Movements such as Extinction Rebellion have been criticised for not being inclusive; their tactic of being purposely arrested is something which would discourage many people of colour who have been subjected to harsher police brutality while in custody and harsher sentencing by the law as a result of race, colour, and ethnicity.
Climate change disproportionately affects the Global South, and women, indigenous groups, and the poor are worse affected. However, it is not their voices I read about or hear when there is any discussion on climate change. The acceptable face of climate change is often educated scientists, middle class photogenic young and largely white children protesting skipping school, and more recently a British veteran and nurse who placed a climate change wreath at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day.
Where are the voices of the poor, of people of colour, of indigenous groups, of disabled groups, of women? These are the groups which will be most severely and disproportionately affected by the impending catastrophe of climate deterioration. How can their voices be heard? How do climate change and racism affect the mental health of these groups in the UK? These questions are ones I am thinking about in conjunction with the charity Kanlungan who represent and support Filipino migrants in the UK.
Previously, I have collaborated with Kanlungan to run an art and mental health workshops in my capacity as an art psychotherapist. Here, I was privileged to see works of art and listen to conversations that explored their experiences: thoughts and feelings around their homes and families, challenges they navigated at work and in getting their legal residency/status, their hopes and dreams and multiple identities as mothers, providers, employees, wives, friends and daughters. The participants worked in many different fields from healthcare, domestic workers, the arts, students in education. The majority, however, were women who were forced migrants: migrants who would have loved to remain in the Philippines working and raising their children rather than other people’s children.
While many people assume this may be a result of corruption and lack of jobs, what is little discussed is the impact of climate change, pollution and environmental degradation on the mental health of migrants. Participants spoke of how the places they grew up in have changed dramatically, the land and water polluted by mining companies to the extent that whole communities had to leave as food could not grow.
The regularity of typhoons, flooding and landslides will result in higher numbers of migration from the Philippines as largely poorer and less educated migrants seek work to support their families back home. In order to understand how climate change affects mental health, it is important to unpick and deconstruct what is climate change, how does it affect individuals and what is climate justice.
On Sunday the 22nd of November, Kanlungan is hosting a free and virtual workshop via Zoom: ‘Another typhoon in the Philippines – what does that have to do with me? A special workshop on climate justice.’ This will be led by Renee Karunungan, a climate justice campaigner from the Philippines now living and working in the UK.
This workshop will explore how typhoons will impact people in the Philippines and beyond and what to do about it. This event is part of a typhoon appeal to raise relief in the most areas of the Bicol region and a percentage of funds will go to families of Gabriela London and Filipino Domestic Workers Association UK (FDWA-UK) who have been affected by the typhoon.
Following this workshop, Kanlungan will apply for funding from organisations to develop this subject in further depth and as an art psychotherapist, I wish to explore environmental art therapy with participants to use natural materials as a way to make marks, create symbols, process events, feelings and memories.
Sarah Reid is an art psychotherapist at Kanlungan Charity and St Christopher’s Hospice.