Sustaining the Beloved Community in troubled times

The Beloved Community is much on our minds in these troubled times. This blog post was written by our Director just prior to the arrival of Coronavirus restrictions in Denmark and many other countries, and we chose instead to feature the inspiring and calming words of our dear Lorraine Sherr. But we offer this blog now as a reminder that we must find ways to continue to experience and nurture the Beloved Community for everyone – including children and families in adversity.

How does one explain mental health and psychosocial support (“MHPSS”) to the Davos crowd? We had been invited by Save the Children UK and the Arsenal Foundation to join them in a panel during the World Economic Forum 2020, featuring their wonderful collaboration on the Coaching for Life programme. The acronym “MHPSS” is already a stickler, and I had visions of an audience with eyes glazed over by a well-meaning suggestion to explain the IASC MHPSS pyramid of interventions!

As always, inspiration came timely and unexpected. I was listening to a podcast the week before with the incomparable Ruby Sales, an American Civil Rights activist, and was reminded of Martin Luther King’s hopeful description of the ‘Beloved Community’. King envisioned the Beloved Community as a society based on justice, equal opportunity, and most importantly love of one’s fellow human beings. It is a vision of a society that doesn’t tolerate human suffering because international standards of human decency will not allow it. It is inclusive, it is about sisterhood and brotherhood and the way we are each other’s keepers in care, support and kindness. It speaks to how we uplift each other.

This was the most fitting translation of “MHPSS” I could ever find. MHPSS approaches are all about creating the Beloved Community that raises children and nurtures them into adulthood, that supports caregivers, families and communities to heal and be conscious of how we are with each other, how we are with ourselves. In a world and body politic that feels increasingly divided and contentious, it is ever more important that we keep these values at our core – kindness, decency, justice and love.

How do those of us working in the humanitarian space help to (re-)create and sustain the Beloved Community in settings of conflict, violence and deprivation? MHPSS operates in this space through integrated programming, bringing interventions to where children learn, play and get their needs met: in schools, health centers, family life, and community and public space. Coaching for Life is a wonderful example, embedding resilience building within football coaching sessions, delivered by trained local coaches. The programme combines the child protection expertise of Save the Children with the sports development expertise of Arsenal to build the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of children in targeted communities, and works with all influencers in a child’s life – coaches, parents and caregivers – to foster a strong sense of belonging so that communities can thrive. This is one way that we integrate MHPSS within structures and social systems – starting from basic, community care and protection, through to focused psychological support and to specialized mental health care for children and caregivers with developmental disability, mental disorder or substance abuse problems.

We are encouraged that MHPSS is increasingly recognized as a critical piece of the puzzle – not only by different actors in the humanitarian sector (education, health and nutrition and protection actors like Save the Children) but also by peace builders, technology actors, livelihood actors, businesses and a football club such as Arsenal. There is a surge of interest to incorporate MHPSS into the many intersecting spheres of our lives, including the critical discourse on climate change. We were joined by many voices during Davos, including the BluePrint Group and United for Global Mental Health, in raising visibility of mental health and its critical importance to a prosperous world – for everyone.

There is a reason we chose to be called “The Collaborative” – it is our namesake invitation to join our Beloved Community, to interweave our efforts and talents and investments to create a different world for children and families affected by crisis. To remind us daily that this is only possible if we do this together, in community and with love.

Dr. Leslie Snider in Davos, Switzerland

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