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Part of a Community

Stacey Kett | Volunteer Acupuncturist in Nepal

Chapagaon is surrounded by beautiful terraced rice fields. The fields are broken up into small plots that are farmed, by hand, by individual and groups of families. I see many of these family members as my patients in the Vajra Varahi Clinic. Ever since my arrival I have been taking long walks around the village wondering about the way the rice is farmed and harvested.

Volunteer NepalOne day I was talking to a patient about her work in the fields and how this was effecting the pain she had in her body. I mentioned that before I studied acupuncture I too had been a farmer. In fact, I've longed to see these terraced fields of rice since I started farming more than 15 years ago. Rice is a staple food, and yet it's growth and harvest has always been a mystery to me. My patient looked at me in disbelief but after I asked a few more questions she invited me to come help in the fields if I wanted. This seemed like an opportunity I couldn't refuse. 

A few weeks later the summer rains finally stopped, the rice began to yellow and the rice kernels were full. The family of one of our interpreters, Satyamohan, had a few fields of rice that were ready to harvest. His father, Dan Bahadur, is the caretaker of the Monastery grounds that the clinic is on. Their harvest day fortunately lined up with our day off and he arranged for us to help.

We walked out to the fields and found the small plot of land that we were to harvest. I was given an iron sickle and we began cutting the rice stalks and gently placing them into piles. Next, they set up the threshing machine, set out tarps and began to bring over the piles of rice. My fellow practitioners and I watched excitedly, wondering how it was all going to work.

The metal threshing machine had been carried on two bamboo poles out to the fields. It has a barrel with metal spokes all over it. Powered by a foot pedal that you pump to make the barrel spin around I quickly found that it takes a little coordination. Once you get the barrel spinning, you take a bundle of rice and put seed heads against the barrel. The metal spokes knock the rice grain off the stalk and as it falls to the ground and it is caught by a tarp that is underneath. The rice is then swept into a bigger pile, winnowed and cleaned by another group of women. There are so many hands involved!

After we watched for a while they let us have a turn at pedaling the thresher. Eventually they kicked us off so that the professionals could get to work. After the rice was cleaned it was bagged up into big sacks which needed to be carried to the nearby road. We were then taught how to carry the bag of rice, using the head strap across our foreheads that also wrapped around the middle of the sack. We each carried a bag (while everyone had a good laugh at our expense) over to the road. I had immediate appreciation for the people that carry these loads every day and now understood why so many of my patient's have such strong (and sore!) necks.

We also learned how to carry a water pot, One arm wraps around the neck and the bottom rests on your hip. The problem is that it rests right on your hip bone, which is uncomfortable after about 100 feet. The other challenge is trying to keep all the water in the pot. We all took a turn and realized why the women wear a wrap around their waist, to pad their hips and support their backs. This wrap is called a Patuka in Nepali, or Jannai in Nawari. Carrying the water pot also makes you walk with one hip off center offering some insight as to why the women here have such back and hip issues.

I felt so at home in the fields that day and I suddenly realized that I was becoming a part of this community. I hadn't considered how quickly this could happen, even when I have only been here for eight short weeks. Everyone was so excited that we were there, interested in knowing how they live and work. I was honored to be there. This brief experience helped me connect to the land, the people and the lifestyle in a way that I couldn't have previously imagined. My heart is so full from having had this opportunity to grow as a medical provider (and as a farmer)... it is going to be a difficult place for me to leave behind. ---Stacey Kett

Three Women

Danielle Lombardi | Acupuncture Volunteer Nepal

There are three women around the ages of 30, 50, and 65, who have come to see me for treatment several times. They arrive in a big group from their village, and emanate strength, solidarity and patience as they sit and wait readily in my clinic room, wearing bright saris wrapped well under patterned long sleeved frocks, with bustle-like mounds of cloth bundled up around their navels.  A cascade of earrings, necklaces and nose rings of red and gold tell the stories of their marriages, while their sun worn faces, dirt caked feet and full black eyes tell the stories of their work.

In our research efforts we ask our patients their age, their primary language, and their distance of travel to get to the clinic.  These three are Tamang, and walk over 4 hours to get to the clinic, where they then wait in line for treatment for another 4 hours with the crowd.  When their turn comes around, they bring their hands together in the blessing of thanks, hello, goodbye: “namaste”, or, “I see the god within you”, and then they quietly point to their joints and limbs saying, “duksa” – “pain.”  Although they each have a different story, they have common underlying health concerns. Their bodies hurt.  They all have shoulder pain radiating down one arm.  They have bad headaches wrapping across the front of their heads to the back of the neck.  Their knees ache.  I inquire about their work and home life to discover the cause of their pain, and an interpreter relays their collective story to me.

It is corn harvest now, soon followed by rice harvest, so the days will be long for some time. The day begins before dawn, at 4am in the fields, where they work until the late afternoon.  They gather their harvest into giant baskets and sacks as heavy as themselves, and haul them back home by strapping the load across their brow, bearing the weight on their heads, necks and backs.  When they return to their homes they go to the village wells and fill heavy copper water vessels, carried under one arm back to their kitchens.  Then they feed and water the buffalo, goats, cows, and chickens, cook for their families, take care of the children and the old ones, nurse the sick and finally eat their dinners.  They hang the ears of corn to dry in in their windows, hung from beams, or in bound up towers that look like trees.  In the night they separate the corn kernels from the ears that have already dried. They leave it in mounds on the rooftops or the dirt streets until daylight, when they can spread it out flat to dry a second round in the sun. They work from 4am until midnight, resting only briefly before the next day of harvest begins again.

