Creating an organization
Creating an organization of acupuncturists that could respond to disasters and areas of conflict throughout the world, had been an idea in the back of Diana Fried’s mind for some time. Her background as an acupuncturist with NADA training, along with experience in emotional/trauma healing work, made her a perfect candidate to pull such an organization together. She also had years of experience working with Oxfam America doing international grassroots community development.
The horrific devastation left by Hurricane Katrina became the catalyst for her to create Acupuncturists Without Borders. She, along with a growing group of volunteers, organized disaster relief teams providing acupuncture for stress, trauma and pain relief for both residents and relief workers in Louisiana. Diana and a handful of dedicated volunteers went to New Orleans in early October, barely a month after the Hurricane swept through. Not sure at first how or where they would begin , or how they might be received, they rapidly found themselves in great demand and began treating in communities throughout greater New Orleans, eventually setting up a regular schedule of free clinics.
Housed in a FEMA “tent city”, along with fire and rescue workers, police, utility workers, National Guard, and volunteers from Americorps, Common Ground and many others, the acupuncturists were given a huge military-style tent to set up as their base of operations. Several nights each week, a sign was placed out front to notify the tent city resident rescue workers that free acupuncture was available. Weary workers would stream in throughout the evening to receive the 5 needle NADA protocol, and sometimes other body points. Those new to acupuncture often came in with skeptical looks, raised eyebrows, and embarrassed smiles, , but soon after the needles were placed, eyes begin to close and heads nod. The energy in the room shifted. At the end of each session, comments were often heard like: “This stuff is amazing!” “I don’t remember ever feeling this relaxed.” “How often can I do this?” “When will you be back?”
By mid December over 2,500 people have received acupuncture treatment in Post-Katrina New Orleans. Dozens of venues have been established to treat both evacuees and rescue workers. Some of the places Acupuncturists Without Borders have been offering their services are.:
- Common Ground Health Clinic - Algiers
- Common Ground Distribution Center - Algiers
- Common Ground Distribution Center in the 9th Ward
- Washington Square Park
- Mary Queen of Vietnam Church – Vietnamese Community
- St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Baton Rouge - Vietnamese community
- Public park in Algiers point
- St Bernard Parish, residents and FEMA officials
- Lower Ninth Ward, Red Cross tent
- U.S. Health Services and staff of School for Visually Handicapped, Baton Rouge
- Emergency Operations Center, New Orleans
- Covenant House, (teens at risk)
- Odyssey House (halfway house)
- Tent City : emergency responders, water and sewer workers, and food service workers
- National Guard in New Orleans
- Monte de Olivos Church, Kenner : Honduran community
Flexibility and creativity are constantly being called for as volunteers set up improvised clinics on a street corner in front of a mosque turned into a temporary free medical clinic, in parks next to free meal and water distribution sites, in churches in Vietnamese and Honduran communities where no English is spoken, in a storm damaged day care center now devoid of children, and other equally unlikely sites. Many recipients share stories of the terror they endured; their homes gone, businesses destroyed either by the floods or by looters that came later. Others choose to just sit quietly and receive the gentle tending. Tears, hugs, and words of gratitude are commonplace. Sharing moments with so many strong spirits is incredibly inspiring. Not once did I hear anyone complain, or say “why me?” They told their stories and went on to talk of hope and rebuilding their lives. As one man said to me, “I lost everything I ever had – my house and everything in it, my job, my dog.” Then he smiled and said, “At least I’m not swimming off my roof anymore!”
As the media turns to other stories and the rest of the world goes on with life, many tens of thousands in Louisiana are still very much in the midst of Katrina’s devastation. The work of rebuilding their lives and livelihoods will take years, and will need the combined efforts of many groups and individuals. I have seen the power of acupuncture . In this post-catastrophic environment it eases emotional trauma and stress, and helps people tap into their inner resources to move forward with their lives. It is also helps to ease the physical aches and pains from the demolition and rebuilding process, and the upper respiratory problems seen frequently due to the molds and dust covering everything.
Acupuncturists Without Borders is in continuous need of volunteers and donations of money and supplies. To make donations or to volunteer go to www.acuwithoutborders.org .