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Advocacy and Mental Health within Community Work

Salaams and hello! My name is Nuha Dhooma and it is a great honor to kickstart this blog with ABRAR Trauma and Mental Health services. 

I’d like to begin by doing a land acknowledgement, I acknowledge the Indigenous land we reside in and continue to benefit from. I reside on treaty 6 territory, home to a legacy of families and traditions from diverse Indigenous communities. Reflecting on my privilege as a settler on Indigenous land, I consider my familial history. My parents are immigrants that came to this land with their families, fleeing from social injustice such as Apartheid South Africa and inadequate legal protection in Syria.  I acknowledge that as a settler I have benefited from this land with colonial history and legacy that continues to attempt ongoing oppressions towards Indigenous identities. I also acknowledge and wish to highlight that despite the ongoing harms of colonialism, Indigenous peoples continue to flourish in their acts of resurgence.

So before diving in I would like to give a trigger warning and content awareness before the meat of this blog. There may be some things in this blog post that are difficult to read or process. I will be speaking about world events and its heaviness, its significance, and how it affects our mental health. I know that writing this felt heavy, so I did not want to do a disservice to readers or this topic by simply jumping in without acknowledging that this can be and is a difficult conversation to have; but often those are the ones we need to have. Please use your discretion and comfort while engaging with this post. And know that there are supports available to you, such as our organization!  

Our communal and individual mental health has been heavily affected by global tragedies and heavy worldly events, ranging from continent to country. Palestine, Congo, Sudan, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Morrocoo, Lebanon, Weyghurs, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan… from genocide to war crime, from famine to political unrest, countries with our beloved communities, our beloved brothers and sisters, are struggling and facing injustices that shake our cores and break our hearts. We may have family and friends close or in these areas, causing us valid worry and fear for them, and we may feel heavy with a desire to do more but how? We do what we can with what we got but sometimes, even though we know that's what we can do within our means and limits, we may still feel weighty with inadequacy and a desire to do more.

  We may have our own attachments to these beautiful lands, soil rich in memory and bond, ancestors and generations that have lived, walked, breathed and birthed on these lands, often faced with THE oppressive and harmful system that IS colonialism… Witnessing not only the grief of the pain and loss of beloved members in our global community, but of beautiful infrastructure and architecture

 I am ethnically half Syrian and I am so grateful to my mother for working so hard to take myself and my siblings to Syria. As an  8 year old I was fortunate enough to see Aleppo, Damascus, and Latakia, and it is a memory I hold dear in my heart. Having spent 3 months of my whole life in Syria, I feel heartbroken and grieve what has happened and what could have been for Syria and its people, for my children and for generations to come. For some of you reading this, you may have had to leave your beloved country and land for various reasons, nuanced and personal, a land you spent your whole life in, and had dreams and goals for in the future. I can imagine how difficult that experience was, and what a testament of strength and resiliency it is to continue carrying it.

I have gone through many motions these last few months, as I imagine many of you reading can truly empathize with that in your own personalized ways. For me, there has been a cycle of feelings, from anger, sadness, grief, hopelessness, lack of motivation, stress, all the way to feeling empowered, charged, hopeful, grounded… and then back again. With all of the heaviness going around the world, something along the way of all of this came to me. My main reflection point is a bit abstract, so bear with me while I put words to it.

  As a social worker and a student, I learn about advocacy and community, why these things matter and how they are transformational for various causes. I know advocacy to be multi leveled, there is the one-to-one level, where I may advocate on behalf of my service participants, or even myself, there is the micro level where I can contribute to change in organizational level, and there is the macro, the greater social level and government, where I can use my voice and privilege to protest. And as a social worker, I have studied and experienced what it is like to do various forms of advocacy in these different levels. In all honesty, advocacy can be exhausting and super frustrating, it can make me feel fatigue like nothing I have felt before.. But there are times it doesn’t feel fair to be fatigued, that I am here blessed with safety and more, and I am the one struggling?! Also, there are many community members and leaders, who have been doing this advocacy and work for many more years than I. I don’t always feel fair in that feeling of fatigue. But, I have been reminded by fellow advocates and mentors that I must allow my feelings to flow, whatever that may be. And so I did, and in this self permission to let go, alongside my learning in the classroom about advocacy, I had a realization, a way to attach meaning to advocacy.

 Advocacy as a vessel for the emotions that at the end of the day, are rooted in deep love and care for humanity, for our communities here and globally. Advocacy is a channel for the grief, anger, and sadness we feel when we see injustice and are looking to do something about it, to stand and speak up against it. And advocacy that is rooted in this way, rooted in passion and care, is the most authentic and true. When we feel sad and angry about something, it's because it matters to us. When we feel grief of loss, it's because the presence meant something to us. The sadness and grief is a testament to the LOVE we have, to the JOY something brought us, to the memory we hold. Our anger and sadness about these injustices and genocides means we care, that we have a sensitive heart, and alhamdulillah for that. That is a blessing and we have to try and ground ourselves to not let our hearts harden. 

We must take care of ourselves and our communities while we participate in advocacy, and this means being aware of our mental health. Mental health is different for all of us, and it can be a beautiful journey to learn about this. It does not always have to be complex, taking care of our mental health can look like giving ourselves permission to feel, talking to a safe person about what you're going through, going on a walk, letting yourself rest, seeking professional support, making a dua, petting a cat, eating a good meal… mental health is woven in everything and there is a beauty and ease in this, to try and be mindful of where we are at and how we can make every moment an opportunity to care for ourselves and others. In a communal sense, when we can wish for others what we wish for ourselves, and when we can have these spaces to learn and share, to hold space for one another, this is a way we can collectively care for each other. 

May we see a world where our communities are liberated, free of oppression and suffering. And may we all find steps and moments to nourish ourselves in the advocacy work we do to strive for that goal. 

Nuha Dhooma (BSW, RSW) 

Professional at ABRAR TMH (Mental Health Counsellor in Training) 


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