Women in Nepal | Acupuncture ClinicAs I treat the pain from the brunt of this work, I am able to connect with each of them, learning more about their stories and perpectives on the world.

The middle of the three has asthma.  When she walks up the hill carrying grasses and corn on her back, or when she bends down to clean the cow dung, from the floor she feels breathless, as if rice husks are blocking her chest and throat.

The oldest of the three sleeps only 3 hours a night because there is too much work to get done.   She shows me bruise-like spots on her legs and arms where demons had punished her by biting her and sucking her blood.

The youngest one has pain in her uterus from several miscarriages, and is afraid that her family will be angry with her if she does not produce a baby soon.

I work with each of them to address their concerns, and feel grateful for the stories that they share with me in the process.

These women inspire me. They walk long distances, have strong spirits, and don’t complain.  They teach me about strength and patience, and seem almost mythical in their capacity for life’s work. They well may be the hardest workers in the world.  Their solidarity creates a force that is bigger than themselves, an arc of connection, fellowship, and fortitude that they lift from the feet of their ancestors, and pass on to their daughters and grandchildren. They give birth and sustain life through their labor, dedication and community, and they bear the weight of their harvested nourishment on their backs.

One of the other women waiting for treatment in the room asked out to the group and to me, “Why is it that women have so much pain?”

The answer beheld itself. ---Danielle Lombardi

What Earthquake?

Arriving the day after a 6.9 earthquake shook the Kathmandu valley, Acupuncture Relief Project volunteers were uncertain as to what might await them. Fortunately the damage in the Kathmandu valley was fairly minor, unlike the 8.4 earthquake that killed an estimated 30,000 people in this region in 1934.

Volunteer practitioners Stacey Kett, Danielle Lombardi and Felicity Woebkenberg under the guidance of ARP team leader Andrew Schlabach safely arrived at the Vajra Varahi Clinic to the warm smiles of our Nepali family of friends and staff. The next couple days they worked through their haze of jet-lag to unpack the nearly 500lbs of supplies they brought and to prepare the clinic for operation. The volunteers also spent a half day learning to work with the Vajra Varahi Clinic interpreting staff and practiced the process of conducting medical interviews though an interpreter. After all of the preparation was complete they opened the doors Wednesday, September 21st to a flood of patients happy to see them.

Even after only a few days they have already seen many cases of Parkinson's Disease, typhoid sequela, stroke sequela and lots of musculoskeletal complaints. Everyone has been working hard to adapt to the new environment and rigorous work load while managing to stay healthy (even after a rather dramatic leech attack) and they are looking forward to the many weeks and challenges that lay ahead of them.

This year our practitioners will be seeing patients at our primary site in Chapagaon as well as traveling to two remote treatment sites in Godavari and Sipidol.

Felicity Woebkenberg works with interpreter Tsering to treat a Newari woman with knee pain.

Stacey Kett reviews an MRI scan of a Nepali woman suffering from severe headaches after having Typhiod fever.

Danielle Lombardi interviews a Nepali Woman a the Vajra Varahi Clinic.

Assembling a Team

Assembling a Team | Acupuncture Relief Project | Nepal from Andrew Schlabach on Vimeo.

Documentarist Tristan Stoch offers some insight into Acupuncture Relief Project's volunteer practitioners as they prepare for the clinic in Nepal. In this short video, practitioners share their thoughts in what brought them to the program and what they hope to accomplish through the experience. Please enjoy this short film by clicking here.

Tristan will be joining us in October to help document our efforts in Nepal. We are look forward to having him with us and hopefully we be sharing our experience in Nepal with a documentary film next year!

As we prepare for our departure in September,

I am proud to announce that thirteen volunteer practitioners have been selected for the Acupuncture Relief Project's 2011/12 Third World Medicine Immersion Program in Nepal. Our volunteers from Australia, Canada and the United States will be working at the Vajra Varahi Healthcare Clinic in Chapagaon Nepal from September 19th 2011 to March 1st 2012, providing over 400 treatment days of medical support to the people of this region. Our team aspires to offer nearly 10,000 acupuncture and herbal treatments over this time period.

We have prepared lots of exciting training for our interpreting staff and our volunteers to create an experience that benefits our communities and patients both in Nepal and here at home.

In Nepal, wide-spread corruption and economic devastation continues to cripple this beautiful country. We feel that our efforts are not only beneficial, but also a fundamental part of establishing basic health care this region. In addition, our practitioners receive first hand experience providing primary care in a third world environment. This unique experience helps them build the skills and confidence it takes to provide exemplary and effective care in their own community practices.

Please consider making a cash donation in support of our gifted and generous volunteers.

$10.00  — Provides for 10 people to be treated in our clinic
$20.00  —  Pays a local interpreter for one week
$50.00  —  Supports one practitioner for one clinic day
$100.00  —  Pays for our team's clinic supplies for one day

Think for a moment about how much impact we can have when we can treat up to 120 people for as little as $100.

Donating is easy: Click here to make a tax deductible donation via our website or send a check to Acupuncture Relief Project, 3712 NE 40th Ave., Vancouver WA 98661.

I sincerely thank you for your continued interest and support.

Andrew Schlabach
President, Acupuncture Relief Project

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