Impact Story: Empowering myself to empower others



September 8, 2022

Impact Story: Empowering myself to empower others

This impact story is part of a 5-part series of stories from the 2022 Shelter City Impact Study by DBMresearch (Danielle de Winter). This story belongs to an indigenous rights advocate who stayed in Shelter City. Prior to Shelter City, the demand of their work and context did not allow them to step back or take a break.

“I am an advocate for the rights of indigenous peoples. In my community, indigenous populations face many challenges with having access to and using their lands. My organization supports these communities who are under threat. This also means that indigenous human rights defenders such as myself also are particularly vulnerable to violent attacks and killings. We cannot rely on the authorities to protect us, and mostly these crimes go unpunished.

Even though I was facing these challenging circumstances, I was hesitant at first to participate in Shelter City. I felt that my community needed me and I could not just pick up and leave. But my colleagues took me aside and asked me a very important question that changed my mind: Would I rather have a voice that is temporarily not heard, or not be able to speak out at all?! This made me reflect and convinced me of joining Shelter City in the hope that it will eventually support the collective cause.

When I arrived in the Netherlands I was in a rather dire state, although I didn’t realize it as such at the time. As indigenous leaders and defenders were being assassinated around me, the stress caused me intense suffering. It made me break down into spontaneous weeping often, making it very difficult for me to do my advocacy work. Still, I felt I did not deserve to rest. I remember arriving and telling the Shelter City colleagues that I did not come to relax. I felt an anxiety and responsibility to share with Europeans what was happing in my country.

“My experience at Shelter City allowed me to empower myself and my collective.”

Yet soon I came to realize the benefits of taking a step back to focus on building my capacity which would allow me to continue the efforts back home. Throughout all the support and trainings offered during my stay, I reminded myself I wanted to empower others – my colleagues and other defenders. I feel I have achieved that. For example, when I came back, I used the security trainings to talk about contingency plans at the community level. This means that communities now can make their own plans and can mitigate risks better. I feel big incidences have been avoided because of this.

But perhaps just as important is the fact that I embraced the wellbeing support that was offered. Since my return, I ensured that our organization engages psychological support, including indigenous healing processes, for the community and our staff. I was more capable to seek funding for this, as I learned during my stay in the Netherlands what it exactly entailed. These experiences made me realize that my colleagues once started working for our organization very healthy but now, they suffer from chronic diseases due to the level of stress they are facing. So nowadays, we go on a spiritual healing retreats every six months for a period of three days. It allows us to cry and share with each other many things we were unaware of. It has inspired my colleagues a great deal.

Seeing the progress that we have made gives me great satisfaction, because it shows that my experience at Shelter City allowed me to empower myself and my collective.”

Indigenous human rights defenders are particularly at risk to assaults and harassment in their own country. This story tells how this defender discovered that taking a step back and allowing themselves to breathe benefited not only themselves, but also their organization back home. The result? They are now practicing healing retreats with their team in order to reconnect with their wellbeing and resume work with greater power.

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