Chaparda 2016

Chaparda, India – 2016

We are grateful to Rita Shamia for posting regular updates about the Chaparda Project in December 2016 – here are her wonderful stories!


Chaparda 2016 29/11/2016 Hari Om

Update from the field – Chaparda 2016 29/11/2016 Hari Om

You hear it all the time ‘hari om’. It is a greeting that everyone here at Charpada says to each other with their hands facing together as in prayer. It has a more spiritual definition, but for us visitors, it’s just a lovely form of blessing. Always accompanied by a beaming smile and a slight bow.

I arrived at the Ashram in Charpada run by Muktanand Bapu, after a 20 hour journey along with four other acupuncturists. Bapu, as he’s known, is a spiritual leader who has created an astonishing charitable oasis at what can only be described as no man’s land. The nearest shop is 45 minutes away by car, but here, all life blossoms.

They grow their own organic food, there is a school for the blind, and an elementary school and college – many of the children are orphans. There are two sets of accommodation for the elderly, male and female, and a canteen serving home cooked, wonderful Indian vegetarian food. And of course the new hospital which has an A&E department, physiotherapy, a surgical unit, and where we are running two free acupuncture clinics through World Medicine. The residents, children and those who work here are cared for. Their education, food and wellbeing are provided for free.

Although I’ve been to India many times, and worked in a multi-bed environments, never had I experienced the two together.  We arrived at the hospital to be met by the many pairs of shoes and sandals left outside, and our first queue of people. Flyers had been distributed around 47 local villages and the turnout for a first morning was good. Five acupuncturists, five interpreters and a half a dozen helpers from the hospital treated around 80 patients in the separate male and female clinics. Most of our clients are farm workers so we had many musculo-skeletal complaints: bad backs, sciatica, neck, shoulders and knees unsurprisingly figured large. The youngest was 3 and the eldest 84.

Now I’m one of those people who, if I’m not feeling well, will see someone about it – whether a doctor or a complementary practitioner. I don’t try and ‘live with’ a chronic condition. I know from having my own practice however, that many do. That’s even more the case here. People have neither the time nor the luxury to ‘take a few days off work’. And painkillers aren’t a sustainable option. Some of our patients had suffered chronic pain for anything up to 10 years before coming to see us – and many had no idea what acupuncture could do.

I saw one woman who really stood out. She was 84 and had had an eye operation 10 years ago which had left her with permanent pain in her face, 24/7 – neuralgia. They say that this kind of neurological pain is even worse than childbirth. Yet she still got up every day, cleaned and cooked and milked her cows. You’d expect her to be frail but in fact she had a fantastic constitution. I’ll keep you up to date on her progress. All our patients can come back for a further five sessions so we have the opportunity to make a real impact on their health.

It was a fantastic day and the teams gelled so well that it was almost like we’d done it for years.  As always with these things, it is the team that makes it work. Everyone here is a volunteer, wanting to help in their own way. But I’m sure most would agree, we get far more than we give.

Hari om. by Rita Shamia 29/11/2016


Chaparda 2016 04/12/2016 – Men’s Clinic

Update from the field – Chaparda 2016 04/12/2016 – Men’s Clinic 

Phil Montgomery is our team leader.  It’s his third time volunteering in Charpada so he’s pretty much earned his stripes and is now a Trustee of World Medicine.

Phil works in the men’s clinic. Due to cultural sensitivities, male practitioners can only work in the men’s clinic, while women can work in both. So myself, Judith, Emma and Alison all take turns in working in the men’s clinic.  There are 5 volunteer interpreters from the UK, Darshan who is here with his wife Snehal and Dhiraji and his wife Vanita. Snehal and Vanita both work as interpreters in the women’s clinic with another volunteer, Najma. Phil’s role as team leader is to make sure everything runs smoothly. He organises the acupuncturists, translators and assistants and liaises with the hospital admin team to control the patient queues. Phil is keen to make sure we all enjoy and find the experience rewarding, hoping those who do will return.

It’s not an exaggeration to say we simply couldn’t do our jobs without our interpreters. They translate back and forth from Gujarati as none of our patients speak a word of English. I hear on the grapevine that Phil does attempt a few Gujarati words and phrases much to the amusement of his patients – a little more practice is perhaps needed. 

The men’s clinic has a rather unlikely helper who is a Bapu. Bapu translates loosely as “spiritual leader” and he is similar to a monk and wears the traditional saffron robes. Bapu takes out needles, does massage and Moxa (the burning of a herb to heat up the needles or areas of the body to enhance the efficacy of the treatment). He trained in acupressure, is very interested in oriental medicine and so has become an incredibly useful member of the team.

The patients predominantly work on the local farms doing heavy, unrelentingly hard work. They generally suffer from musculo-skeletal problems due to the amount of bending and heavy lifting. There are also patients that work in the diamond factories, who sit cross-legged all day polishing the diamonds. For them, painful calves are a particular issue so squatting is very difficult. This is in a country where squatting is how you go to the toilet – so it really is a problem.

Written by Rita Shamia 02/12/2016


06/12/2016 Not lost in translation…

Update from the field 06/12/2016 Not lost in translation…

We completely rely on our Gujarati speaking interpreters to make the link between us, and our patients. Not only what they say, but, sometimes to provide context to what they say. Cultural understanding is as important as language in places like India.

As western acupuncturists, we rely on a number of clues to help us form a diagnosis, and asking questions is one of them. The interpreters help fill in the gaps of our understanding so we’re best placed to diagnose accurately.

Vanita and Dhiraj have been coming to the Ashram for a few years, and are very supportive of the charitable work done by Muktanand Bapu. They have just donated three classrooms in memory of their late daughter. They’ve always wanted to volunteer here in some way and had considered teaching English at the school or college. But when they were approached about interpreting for the World Medicine Acupuncture clinic, they jumped at the chance. Dhiraj’s mother had suffered from asthma for many years and was successfully treated by an acupuncturist in the UK, Vanita has also studied reflexology so they both felt this was the right opportunity for them. This couple are incredibly kind and generous people. They love the work and take great pleasure in all the successes.

Snehal and Darshan have already been changing the way they worked, both retrained from being a hospital pharmacist and in operations management respectively by becoming personal outdoor trainers. Their interest in holistic health brought them to India. They came straight to the Ashram from Goa after completing a teachers training course there in yoga. Like Vanita and Dhiraj, they felt this was the right thing at the right time. They do yoga on the roof every morning and Judith, Emma and Phil will often join them. None of my friends will be surprised that I choose to lie in!

Both are very engaged not just with patients but with all the people who live here that cook, clean, drive and help us at the Ashram. I admit to being just a little bit envious that they are able to communicate in their own language.

Najma worked in the city and has taken an early retirement. A fluent Gujarati and Urdu speaker, she came a month earlier to help out teaching in the Ashram’s college and stayed on to interpret at the Acupuncture clinic. Najma is our Gujarati ‘google’. Whatever we want to know, she seems to know the answer – about the culture, the area, the language and about India. And she’s always one step ahead, anticipating what we’re likely to need.

They are all amazed and encouraged by the success we’ve had in such a very short time. Darshan recounted one elderly man who said that no-one has given him time to talk about his health problems – ever. And some patients have very complex issues. While you can’t compare as we have the NHS, even in the UK, doctors do only have 10 minutes per patient. Vanita often says we couldn’t buy the amount of blessings our patient’s shower on us. There’s a lot of good will all round which makes undoubtedly for better healing.

They are as committed and invested as the acupuncturists. Our patients are their patients. It’s been such a positive experience that they’re all eager to come again – so that really says it all.   by Rita Shamia 06/12/2016


08/12/2016  The Clinic

Update from the field 08/12/2016  The Clinic

We’re almost a week and a half in and by the end of the two weeks, we estimate we’ll have done around 900 treatments. Yesterday alone we did 123 between 5 acupuncturists assisted by interpreters and helpers.

Keeping a multi-bed clinic working efficiently while multi-tasking is key. Diagnosing, needling, doing moxa or using the heat lamp, the electro-machine, cupping, massage, tuina and then assessing when people should return. There are 7 beds in the women’s clinic and 8 in the men’s. We treat on the beds and in the chairs so there’s something happening somewhere at all times.

There’s no doubt that the Chinese knew what they were doing when they set up working in this kind of environment. You were simply treated every day until you were well. In the West, obviously people can’t afford to see their acupuncturist that often and most come once a week. In the clinic, however, we follow this format and depending on the seriousness of their condition, or their pain level, they come back every day, or couple of days. Our patients suffer significant longstanding musculoskeletal pain, often, in multiple areas. But we literally see them improve on a daily basis and it’s incredibly gratifying when a patient says they’ve slept well for the first time in 3 years because they’re no longer in pain.

Patients wait outside the clinic to be seen, sometimes for hours while the hospital administrators fill out their forms and give them a number. The forms are essential, not just to record information about their health, but to put down their diagnosis, what points you’ve used and other tools used to treat them. Most importantly, these are used to evaluate the work we’ve done. Each time a patient comes in, we record their pain levels and the impact their condition has on their lives and this is reassessed on their subsequent visits so by the end of their treatment, we know what’s been achieved.

The hospital staff who support us start way in advance, promoting our visit around the local villages and putting the queues in some kind of order so the right person comes in with the right form each day. Our assistants Heena and Kalpna are borrowed from other hospital departments. They take out needles, massage patients, do cupping and support us every day. Heena has also attained training certificates in auricular acupuncture.  They are real diamonds, endlessly kind and good humoured, and we couldn’t do our job without them.

By Rita Shamia


09/12/2016 Endings….

Final Update from the field 09/12/2016 Endings….

It’s the last day and time to say our goodbyes. We’ve reached the golden number of 960 treatments this trip.

Phil, Emma, Judith, Alison, myself and the team have shared this experience to contribute to a unique social, charitable and health enterprise.  It’s been interesting and rewarding and challenging and funny – and a genuine privilege to be part of.
We have met some truly wonderful people – patients, Ashram residents and staff alike. Coming from the West, we take our health for granted. In the UK the NHS is our safety net. Here, if you have no money, you have no health care at all.
But acupuncture has the power to transform people’s health and we’ve experienced that in the most immediate way. We’ve spent only two weeks here, but we can see the difference it’s made to people’s lives. There are a lot of people whose quality of life has been restored and that’s the reason we came.
And whatever we’ve given, we’ve received back in spades.
For those of you who have read this far, who donated and followed our experience, your generosity has made this possible.
Thank you.
Hari Om.
By Rita Shamia