The second of our blogs from Chaparda 2023 volunteers. this one is written by Teresa Dawkes
I first heard of World Medicine during a lecture from Phil Montgomery in my first year as a student at the NCA and I knew immediately that I wanted to be involved. I had previous experience of volunteering in Uganda in as a radiographer and knew what an enriching experience it could be both personally and professionally.
In 2021, in my 3rd year, I applied for the graduate place and can honestly say I was absolutely thrilled to hear I had been chosen to go. Unfortunately the planned trip in 2022 had to be postponed for a year due to Covid but in January 2023 we left the cold and dark of a UK winter behind and arrived somewhat tired and frazzled in Rajkot. After an overnight stay we were off in the morning to Chaparda. The journey there was full of chatter and getting to know other members of the team.
Now, I think my idea of an Ashram may have come from reading about the Beatles’ visit to one in the 1960s – I expected a very peaceful place with people meditating and practising yoga on the lawns. I was quickly disillusioned of that realising that it was a community of many people and could at times be very noisy but in general it was peaceful in the evenings, very safe and friendly.
I would be lying to say I had not had many doubts about my ability and experience to be able to treat patients, over the time from being accepted on the trip to actually arriving in Chaparda. Barbara, Emma, Ruth and Fleur were all so encouraging and gave me the confidence to think I could actually do this! So on my first day in the Women’s Clinic I had the confidence to just crack on knowing that there was always someone more experienced on hand if I needed advice. I quickly realised that the number of questions we would normally ask patients was not going to work and trimmed down the questions to gain maximum information in a short space of time.
I was really impressed by how slickly the clinics run, with the admin staff controlling the flow of patients outside the clinic and the translators bringing through the patients as soon as there was a bed free and helping the acupuncturists determine what the patient’s problem was. It all created a very calm environment to treat in.
Before I went to Chaparda I struggled to believe how one person could deliver 20-30 treatments a day but quickly realised that it was possible, with the more experienced acupuncturists exceeding this. I will admit to it being very tiring at times but the sense of achievement and camaraderie of the team helped immeasurably.
I treated many patients but 2 stand out , one was a woman who made bricks from 3am – 9pm each day. Her hands were so sore and painful and I really hope that she found relief not only from the acupuncture but from the love and attention she received from Steph who gently massaged her hands. The second patient was a young woman from the school for the blind in the ashram. She arrived in the clinic absolutely terrified about needles and visibly recoiling from any touch. After a lot of gentle persuasion and reassurance she allowed me to do some acupressure and the satisfaction of seeing her visibly relax was amazing. On subsequent visits she started to laugh and even sang for us which reduced Batul, the translator and myself to tears as it was so beautiful.
The amazing experience of working with World Medicine at Chaparda will stay with me forever. I can appreciate it may not be for everyone but if you are thinking of applying be assured that you will be surrounded by a brilliant team who are so supportive of each other. Thank you to the acupuncturists, translators, therapists, admin and hospital staff who made it such a memorable trip and reminding me of why I re- trained to be an acupuncturist.