A milky white and sky blue stone hangs from a red string around Ethel Correa’s neck, and every now and then she rubs it between her fingers.
“When I get angry, I grab this stone and start to relax, because they taught me to breathe, relax the body and relax the mind,” she says. “I take it with me all the time.”
Correa, 41, from the south coast of Honduras, is part of a group visiting La Siguata, a healing center for women like her who suffer trauma for defending human rights in the country.
“When I first came here, I felt old, wrinkled,” says Correa, a mother of five who has been involved in struggles for land in her hometown of Zacate Grande for two decades. But now, when she looks at herself in the mirror, she sees a different reflection. “I am beautiful.”
Inaugurated earlier this year, the 10-day retreat at La Siguata is part of a tiny but growing movement led by the Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative, which funds this center and another in Oaxaca, Mexico, s ‘attacking mental health issues that arise. working in one of the most dangerous regions of the world for activists and women.
“We realized that there was a lot of burnout and also strong impacts on women defenders due to structural violence, as well as patriarchal violence that was very invisible and normalized,” says Ana María Hernández of the center Casa La Serena Healing Center in Oaxaca, Mexico. , which opened in 2016 and has since hosted hundreds of women from across the region.
“The very demanding dynamics of the activism of women defenders means that we do not have time to recover our energies, to connect with our body and our needs. There is an imbalance between giving and receiving, ”adds Hernández.
Hernández and her colleagues at the Consortium for Parliamentary Dialogue and Equity in Oaxaca have developed a holistic approach to help women overcome trauma and rejuvenate themselves, so they can continue their work with renewed vigor.
During their 10-day visits to the centers, the women participate in activities ranging from artistic to spiritual, in groups and individually, and receive a personalized self-care plan to take home.
La Siguata – which means “the woman” in the Uto-Aztec Nahuatl language – sits behind high walls in the pine-covered mountains above the capital Tegucigalpa.
“Ever since I walked through that door, I felt connected, I felt like a protected woman,” Correa explains.
Solidarity is a guiding principle of the center, encapsulated by a motto adopted from the Garifuna culture of the country’s north coast, painted on its entrance. This translates to “You for me, me for you”.
The park of flowers and fruit trees provides a stark contrast to the concrete landscape of the city below. Women can relax in hammocks or gather around a fireplace surrounded by marigolds.
“This space teaches us to love nature, to feel this energy of the earth and the air, which I had not experienced”, explains Sandra Laínez, 63, member of the Network of Domestic Workers, who was among the first group to visit. La Siguata.
The center has facilities for massage, bathing and acupuncture. “I came in with a lot of body pain and didn’t feel well,” says Correa, who has suffered a lot of abuse in her life, including a blow to the head that she says she was lucky to have. to survive. “If I’m sick then I’m no good at the organization.”
Inside the house are dormitories, a spacious kitchen where cooking classes take place, and an altar with candles and flowers dedicated to environmentalist Berta Cáceres, murdered after years of threats for her opposition to a dam project. It poignantly recalls the hostility towards activists in Honduras, a nation with the highest rate of femicide in Latin America.
“In the midst of this struggle, we have lost our sisters and comrades,” says Rebeca Girón, of the National Network of Women Human Rights Defenders, which runs La Siguata.
The center is also open to survivors of sexual abuse and families of missing migrants. In the near future, it is hoped that the women of Nicaragua – where the government has brutally suppressed dissent, leading to more than 300 deaths in the wave of protests in 2018 alone – will be able to visit.
“We know that these 10 days will not be the 10 days that will transform their lives, with sudden changes from day to day,” says Girón. “But we believe that we are leading the way.
“La Siguata represents the recovery of that inner flame of passion, of wanting to live again and even to enjoy human rights work again. “
Sign up for a different perspective with our Global Dispatch newsletter – a summary of our top stories from around the world, recommended reads, and our team’s thoughts on key development and human rights issues, delivered in your inbox every two weeks: