Reflection from the Men’s Clinic

The first of our blogs from Chaparda 2023 volunteers. this one is written by Fleur Clackson-Foney

I heard about the charity World Medicine when I was doing my Traditional Chinese Medicine acupuncture training. A friend, who was two years above me in college, applied for, and went with, them to India. I was impressed with their project and their work. I determined to contact them when I graduated.

Fast forward two years and I did graduate… in the midst of the Covid pandemic. When things opened up a bit, I went to Wapping where World Medicine take over a room once a week and offer acupuncture for refugees.

There I met Barbara and Najma, two of the Trustees. I did a bit of acupuncture with them that afternoon and mentioned, “Should you ever return to India I’d love to interview for the team.” (They hadn’t been able to travel to India during the pandemic.)

In July 2022 I got an email from Barbara asking if I’d still like to interview to go to India. Yes, I’d like! And so interview I did. I was subsequently offered a place on the January 2023 Acupuncture Camp to Chaparda, Gujarat.

Flights were booked pretty sharpish and then in the ensuing months, there were various updates on things such as what visa we needed, what insurance, a list of general things to take, how many needles to take, and so on.

We had a ‘hello’ zoom meeting with the team (six acupuncturists and eight translators) and then an in-person all-dayer in London around October. On that day we all met face-to-face for the first time and Barbara went through everything in detail.

When you travel to India with World Medicine your accommodation and food are taken care of through the charity. World Medicine will also reimburse you for your acupuncture needles, moxa and another. What you need to do is raise your own travel costs. I created a Crowdfund page, with information about the Charity, the Project, and what I’d be doing. Friends and family kindly came together and pledged enough money to cover not only my travel costs, but my acupuncture kit costs too. So rather than charge that cost back to  World Medicine I was able to offer this expense in kind to the Charity as a donation.

Crowdfunding also became a platform to share the details of the charity and the experience. I wrote a weekly email to the 36 people who donated, describing where we were, the work we were doing, and the friendships we were making. 

Christmas came and was a whirlwind. And then, on Jan 5th, I met up with eight of the team (some had traveled at different times) at Heathrow Airport. We left the UK on Thursday afternoon. We arrived at the ashram that would be home for three weeks, on Saturday lunchtime. That sounds arduous, and yes it was two days…But there was a whistle-stop tour around Delhi during our stopover and a night in a hotel in between.

A couple of us acupuncturists were quite newly qualified and were feeling some trepidation. The clinic, we were told, could get very busy. To put that into context, that means you can find yourself, in a multi-bed setting, treating circa 22 patients a day! On Sunday we went to the local hospital, where the clinic is based (we had two small wards to work from – one for men and one for women) and set up. It helped greatly to calm the nerves, seeing the location and getting all our gear ready.

On Monday the clinic began. It was sort of quiet at the start. I think for the Trustees it’s always slightly guesswork on how efficiently the clinic has been advertised to the local villages. There was no need to worry by the afternoon we were busy and the Tuesday and Wednesday we were very busy!

Obviously, we were working in a very different way from at home. We were not taking a detailed case history. We were asking a few pertinent questions about the main complaint. We learned quickly that questions should be simple and straightforward, both for the translator to understand, what they were asking the patient and for the patient to be able to clearly answer.  

I worked in the men’s clinic with Barbara, two male translators, and two male assistants (nurses) from the hospital. I worked mostly with the same translator for three weeks. By day two or three we’d started to get into our rhythm of working together. He’d know when to bring in the next patient, whilst I was still treating the last, and he could ask the basic preliminary questions.

The two assistants were great, doing copious amounts of moxa and some massage too. Barbara and I worked each of us on one side of the ward treating between the five beds we each had. 

Although the clinic is busy, it is paced very kindly for us. We work 8.30 to 12.30, walk ten minutes back to the ashram for lunch and return for a 2pm start until 5.30 pm. It never felt too much and, if for a moment it felt a lot, I’d look at the farmer who’d been toiling all his life and think, “Fleur you think this is too much? Really? Come on?

The patients were mainly farmers and their families, diamond polishers, or OAPs. They were for the most part poor or very poor. We treated a lot of knee and shoulders and local pain but there were digestive issues, headaches, and even spirit-related issues too. The results we got, especially given the limited intake info were pretty amazing. Much better than those I’d have got for the same complaints in the UK I reckon… why that is I don’t know.

It is humbling and gratifying work. I was moved by the patients and their dignity. This made it effortless to approach each man with the utmost respect.

In addition to the work, Saturday afternoons and Sundays are free. There’s generally a trip to a local town arranged for a bit of shopping, or to go see a temple. And Sunday (of which you only have two once you’ve started) is a good day to chill and rest and make sure you’re ready for Monday.

Our team was great,  warm, friendly, funny, encouraging, and capable. I have made friends with whom I’ll stay in touch. The team makes it fun – which is needed after a full-on day. You may have heard stories that break the heart but there’s often a sweet moment after work when we stop at the café outside the hospital gates and have a chai or coconut water. There’s no hierarchy or judgment from the longer-standing acupuncturist about what points you did/didn’t use or why. They are solely helpful and encouraging. 

Life is put into a new perspective by doing this work. I felt pretty lucky and pretty grateful. Also, there’s a kind of ease in not having to think about what you are doing tomorrow. You are being fed three times a day and you have a place to sleep. Your job is to keep up your energy even and do the work and create as much value and benefit as you can with your skills. That feels pretty special.

It was an incredible opportunity and I feel fortunate I got to work with World Medicine on this project. It’s true, I was knackered at the end, but in no way broken, in fact, quite the reverse.


Local Sustainability

Blog post by Emma Vaughan, Trustee of World Medicine

The struggles of introducing local sustainability into our work in India.

35258766-645e-4967-bc2c-1af0452f43a3For anyone reading our blogs about World Medicine’s long term project in Chaparda, India, they will certainly get a flavour of the enormous popularity of this project. This is true for our hosts, the community we serve and the volunteers that commit their time and energy to it. There is a special energy and palpable buzz during our time there and over the years we have built up close relationships with the staff at the ashram and Jay Ambe hospital where we run our clinic.

Every year we have local staff that assist us for the duration of our work there… this may be clerical staff who book patients in and organise the waiting area, physiotherapists who come to assist in the clinic and more recently student nurses who we train to help us with specific treatments, such as cupping or moxabustion therapy. We see their input as enormously valuable to both us and to themselves. We try to model good practice in clinical care but also to demonstrate that empathy and respect should be part of the work when treating patients. Last year particularly we were able to see our local students gain confidence in their skills and witnessed their growing commitment to good patient care.

028This is incredibly important to us as a charity since we are mindful about our wider aims when delivering a complex project such as our Chaparda one. In the past, previous teams had explored ways of trying to encourage a self sustaining dimension to the project. We had been hopeful that by training local staff to use a microsystem, namely Auricular acupuncture, that they could continue to run a meaningful service for the community in between our visits. This was an ambitious target especially as acupuncture as a profession is rightly regulated to a high professional standard. ( we are self regulated within our professional body which requires adherence to a robust code of ethics and practice, professional accountability and a requirement for continuing education) This made it complex when considering safety and supervision in our absence. However, the other big issue that is a real block to local sustainability is migration of local staff. We find, that with exception of a few staff, many of the hospital staff do not have long term posts. Younger female staff often leave the area after marriage and other staff leave for opportunities in the cities. It is always lovely to see familiar faces but we also have to accept that sometimes we will only work with staff for one visit.055

I believe the future of our work in Chaparda is very much on a firm footing. The communities surrounding the hospital are familiar with our work now and we do see returning patients to our clinics which is also wonderful. We always remain open to ideas that will make the project more expansive and inclusive.. it’s important that we continue to build strong relationships there that support opportunities for local staff to develop their own skills and knowledge, so that wherever they end up working they take a sense of professional pride with them which we hope they achieve during their time working with us. We certainly value them!

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Lochgilphead to Chaparda

Emma Vaughan, Chaparda volunteer and World Medicine Trustee, describes her journey…

I live and practice Chinese Medicine on the west coast of Scotland. Ordinarily, I would say I live in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, unscarred by development and with a perfect combination of remoteness and community. However.. when it comes to travel the journey even from where I live to Glasgow can be fraught with difficulties and can involve 60 mile detours when we experience landslides through the hilly pass known as “ the rest and be thankful “, sometimes unexpected ferry journeys and often shocking weather conditions making driving extremely challenging.

So I wanted to describe this years journey to Chaparda to give a flavour of a different aspect of our time.

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On Tuesday the 7th of January a friend dropped me off with my cases at the bus stop in Lochgilphead. The journey takes 2.5 hours to Glasgow and it poured with rain the whole way. I feel excited but also vaguely sick. ( I am a notoriously bad traveler) To help with the nausea I eat crisps and chocolate. I feel more sick naturally.

Once in Glasgow, I have a 40 minute window before my train to Oxenholme in the Lake District, so I rush to Debenhams with my cases and get my eyebrows threaded… a travel essential. I am excited with my eyebrows ( I’m extremely vain sadly!) and lug the cases through the rain to central station.. where I find my train has been cancelled.. no driver apparently! I immediately text Barbara ( team leader and great friend) to share my panic and then Jude who I am staying with in Sedburgh. I am directed to another train pretty quickly however and am soon on my way on a 2 hour journey to. Oxenholme.


Jude , my wonderful friend and world medicine colleague comes to collect me from station along with her husband and dog. We immediately compare baggage, stress about weight allowance and pick each other’s bags up to decide if the stress is warranted! It is! They feel very heavy but we are sure we can manage. We have 3 bags each. One large case, 1 smaller cabin size case and a small passport etc size bag. I stay the night with a Jude, and then lunchtime on Wednesday, Hugh drops us back off at Oxenholme to catch the train to London. It’s my son’s birthday and I ring to chat to him and feel a little homesick before I have even left the country! Jude and I have journeyed to India together 3 times now and each time we feel stressed and excited in equal measure. We have developed small rituals now.. almond cookies and a cup of tea on the train to London marks the start of the journey..and a travel sickness tablet for me! We then both rummage in bags for things we think we have forgotten and generally find them. It’s comforting!

In London we wait at Euston about 20 minutes for Barbara who is arriving in on a different train. We soon see her huffing up the concourse, pulling two ominously large bags with her.. so far so good. We are a team of three!

We jump in an Uber with all our bags and head across London to a Heathrow hotel. We have a minor hiccup with our room booking, but once sorted we dump our bags and head to the bar ( no indecent haste, rest assured)!

The following morning ( Thursday 9th January) we are up early ready to meet the rest of the team at terminal 5. One by one we find each other, Sally, Marta, Catherine and Satish. It feels so wonderful and we are all full of beans and full of chat. We have a few more issues…. Sally exploiting the luggage allowance!!! Catherine’s travel jumpsuit! ( don’t ask!)

The acupuncture team 2020!
The acupuncture team 2020!

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Our flight leaves for Ahmedabad on time but we have an extra 90 minutes of flight time as the plane was rerouted for political and safety reasons, giving us a 10.5 hour flight. I feel a little anxious about this as we have a train to catch from Ahmedabad to Rajkot and I know we will now be cutting it fine. Immigration clearance at Ahmedabad is a nightmare, long queues adding to the stress. Eventually, we emerge and secure a couple of taxis to the train station. We know we will be lucky if we catch the train!

It’s a wild ride in the taxi but we all feel we have arrived! Who doesn’t love an Indian taxi journey? We pile out at the station, a fairly shambolic group and race ( no exaggeration) towards the platform that says our train is at. We have a 5 minute window. We literally run with our bags, hurtle downstairs and find…. we are on the wrong platform. Out of nowhere 6 coolies arrive, pile our bags on their heads and instruct us to “ run” as they set off at an unbelievable pace to the correct platform. We hand over the rupees and jump on the train that our bags have been dumped on. The train is heading for Rajkot! We are now starting to feel exhausted, it is about 5am and we have a 4 hour journey ahead of us. The train conductor then informs us that only 1 of us has a confirmed booking and there are not bunks for everyone. Our fellow passengers were sleeping which we don’t quite grasp and manage to waken the entire carriage with the rumpus that ensues! Surprisingly several of them take pity on us however and make space until eventually we get a little cabin for the 6 of us. At this point we had lost Satish at the train station in Ahmedabad!! ( He found his way to Chaparda, don’t worry)

When we arrive in Rajkot we negotiate two tuk tuk drivers to take us to our overnight hotel. This process is rather chaotic as we have attracted a circle of onlookers and drivers offering to take us to our hotel, and demonstrating how 6 passengers, 12 pieces of baggage can fit into two tuk tuks! This journey marked my undoing! I have been on many tuk tuk journeys and this one was not exceptional. Fast, bumpy, thrilling! We get to the hotel remarkably with all our luggage intact and are shown to our lovely rooms. Jude and I shared, but within 5 minutes I am profoundly sick and need to lie down. Things settle quickly and after a wee sleep I feel much better. Jude and I have a cup of tea on our balcony and relish those first few hours of being in India.

We have a really nice dinner all together and then head to various beds ready for the last leg of the journey in the morning !

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We are collected from Rajkot by car and our driver Jay makes easy work of the 3 hour journey to Chaparda. We are all excited to be reunited with the rest of our team and the Ashram staff. We arrive Saturday lunchtime…. it’s been quite a journey, but one I feel privileged to make and hope that I will make it many more times yet!

So that’s my journey, home to chaparda!

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Spotlight on World Medicine Translators

Emma Vaughan, one of our Trustees and a volunteer in Chaparda, reflects on working with translators:

Our work in India would not be possible without the skill, dedication and patience of our amazing translators. They form an integral part of the team and enable communication between patients and practitioners in a highly skilled and sensitive manner.

We ask them to offer literal translations rather than summarising conversations in order for our practitioners to develop a greater sense of what is really going on, and, most importantly so that they can identify what the patients’ needs are. This unique 3-way rapport can provide surprisingly rich, moving and sometimes humorous encounters.

Our current Gujarat speaking team of volunteer translators are fabulous, bringing a sense of compassion and integrity to their work that has been invaluable. They come with a great deal of goodwill, committing a lot of time at their own expense and have maintained strong, personal investment in the work of World Medicine.

Batul and Najma are two of our volunteer translators:

Batul describes her experience:

I thoroughly enjoy being a translator and part of the World Medicine team. It is a very rewarding experience and one that has seen me about to return for my third time in January 2020.

It feels good to be part of a project where you can witness on a daily basis the positive impact on patients’ lives.

On our last trip, Barbara and I saw a young man, a diamond polisher who attended the clinic with multiple problems that had resulted in very poor mobility. His medical history was complex resulting in many visits to hospitals, different specialists and complementary therapists. He was feeling desperate and was doing everything he could do help himself – including walking on cow dung! Over his course of acupuncture with Barbara, we observed gradual improvements in his mobility and more importantly he himself started to feel the change. It was fantastic to see, and also to be part of a process that brings positive changes to people’s lives. I definitely appreciate the contribution the whole team make to the people living around Chaparda who have no access to this type of health care. To provide the service at no cost to the patients is even more amazing!

Najma, another seasoned translator and also a trustee for World Medicine reflects on the collaboration of the team:

I see my role of translator as a bridge between patients and practitioners. By feeding back to the practitioner the content of the patients’ story and what had bought them to the clinic we are able to begin a course of treatment, tailored to the patient’s problems and subsequent progress.

There have been times when it feels emotionally challenging, relaying these personal stories to the practitioner as often their issues reflect the harsh reality of living in isolated, rural communities. However, there are often lighter, funny and touching moments too. I was once very impressed when a patient very eloquently asked me “if the “doctor” could reduce the tyre around her waist!”….a familiar wish that many of us are conscious of these days!

It is easy for these nuances to be lost in translation but I believe that the team works effectively and efficiently so that every patients experience with World Medicine is a positive and worthwhile one. 

Of all the work I have done in my life, I can honestly say that my work as a translator in this setting has been both the most rewarding and the most enjoyable. 

Although our current projects are based in the UK and India, we are keen to build a database of volunteers who speak a second or indeed several languages who may like to consider working with us in the future.

Please get in touch if you are interested in working with us! We absolutely need you!