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2010 Project Announced - Call for Volunteers

Jennie King in Nepal

Volunteer practitioners are the heart and soul of our small project. In the last two years we have had the distinct pleasure of working with 14 acupuncturists hailing from several Oriental medicine schools in the United States and Canada. Through our combined efforts we have provided over 15,000 acupuncture and herbal medicine treatments to nearly 3000 of the poorest people in the world. Our volunteer's dedication to overcoming the hardships of living and working in the small third-world country of Nepal is not only admirable but also rather extraordinary. Not only do they set aside their own families and daily comforts to endure the rigorous workload, they also have to look after their own health and learn all they can about this impoverished country and its people. They have alleviated pain, helped stroke patients learn to walk, managed widespread outbreaks of the flu, cured diarrhea, and reduced asthma. They have cared for infants, adults and the dying. In short, they have extended a hand of kindness and compassion in a way that few people will ever know.

We are sincerely grateful for their service.

In 2010, Acupuncture Relief Project will again staff the Vajra Varahi Clinic in Chapagaon, Nepal and is now seeking applications from qualified acupuncture practitioners, naturopathic physicians, chiropractors and other medical professionals. We will be conducting three clinic camps from September 2010 to March 2011. Each camp will last seven weeks and be limited to four practitioners. We are also accepting applications from practitioners who would like to serve in Nepal other times during the year.

If you would like to be considered for the 2010/11 project, please download and submit our application by June 15th, 2010. Applications received after this date will be reviewed on a first come first served basis.

As Oriental medicine practitioners, we assure you an insightful experience and an opportunity to perfect and learn new skills while witnessing the transformative power of your medicine. More importantly you will be serving a community that desperately needs your support.

Please click here to download our application packet or contact me for more information.

I’m very excited about offering this opportunity and I hope that we will be working together in Nepal. -Andrew

Doctors aren't supposed to get sick

December in the Kathmandu valley, the nights are cold and days are hot.  The mid day sun is deceptive in its warmth and leads you to believe that after sitting in it on your lunch break, you will then be warm the rest of the day and night.  This is not true, you can not believe the sun's whispered promises.  While you may sweat over your plate of lunch, it is cold back in the treatment rooms where the windows let in too little light.  The warmth has to come from within, somewhere.  I learned quite specifically where the warmth of compassion lay in my chest and how digestive fire warms the body.  If you eat too little, you will not only be hungry but also cold.  The day I wore less than two pairs of pants was cause for celebration.

Fortunately, the heat of my compassion and the heat of my digestion took turns being there for me.  This is my new personal definition of internal strength.  Whether from inside or outside, somehow or other I always got what I needed to get through the day.

It is somewhat to be expected to have a hard time adjusting to a new climate, new food, air and water.  Though I had been traveling several places in Asia before I arrived in Nepal, this was still true for me.  I thought that maybe it would be a bit better since my body was used to adjusting several times a year.  But the chaos of Nepal is different from the chaos of China.  The spiciness of Nepali chillis is different from the spiciness of Korean red pepper paste.  The rickshaws are more full than in Thailand.  In short, nothing could have prepared me for the kind of ill I got.  It was the kind of ill that makes your stomach shrink and your nose shrivel at the thought of food.  If I ate anything close to a normal or regular amount, I would start to feel ill between four and six hours later.  This was especially true at night.

One morning before Christmas, both the other practitioner and I woke up ill.  I had been up all night tormented by my insides and she had gotten nauseous after eating breakfast.  It was just the two of us in the clinic at that time, so we did the best we could to make it through the morning.  At lunch we slept in the sun on the roof.  I tried to will its warmth in through my belly button.  When lunch time was thoroughly over our interpreters asked if we would be able to treat any more.  The other acupuncturist issued a hushed grunt in refusal.  I commanded my legs to crawl down the stairs to the lower portion of the roof where Ramita, one of the clinic staff suggested that I treat right there, in the sun.  This meant two fewer flights of stairs, thrilling.  The interpreters carried needles, disposal containers, cotton swabs and chairs upstairs and guided the confused lot of patients to sit on the roof.  Meanwhile, Ramita called her mother to ask advice.  Her mother was convinced that we had been 'witched' by a local villager on our walk the previous day with Satyamohan, another interpreter.  Satyamohan was convinced that he had taken us too far on our walk and somehow the exercise had caused us to fall ill.  Pradjil was convinced we must have eaten chicken that had been sitting unrefrigerated at the butchers for several days.  I was happy they were trying their hand at diagnosis.  Not having any direct remedy for too much exercise or salmonella, Ramita asked if she could try a 'de-witching'.  I was game for pretty much anything at that point and had been wanting to see some Nepali shamanic medicine anyhow.

One handful of water and one handful of rice came from the kitchen.  Patients looking on, water sprinkled on the bench, I sat down in the tiny blessed droplets.  I wasn't happy to have my pants wet, but it wasn't any worse than anything else going on.  The rice was split into two sections, and my body was traced three times on each side.  My skin tingled and my scalp itched when she plucked a hair from my head.  Words muttered and my ailments were tossed off the roof into the courtyard of the monastery.  If that didn't do it, nothing was going to.  A few breaths later I stood up and treated the remaining ten patients or so for the day.

