyst for a really radical transformation in the sense of bodies fighting for what we want to defend, and from there also body territory. This is where the body is present, rooted, aware of where we are, what kind of life we are reproducing, what we are accessing and not only eating in the form of food but also what are we eating mentally, with our eyes and ears, with everything, as well as what we are putting in and what we are giving back.
So my focus on embodiment came from this reflection initially, and then also from community feminisms, and it is here where honour is given to a lot of the work being done by compañeras like Lorena Cabnal and the compañeras of IM-Defensoras. This work was to understand on a corporal level what it means to agree, is it not just a question of being in the body and passing the experience through the body, but what they say about “healing me heals you and healing you heals me”. This is the understanding that rooting oneself in the territory also means defending the land. It is also important and transformative to dare to look at our bodies, especially because of the reality that oppression and trauma also passes through the body. We all have open wounds, so what is more important in our movements and organisations is to stop and heal ourselves and to heal these wounds collectively. If all of us lived in a state of healing reciprocity with our bodies then we would be in another world.
Helen, FCAM – I have used the body for radical healing, self-care and collective care, as a way of getting in tune with each other, with the rhythm. Movement connects us, if the body moves so does your inner self, and that goes in tune.
Elena, FHC – Hiking in nature together is a transformative act of radical healing and collective care, with our bodies and souls. Through this act, we profoundly understand how intrinsically our own healing is connected with collective healing, and how that is all deeply and fundamentally connected with the healing of Mother Earth. Hiking and being in nature remind us of the radical understanding that we are nature. This understanding passes through our body, the knowledge comes from our shared collective experience, and reaches our souls. We connect with our body, with each other, and with the territory, the mountains, the rivers, with Mother Earth, and that is so essential. Hiking in nature is our radical healing. The resilience you develop when hiking plays alongside the symphony of connection and harmony with your heart which guides the rhythm in synergy with the whole body. Mountaineering, hiking and climbing are a practice of embodiment, presence, consciousness and attention in the moment and the action, step after step, paying attention and being deeply aware of your movement and of the territory, building a connection with the rocks, the trees, the path, the sky.
Communities of learning
Daniela, CALALA – Radical healing and collective care are so central to our activism and to our transformative work. All around, there is a sense of urgency, in that we feel we cannot stop. and we have need to remove the guilt. In doing this we affirm that we need this time which starts to break the resistance. We see how the process of healing together is such a fundamental part of our activism,our struggles and our work. There is a huge diversity in the different tools and methods of healing which in itself holds an immense amount of power.
Helen, FCAM – Therein lies the richness of all these practices. It becomes so dynamic as some do art, others connect with Mother Earth, with verbal expression or physical expression. There is power in this diversity, that for each one there are different needs. FCAM made a video called Stop to Continue, where groups from FCAM talk about the need to stop which is truly powerful. These resources have been very helpful to be inspired and to connect – and for us it is something we have in our hearts not to steal, but to honour and contribute, to share, and this is the point of this article – if we can reflect together, to share and honour, we can support ourselves collectively to build to transform the system and transform ourselves.
“The fear I feel when my body asks for rest and attention is not me. It is a conditioned betrayal of myself that I have been taught to commit again and again. The distance I feel between my heart and my planet is not me. It is a conditioned betrayal of the most sacred relationship I will encounter in this life.” Naimonu James (accessed from FRIDA The Young Feminist Fund Strategic Framework 2020-2025)
“We stand here right now. We stand tall and proud. We stand on common ground. Because we are not alone. Because we are one. Because we are home.” Maria Mustika (accessed from JASS blog)
Authorship: Daniela Fontaine, Elena Ghizzo and Helen Barrientos.
Editing: Lucy Richmond and Ria Ryan.
A diverse pot of resources
Iniciativa Mesoamericana de Mujeres Defensoras de Derechos Humanos:
- IM-Defensoras – Ante la Crisis (EN/ES)
- Proteccion Integral Feminista Para Transformar la Crisis – multimedia
- La Enradiadera
Capacitar toolkit (many languages)
Jessica Horn (2020) article on Gender & Development, 28:1, 85-98, DOI.
Lorena Cabnal: Sanación, feminismo y defensa comunitaria, por Karen Santiago.
Embodied practice, from Root. Rise. Pollinate!
TZK’AT Red de Sanadoras Ancestrales del Feminismo Comunitario Territorial desde Iximulew: Pluralidad de voces, resistencias y existencias para la defensa del territorio cuerpo y territorio tierra, por Wendy Matamoros Zambrana.
Healing justice resources: