Interview series: wellbeing in human rights with Leo Mosselman

Interview with Leo Mosselman, bodywork trainer at the Shelter City security training for human rights defenders

Wellbeing and self-care are essential for those working in the field of human rights to protect themselves and sustain their work. Audre Lorde, feminist and civil rights activist, said: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

But while the surroundings human rights defenders live and work are often stressful and at times dangerous, unfortunately, many human rights defenders on the front line often ignore their own personal wellbeing. Wellbeing and self-care are considered a luxury for many of them and they often neglect their own as a result of a lack of time, the feeling of guilt, or consider it is not as important as their work. Through different channels, Shelter City endeavors to embed the wellbeing or defenders in its program, and to raise more awareness to the importance of wellbeing for those in the human rights field by sharing practices and experiences on how to improve one’s wellbeing and that of others.

One of the trainers that collaborates with Justice and Peace is Leo Mosselman, a bodywork, Qi Gong and Tai Chi teacher based in The Hague. Leo has been working with Justice and Peace since 2016 during the Shelter City security training and is experienced in the field of self-care and preservation, helping people such as human rights defenders (HRDs) to learn the techniques and importance of personal wellbeing. For Leo, his techniques put the condition of the body at the forefront, following the motto ‘Out of your mind and into your body’.

“The techniques in Tai Chi, Qi Gong and bodywork focus in the first place on the body. In bodywork, I have learned the body is a perfect instrument to tell the owner what and how the condition of the body and mind is. In case the workload is too high and the level of stress too much, the body can give clear and strong signals in the form of the above-mentioned symptoms. In case these signals are repeatedly and over a longer period ignored, they might intensify or minimize and disappear.

When asked what kind of support he provides, Leo answered:

“My support to HRDs during their Security Training Course [as part of Shelter City] includes relaxing the body and mind, body awareness, improving the level of energy and experience or physical and internal power. The techniques in the training include breathing techniques, body scan, body massage, relaxing techniques, letting off of emotional steam, tug-of-war, reactions on dealing with aggression, improvement of physical balance and posture, as well as between body and mind . This support is needed to reduce the impact of stress and violence on their mind and body. HRDs are not accustomed to maintaining a clean level of wellbeing. They often consider focus and time spent on their own well-being as selfish.

Through the Shelter City initiative, Justice and Peace has come to see different challenges that human rights defenders face to caring for their own wellbeing. When we ask Leo about these challenges, Leo answers:

“Most of them have survived over the years and have learned to cope with existing violence and stress. The challenge is to start my training from the position the HRDs are in. In other words, to connect to the reality of the HRDs living and working conditions. Also, their level of energy is often a limitation for absorbing fresh and new ideas to improve their well-being. After human rights defenders return home and continue their work, their level of wellbeing largely depends on their discipline to continue the exercises they have learned. As well as the discipline to take time off for their personal life and family.

Shelter City hopes to contribute to improving wellbeing and self-care of human rights defenders, change habits, and to help them understand their wellbeing is a fundamental and political commitment to their struggle. During their stay, many wellbeing practices can be offered beyond psychological support. Bodywork is one of them, and Leo is open to deliver personal training if needed.

Would you like to read more about the wellbeing or defenders? Go to the Justice and Peace Resources page for HRD s

You can practice bodywork with Leo’s video tutorials!