Projects Funded in 2003:

Asociación Mujeres en Apoyo Para la Salud Mental Communitaria, San Salvador, El Salvador.

The Women's Association for Community Mental Health conducts weekly meetings with women in five poor and marginalized communities who are struggling with the devastating consequences of El Salvador's long civil war, and of two earthquakes in 2001. Trained mental health workers facilitate meetings in which women share experiences, and learn about basic human rights related to healthcare, education, employment and housing. They also focus on specific women's issues such as gender equality and the right to protection against violence. The project aims to empower women and increase their self-esteem.

AMUSAMECO has had much success in developing women leaders, and incorporating young women into their Coordinating Committee. In 2003 they will continue this work as well as expand the project to other communities. They will also hold parallel meetings with young adults aged 12 to 18 years.

The Burmese Refugee Project, Thailand.

The Burmese Refugee Project works with Shan refugees who have fled persecution by the military junta in Burma, and are now living in camps in Thailand. Many of the Shan, who have survived rape or torture and have seen family members murdered in Burma, suffer from nightmares, depression, and loss of the will to live. As a result, some refugees have turned to drugs, and family violence, once rare, has become a problem. The Shan are not eligible for refugee status, and thus cannot enter UN refugee camps. They are liable to deportation by the Thai government.

The project we are funding is run by two college-educated Thai social workers who employ a participatory model of community development, providing social support and overseeing the educational needs of Shan children. Services include group cognitive therapy, literacy classes, and health and emergency management workshops. The goals of the project are to support participants in envisioning a future democratic Burma, creating a supportive, participatory, and prosperous community, preserving Shan cultural values, and reclaiming their rights as displaced people.

Madre / Wangki Luhpia, North Atlantic Coast, Nicaragua.

Nicaragua's predominantly rural North Atlantic Coast has been devastated by decades of war, government neglect, and US-driven economic policies that have undermined local economies and traditional ways of life. For 2003, the MBF will be partnering with MADRE, an international women's human rights organization, to support Harvesting Hope, a project of Wangki Luhpia.

The Fund will provide approximately half the budget of Harvesting Hope, which seeks to alleviate depression, trauma, and a pervasive sense of powerlessness among the people of two indigenous Miskito communities. This project will provide both agricultural and human rights training as well as seeds and livestock to families in these communities, in order to increase their self-sufficiency and ensure sustainable access to food, while also strengthening local indigenous women's organizations and empowering them to exercise the full range of their human rights.

Pastoral de Solidaridad y Reconciliación, San Marcos, Guatemala.

The REMHI project of the San Marcos Diocese was part of an inter-diocesan project that produced the report, "Guatemala: Never Again," a documentation of human rights violations in the country. The goal of the project is to motivate the organized participation of the people in the construction of a new Guatemala and the development of a more human and dignified life. REMHI is a response at the community level and emphasizes exposure to history, mental health training, and human rights for the people of San Marcos, which has a primarily indigenous population (mostly Mam).

In 2003, the project will continue with the work of exhumations and reburials of victims of the violence, which helps family members gain closure and cope with the overwhelming fear of reprisal. It will continue to commemorate important anniversaries to prevent the obliteration of the past, and to support the training of community leaders to give workshops that contribute to reconciliation. It will also hold the first national assembly for civic groups and present a regional report on the impact of the armed conflict.

Slum Development Society, Chennai, India.

The Slum Development Society was founded in 1987to address the human rights and mental health needs of the Dalit, or undercaste, in rural Tamil Nadu. The Dalit have been oppressed for centuries, and despite the government's stated goal of ending the caste system, their situation remains dire. SDS has been involved in a wide range of social and economic action projects including literacy, skills and job training (especially for women), a night school for children, small business loans for women, health workshops, and summer camps for children.

MBF's support this year is for job training for women making candles and doing tailoring, and for a project to organize members of the Dalit community to dig new wells in response to the chronic drought afflicting the region. A third initiative is aimed at children and adolescents, and includes free after-school tuition, a mental health and human rights camp, and community organizing for human rights.

Ibdaa Cultural Center: Dheisheh Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, West Bank, Palestine.

Dheisheh is one of the 59 Palestinian refugee camps established after the expulsion of more than 750,000 Palestinians following the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. Since the beginning of the second Intifada in September, 2002, unemployment has skyrocketed, and Dheisheh has been the site of intense Israeli military assaults, including numerous invasions by tanks and shelling by Apache helicopters. Political instability and violence, compounded by daily obstacles under the occupation, have had a profoundly negative impact on the children whose lives are defined by curfews, demonstrations, and funerals.

The Ibdaa Cultural Center was established to enable children to participate in activities that nurture their talents and creativity. The MBF grant will support counseling services, workshops (music, art, creative writing, and drama), and other therapeutic activities for the children of Dheisheh, particularly those with family members killed or imprisoned since the start of the Intifada. It will also provide mental health workshops for parents and other adult volunteers working with children and youth.