Port Townsend Washington
September 21st to 23rd
September 27th to 30th
In 2011 Tristan followed a team of Acupuncture Relief Project volunteer practitioners during their stay at the Vajra Varahi Clinic in Chapagaon, Nepal. In this short film he successfully illustrates many of the complexities of providing primary medical care in a third world environment.
Since 2008 Acupuncture Relief Project has provided over 100,000 treatments to patients living in rural villages outside of Kathmandu Nepal. Acupuncture offers an inexpensive, sustainable method of providing communities access to medical evaluation and basic care.
Against tremendous obstacles of poverty, in regions where the struggle to survive often usurp basic medical needs, five volunteer acupuncturists, set up a health clinic in Nepal. Through the practice of healing, a connection between patient and volunteer emerges transcending the physical and leading both parties into a relationship of human connection and compassion that creates long-lasting effects within their communities.
A group of American acupuncturists set up a health clinic in Nepal. Against the stark realities of poverty, limited resources and survival dependent on physical health, volunteer practitioners search for ways to heal and connect.
The five volunteers start their journey in the city of Kathmandu. Although Kathmandu is a developing city complete with dense dwellings, modern dress and commerce, it is also a city firmly seated in the past; many of the roads are left unpaved, wild monkeys scuttle along ancient stone walls flanking a polluted river, people in red saris traverse the streets while boys on motorcycles zigzag past wooden carts. In contrast, the mountains of Nepal serve as a majestic backdrop against the congestion of the city grime. Yet this lush and rugged terrain often severs people’s access to modern conveniences and medicine. There is little money; people subsist on sustenance farming; health is intrinsically linked with the ability to work the farm, and working the farm is central to survival. It is here, in Chapagaon Nepal that the Acupuncture Relief Project first established the Vajra Varhi health clinic in 2008.
The one-room clinic typically serves sixty-to-eighty people a day and is open to all races, genders, religions or castes. Today, a patient lies on her side on square pillows set end-to-end on the floor, her red sari modestly arranged to expose her back; needles pierce her skin and run along her distorted vertebrae;
Across the room, three women sit in a row with feet needled and perched upon colorful stools. Men suffering from tremors and strokes are treated with herbs and acupuncture; they tell of the chronic debilitating pain and physical disabilities that rendered them unable to care for themselves and their families and how, now, with the care of the volunteers, they are better and able to work.
Another woman sits in a chair across from a volunteer who asks her about her pain, using hand gestures to help her describe the intensity. She asks the patient about her life, how long she has traveled to get here and if she feels that she is getting better.
The interpreter repeats the questions mimicking the practitioners exact hand movements, facial gestures and intonations. It is clear that the relationship between patient, translator and practitioner is highly nuanced and sensitive with the process being as important as the outcome.
The patient sits back in her chair, drops her head and hesitates. She looks to the volunteer. The volunteer waits with a quiet intensity that seems reflective of the community she serves.
The patient answers that she has moderate pain, it has taken her two hours to come here, and she smiles when she says that she is feeling better.
Next, another volunteer asks a woman to place her foot on her leg, so that she may examine it. The woman looks from her bare feet, calloused and blackened with dirt, to the volunteer’s light pants and white coat. She too, is reticent. One expects the volunteer to reach for her feet or to cajole her into action. Instead, she waits for the patient to act on her own. When the woman does, the volunteer cleans her feet, inserts the needles, and holds her feet between her hands-the practice of medicine unfolds into a momentary connection between two women.
For all of Acupuncture Relief Project’s success, a large part of what they do is to provide general health assessments, and sometimes these assessments reveal severe medical issues that the volunteers cannot heal.
Such is the case with a five-year-old girl suffering from Rheumatoid Arthritis. When she lifts the bottom of her sweat pants, she reveals knees that are severely deformed. The volunteer treats the child with acupuncture but she encourages the father to seek western medicine to help manage the illness. The father is reluctant. The disease will not kill her, he explains, and he cannot afford the medicine. The practitioner can do nothing but agree.
During the two months the volunteers live in this small village, they have treated approximately 3000 patients, opened other clinics close by, continued a medical program to train a local to become acupuncturists and readied themselves and the clinic for another group of volunteers to arrive and sustain their work.
Regardless of the tangible outcomes achieved by the relationships between the volunteers, interpreters and patients, the emotional element transcends the physical, leading all people into a relationship of human connection and compassion. As one interpreter said, everyone wants to be a good person; the Vajra Varhi clinic has shown him how.