HRDs on COVID-19: Lookkate, sharing experiences as a human rights defender in Thailand
“At the first moment of my self-quarantine, I felt stressed because the human rights situation is still in crisis but we (human rights defenders) cannot work as effectively as before. Most of my work required me to travel to the community and to organise workshops, but I can’t do it at this time. It’s quite a big challenge for me.”
-Lookate, former Shelter City guest
Fighting for human rights has become a great challenge in the context of the pandemic. Most human rights defenders, like everyone else, have had no choice but to stay home. Since the Thai government declared a state of emergency, Lookkate’s work has been severely affected.
Lookkate is a civil and political rights defender from Thailand and a former guest of Shelter City Maastricht*. As the co-founder and coordinator of an organisation of young Thai activists, most of her work revolves around public campaigns and events promoting and advocating for human rights in Thailand. However, with the declaration of a state of emergency, which became effective on 26th March, the Thai government imposed a ban on all public gatherings. Lookkate and her team had to postpone the timeline of their work, cancel events and change their strategic working plan for the period of the COVID-19. This also involved sending the staff to work from home under a self-quarantine.
The self-quarantine, however, has taken a toll on Lookkate, as she started feeling “depressed and useless”, with her work severely hampered by the lockdown. The measures imposed by the government also made her concerned about the security of human rights defenders, some of whom are already targets of the authorities. As this all became too much to take in, Lookkate started looking for strategies to cope with her mental health while working from home.
She gave us a few tips on wellbeing which have helped her deal with the imposed lockdown:
- Find a good ‘work-life balance’: “Working from home does not mean working all the time”, Lookkate stresses. She encourages human rights defenders to pay attention to their own wellbeing, as they often do not prioritise their needs before their work. Take this advice from Lookkate: “If you feel tired or need some help, please remind yourself that it is okay”. Reach out, ask for help, find support!
- Prepare your favorite foods: “Cooking is the best way to cope with my depression and stress during COVID-19”, Lookkate shares. “When your stomach is full with your favorite foods, you feel good”. What are your favorite recipes?
- Charge in the sun: Instead of working all day at her desk, she takes time to sit outside on her balcony and breath in some fresh air under the warmth of the sun. “This idea makes me feel calm and helps me recharge my energy”.
- Take up different activities: “To avoid burnout, I do activities that give me a sense of achievement, such as making handcrafts or planting vegetables on my balcony”. DIY and gardening are relaxing activates which give a rather instant sense of satisfaction, and help with staying grounded.
- Be patient: During this time we all have to deal with feelings of unproductivity and ineffectiveness in regards to our work. Lookkate reminds us that making a better world is a long-term work that requires us to be patient to see the change we are working towards. Trust the process!
As the public spaces are currently inaccessible during the lockdown, we have had to bring our work to the digital space, including human rights work. Lookkate and her team have moved their campaigns to social media and are advocating for human rights on these powerful platforms. “We publish information on social media on how the policy of the Thai government can violate human rights”. For example, the government started using the ‘anti-fake news’ laws to go against people criticising their policies in response to the pandemic.
“We should not allow any state authorities or anyone to abuse human rights during these difficult times.”
To counter the threats by the Thai authorities towards social media users critical of the government’s responses to COVID-19, Lookkate and her team started an online campaign promoting democratic values, such as freedom of speech and free press. “We should not allow any state authorities or anyone abuse human rights during these difficult times”.
Lookkate’s team also started holding online workshops for Thai young human rights activists, such as workshops on security, and workshops on ‘Lessons learnt from the Thai students’ movement’. Additionally, they are focused on using this time to develop the skills, knowledge and wellbeing to strengthen themselves and their work.
Re-strategising has been essential for Lookkate to cope with the situation and to continue with her essential work, next to taking care of herself and of other’s wellbeing. Human rights defenders are all affected differently depending on the COVID-19 situation in their context and the severity of the responses of their governments. But sharing their struggles and exchanging ideas on how to cope can be helpful and relieving for human rights defenders.
If you are a human rights defender reading this, we hope that you will find some inspiration to develop your own coping strategies and encourage you to reach out to your network for support when in need.
*Lookkate was a guest of Shelter City Maastricht in 2017. This year Maastricht is celebrating its 5th anniversary as a Shelter City. During these five years, Shelter City Maastricht has been a safe space providing support to ten human rights defenders from around the world. Shelter City Maastricht is coordinated by Mondiaal Maastricht, with support from Amnesty Maastricht, Maastricht University, Maastricht University College and the municipality of Maastricht.