Maybe it was being taken care of, or maybe it was the sun, or maybe it was the rice magic but I felt better.  Maybe if I had believed more, the stomach trouble wouldn't have come back the next night.  But for the meantime, the patients were treated and my stomach was settled.  Again, by medicine or miracle I had got what I needed to get through. –Ali

Godavari

One of the many aspects of this clinic project that I really enjoy is working with our team of interpreters. Our team possesses a rare dedication and passion for the work they do and they complete a crucial three way relationship connecting us (the practitioners) to our patients and our patients to us. They are charged with the crucial task of conveying not only our words but also our tone and attitude. They help us to accurately understand our patient's heath conditions but more importantly they communicate the patient's emotional states and concerns. They are trained to be invisible, seamlessly facilitating a conversation between two people but not involving themselves. They do not advocate for the patient nor do they solicit for the practitioners. They are with us from the moment we step into the treatment room and stay with us until we have pulled our last needle of the day. They observe everything we do and without them we cannot function.

Bhandari Village in GodavariRecently I took an afternoon to interview each of our interpreters and what they told me inspired in me a new appreciation for the work we do here. I asked them, "As members of this community, how do you think this project helps?" They unanimously answered that the reason our project is so effective is because each of the practitioners takes the time to listen and treat each person with respect and kindness (evidently a quality not embraced by the medical community here in Nepal). Our interpreters had observed our practitioners patiently offering the same care and compassion regardless of whether the person was a wealthy business man or a poor farmer. To them, this is the part of our service that makes the biggest difference to the community (and here we thought it had something to do with the acupuncture).

Sarah Lobser in GodavariI was astounded by this simple revelation and I admit it might not be any virtue on our part because they all look pretty poor to us. But then we started treating in another village called Godavari and this revelation became even more illuminating.

Godavari is a village about one hour by motorbike from Chapagaon and is mostly made up of Tamang people. The Tamang are of Tibetan descent but settled in the Kathmandu Valley about 700 years ago. They maintain their own language and do not intermarry with other ethnic groups in Nepal. The clinic in Godavari is located in a small school building in a very poor part of the village mostly occupied by the Bhandari (untouchable) caste. The caste system no longer officially exists in Nepal and the Bhandari are not disenfranchised by the government. However, the effects of being treated as a subhuman class for centuries is dramatically evident. Granted, it is only a small village of about 1000 people, but the level of poverty amongst the Bandhari made the Newari's in Chapagaon look relatively well off. The people that flocked to our clinic had many severe conditions and had not the means nor availability of any healthcare services. We saw cases of malnutrition, prolapsed organs, untreated wounds and chronic infections. Many young men and women came in with bodies severely damaged by heavy and dangerous work in the city. Our practitioners treated at a furious pace but many people had to be sent away unseen.

Jackie Longson in GodavariAfter visiting Godavari a few times we began to debate whether or not we had the resources to support this satellite clinic to a level of meaningful effectiveness. It is always a difficult choice as to how to best spend your all-too-limited resources in an arena of overwhelming need but somehow we all agreed that we needed to try. We decided that so long as we had enough volunteers, we would send two practitioners, once per week to Godavari.

In the face of such dramatic poverty, social stigma and ill-heath, I hesitate to speak of the optimism that I feel. I certainly don't speak for all of our practitioners when I say that I speculate that our effectiveness here will be far better than we think. I trust that our interpreters have seen the true power behind our medicine and that even though we may not be able to heal them all, we can certainly listen to them all. While I know that each of us will do our very best to provide effective treatment, in the end I believe it will be the fact that we have treated them with individual dignity and respect that will be of the greatest value.

Andrew Schlabach in GodavariDuring this holiday season I hope each of you will take a few moments to think about what it means to care. How easily we get caught up in the day to day drama of our lives and forget to really see the people around us let alone treat them with respect and kindness. If we can help strangers in Nepal by listening and really seeing them... imagine what you can do with your closest friends and family.

Best holiday wishes from Nepal – Andrew

Birbahadur Thapa

Mr. Thapas is a 43 year old Nepali police officer who suffered a severe stroke over 10 years ago. I wrote about his case in one of my blogs last year but after seeing him again this year, I though I would share his story again.

When I first met Mr. Thapa he could not walk, speak or use his right arm. The entire right side of his body had been paralyzed for the better part of ten years and he claimed that I could "cut off his right leg" and he would not feel it. Five treatments later, I was shaking his formerly paralyzed hand and our interpreters all said that he was beginning of speak much clearer. Now a year later, in looking through his treatment records, Mr. Thapa has received 45 acupuncture treatments and I think every ARP volunteer practitioner has treated him at least one or twice. Of course it is very dramatic when we can have success in treating someone who is paralyzed but this story is not unusual for us here. We have many successes just as dramatic but few are as visually satisfying as this one. Please view this video example of how our Acupuncture Relief Project practitioners make a real difference here in Nepal. – Andrew

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