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May 26, 2010 10:21AM

Without borders: Acupuncturists travel to help where needed

By Linda Handley
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An acupuncturist with Acupuncturist Without Borders gives an ear-acupuncture treatment to a citizen of Nepal.
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Monks in Nepal receive ear acupuncture treatments from members of Acupuncturist Without Borders.
Last October I joined 15 other licensed acupuncturists from all over the country and traveled to Nepal with the organization Acupuncturists Without Borders. This was the first trip for AWB's World Healing Exchange program.

Our group spent the first three days in the city of Kathmandu, traveling all over the valley getting a crash course in the culture. We visited some of Buddhism's most spiritual places, met a living goddess from the Hindu religion, braved traffic that would make a New Yorker blanche, walked among saddhus (mystics) and gave alms to lepers, then spent an evening at a place called the House of Food.

We also met and exchanged healing techniques with Tibetan amchis, or doctors, and treated Buddhist monks, some as young as age 4.

AWB was founded in September 2005 in response to the disasters caused by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. AWB formed groups of volunteer licensed acupuncturists who provided free community-style acupuncture treatments utilizing the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association ear acupuncture protocol. This is a simple treatment using five needles in each ear. Simple and effective, it is easily given to large numbers of people in group settings.

The main part of the trip to Nepal was spent in the mountain areas. We flew on a very small plane to Phalpu. Here we spent the next 10 days trekking through the mountains, visiting the Tibetan Buddhist monastery, Tutencholing, treating the monks and nuns who lived there. Several of them were nurses or Tibetan medical students, and they learned our treatment protocols.

Many people from surrounding villages also came to be treated. Everywhere we went, word would go out that "doctors" were seeing people at the monastery, or, as in Phalpu, at the hospital. Villagers would start trickling in, hoping to be treated for aches and pains or respiratory or digestive problems.

One family near Phalpu brought in their young adult son. He had lost his ability to walk several months earlier after an illness and had obvious muscle wasting in both legs. He was very depressed and hadn't laughed or smiled for a long time. He received the ear acupuncthttp://acuwithoutborders.org/ure treatment plus some points on his body. By the end of the treatment, he was smiling because he was able to wiggle his toes. He came back for two more treatments. After the third visit, he was weakly standing and tentatively taking his first steps in months. He continued to receive treatment from nurses we had trained. He was standing and laughing, encouraged that he may again be healthy and productive.

The morning we left this monastery we received blessed Tibetan herb pills and a small necklace. Hundreds of the nuns then lined the steps outside and began chanting prayers, blessing us as we left their home to continue our journey. Those few moments will never fade for me and will always remind me of what the meaning of compassion and service is, of our responsibility to care for others, and that this is what allows us to grow as a person.

The last three days we spent at the Mani Rimdu Festival at Chiwong Monastery, relaxing and absorbing the Sherpa culture of the mountains.

The goal of AWB has been to train local acupuncturists in the skills necessary to set up treatment venues as a disaster response. Since 2005, AWB has been to the fires in California, the floods in Iowa, and recently this year, in Haiti and Chile. Currently AWB is developing an international training network to respond to disasters with locally trained acupuncturists or other health care providers.

The 2009 Nepal trip was the first such trip; this year there will be trips to Ecuador, Mongolia and a return to Nepal to train local practitioners.

AWB also has organized a growing network of acupuncturists in the U.S. who provide free community-style ear acupuncture treatments to military veterans. Called the Military Stress Recovery Program, clinics in communities set aside certain hours a week to provide free treatments to veterans, especially to treat post traumatic stress disorder.

AWB exists and serves because of the commitment of many, mostly of them volunteers. You can help support this work by donating money, equipment, supplies, time or skills. Your support ensures the training can continue and the disaster response teams can be there if needed.

For more information visit acuwithoutborders.org.

Linda Handley is a licensed acupuncturist at Ancient Wisdom Acupuncture Clinic in Bettendorf, Iowa. For more information, call (563) 332-1891.

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