Prof. Ramsay Liem (Psychology) and Assoc. Prof. M. Brinton Lykes (SOE) were among the many who mourned the murder of Ignacio Martin-Baro, SJ, by El Salvadoran government troops at the University of Central America on Nov. 16, 1989. But Liem and Lykes - then a faculty member at Rhode Island College - felt they could, and should, do more than grieve.
Several weeks after the assassinations of Fr. Martin-Baro and five other Jesuits at UCA, Liem, Lykes and other colleagues in the mental health field began organizing a special fund to support victims of political oppression and social injustice. Today, the Ignacio Martin-Baro Fund for Mental Health and Human Rights is well-established and fulfilling its goals, Liem and Lykes say. It is providing about $52,000 for eight projects in Latin America, Asia and Africa, and planning some local events in the coming months to raise funds and draw attention to the issues it addresses.
The fund supports innovative projects which explore the power of a community to collectively resolve conflict-related emotional and mental health problems, the faculty members said. It is also a testament to Jesuit ideals, they added, combining scholarly interests with a concern for the human condition.
"The strength of this fund comes from its support by everyday people," Liem said. "The fact it is growing indicates that many people feel the issues Ignacio dedicated his life to are important ones. As a faculty member at Boston College, which also is concerned about these issues, being involved in this type of commitment feels like an intrinsic part of one's work."
"The progress has been slow and steady," said Lykes, who along with Liem is a member of the fund's program committee. "Our average contribution is $25 to $50, and the average annual grant between $2,000 and $5,000. But we have been able to support some grass-roots activities that reflect what Fr. Martin-Baro believed in and represented. A lot of these organizations simply would not be able to get what they need otherwise."
In San Salvador, where UCA is located, the fund helped establish a child development center to provide an integrated program of counseling, therapy, educational training and physical care for children affected by state-sponsored violence. A Filipino group for women and children whose family members disappeared during the Marcos regime used its grant for a children's theater group that helps children deal with their losses in words, movement and images. Another grant is supporting the publication of a book compiling the experiences of South Koreans tortured by the police and military.
The roots of the fund extend back through the 1980s, when Lykes and Liem joined a network of scholars and experts exploring the link between mental health and social conditions, especially in countries like El Salvador that experience violent internal conflicts. Lykes and Liem found Fr. Martin-Baro shared many of their views and was seeking solutions on both a societal and individual basis: He had planned to open a clinic to serve children and adult survivors of torture and war.
The fund's program committee works with the New York City-based Funding Exchange, a consortium which offers assistance on organizing and fund-raising to a number of programs and foundations, Lykes said. This enables the committee - which also includes Liem's two daughters, who have been involved with the fund since their early teens - to concentrate on evaluating projects and setting objectives.
Lykes said the fund has been greatly helped by Jesuit communities in the area, including the one at Boston College. Among their contributions is an annual Jesuit "bowl-a-thon" - scheduled for later this month - which helps raise money for the fund. Another event, to be held in May, will focus on the life and culture of Greater Boston's Central American community, Lykes said. The fund also presents an annual award to a person whose work reflects its ideals and goals.
"The Jesuit link Boston College helps provide for the fund is significant in a number of ways," Lykes said, pointing to efforts by University President J. Donald Monan, SJ, to press for an investigation of the murders of Fr. Martin-Baro and his colleagues. "We have been gratified by the support we've received."
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