By Carolina Cal (She/her)

When you think about self-care, what are the first images that come to mind? Perhaps face masks, spa day and mindfulness sessions are some of the most popularised ideas of self-care. Unfortunately for the Latin American community in the UK, these are far from being an affordable reality. Bearing this in mind, LAWRS created and delivered an online and in-person, Activism & Wellbeing programme tailored to the specific needs of the women from our community. 

In 1988, after being diagnosed with cancer for a second time, Audre Lorde in the publication A Burst of Light said that Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” As a queer, Black woman who had given much of her life and self to civil rights activism in the United States, Lorde reflects on the importance of self-care as as form of political resistance, bringing a radical approach to care, not driven by capitalism or selfishness, very different from the whitewashed idea of self-care we often see on instagram posts. 

Conceição Evaristo, a black female Brazilian writer, said: ‘they agreed to kill us, but we agreed not to die’. By ‘they’ Evaristo means the State and ‘we’, the Black Brazilian community. In both contexts, Lorde and Evaristo indicate a governmental structure that dismisses and kills the Black community in their respective countries, and opposing these oppressive racist structures, they suggest the importance of community organising and care. 

At LAWRS, we believe that community care is about using our power and bandwidth to support and provide for our communities when the systems we exist in don’t. As a led by and for Black and minoritised and migrant women’s organisation we also understand that our experiences in the diaspora are very much in survival mode and that we have little time to reflect on our own self and trajectories. Based on the idea of self-care proposed by Lorde, LAWRS created and delivered the Activism & Wellbeing programme from May to August this year.

The programme intended to re-connect Latin American women to their body, mind and cultural essence and ‘hold their hands’ through the journey of questioning who they are as individuals and community, what our role in society is and what we can do to change the system we live in. It included yoga, mindfulness, online talks about period poverty, racial microagression, queerness, artivism and more, as well as a series of ‘painting with your body’ workshop and sessions on the importance of documenting and archiving Latin American stories. All delivered by and for Latin American women.


The pivotal activity of the programme was the series of four workshops Bodies, colours and songs, in which participants were invited to use their own bodies and non-conventional painting tools, to paint large white canvases while listening to their selected favorite Latin American songs. The workshops were created and delivered by Gandaia in partnership with Migrants in Action (MinA) and LAWRS among others, funded by Arts Council England and supported by Comic Relief. The project provided participants with transport fees, creche and snacks and sessions engaged over thirty Portuguese and Spanish speaking women. As a single mother survivor of gender-based violence, a El Salvatorian participant highlighted the importance of having not only a space to share, but her needs to be able to participate also considered: ‘I wouldn’t be able to attend these workshops if it wasn’t for the creche provided.’


When asked about her favourite moment, an Ecuatorian participant described the moment we all danced together, and I felt the music in my soul; I danced so happily, ​​as I haven’t danced for a long time.’ The power of communal celebrations goes beyond the energy they create at that moment. I began to realize it in the second session when participants would mention, in our initial check-ins, that they felt more positive about life since our last meeting.

Isolation, financial insecurity exacerbated by the current cost of living crisis, and lack of social mobility came up as common factors in the participant’s migration process and feelings. As a Brazilian woman described, ‘my joy is placed in past memories back in Latin America rather than in my life in the UK’.

As Lorde suggests, joy is an energy for change and adds that oppressive systems want to thieve the right to joy and grow fear in its place. Celebrations are an important element for us in Latin America. Historically, it has been a way that specially Indigenous Peoples and African people have been organising themselves to survive oppression in the Americas. It smooths tensions, breaks down barriers, connects people to themselves and to a purpose, and as another participant described the painting activity: (it) allows me to live the present moment and forget about all my issues. Moments of joy can energise, restore hope and be a lever for social and collective change. 


The Bodies, colours and songs project brought LAWRS some reflections. The first was the importance of creating safe spaces like these, as well as the need to work with funders to ensure they understand the relevance of them. The second was that there is a need to reflect internally at LAWRS on how we can actively look for radical communal spaces of self-care as members of staff and wider community, especially for the most marginalised within our own. 

As the government advances on bills that discriminate against migrant women, we need to step back and ask ourselves what we can do politically, socially and in our relationships to offset the harm our governments and its institutions are already doing to us and to our communities.