Acupuncturists Without Borders -  Hurricane Katrina Relief Effort
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Diana Fried's Presentation to Council of Colleges for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine October 2006

Here's what I believe:

Our collective response to humanitarian crises, as global citizens in the 21st century, represents perhaps our greatest opportunity to heal many of the roots of violence, and therefore, to sow the seeds of world peace. In the community rebuilding process, similar to an individual's healing process, we find openings to community wide transformation.

I started Acupuncturists Without Borders after seeing the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and feeling utterly compelled to bring the unique powerful medicine of acupuncture to the communities of the Gulf Coast, to offer what we could for healing.

I had been to the Gulf Coast in the past, with Oxfam America - an international community-based organization where I worked for many years, and I will never forget the warm welcome we received in the black communities of the outer bayou, the open arms, the great food brought in abundance to share with us, the sense of family and depth of life and laughter and spirit. I had also done hurricane relief work on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua - another incredibly culturally rich area.

With Oxfam I traveled to Africa and Latin America, to very economically poor communities, with vital lives of the spirit and the people. I was deeply affected by the people of the world, and saw myself as a citizen of the world, more than a citizen of the United States.

When I studied acupuncture, and later started a private practice, I dreamt of what this medicine could do in the larger world. I imagined the power with which we could help to heal trauma, thereby helping to bring peace and justice to communities.

As soon as the word went out in the acupuncture community about what we were trying to do on the Gulf Coast, the response from acupuncturists was overwhelming.

In greater New Orleans, I began to see the enormous power of this work. As we put our small needles into people, they began to cry, to tell their stories, to grieve, to rest their anger, to feel some hope again - our volunteer acupuncturists were incredibly moved, over and over and over again, by the simple act we were doing, and the profound implications. Volunteers would come home and say the work had changed their lives.

Sue Pollard, New Mexico DOM, AWB volunteer and coordinator of our upcoming veterans project said: Treating in New Orleans was a tremendous eye opening experience for me. Witnessing how tiny needles helped people cry, stop crying, find peace, comfort and hope was just shy of miraculous. Having the opportunity to play a part in the rebuilding of people's lives in this way was incredibly humbling and truly inspiring.

The people we were treating in Louisiana would ask us when were we coming back again? People would say they can't remember when they felt so relaxed, and people even told me that we had saved their lives.

I want to acknowledge the tremendous impact of other groups that have been doing community acupuncture and disaster relief work - deep thanks to the vision of NADA and Michael Smith, and the thousands of people who carry out that work, to the people who started acupuncture programs after 9/11, the Honduras projects, Guatemala, Pan- African Project, and many more. These are the pioneers.

Acupuncturists Without Borders has also set a precedent for bringing people together from all walks of life in greater New Orleans. We have treated close to 8000 people. We have treated officers and the people of community clinics who are in conflict with the police officers; we treat the army and those who are marching in the streets against the war; we treat relief workers, and displaced citizens. We make a point to reach diverse ethnic groups - in Louisiana we have strong programs in the black, Vietnamese, Latino and white communities. We treat old and young and we focus on underserved areas.

This is my vision - that our medicine which is all about balance and harmony and diversity, can change the world. That we can reach out to communities in need and offer our services for free. And that by doing this we also do great promotion for acupuncture among people who, as they said to us over and over again in Louisiana, first say acu-whuuut????

Acupuncture students have been the greatest supporters of AWB. They get it - they are inspired, and full of life to go out and change the world. (Which also means that prospective acupuncture students will be excited about this work.) Here is a quote from Nicholas Hoyle, a Santa Barbara College of Oriental Medicine student, who recently went to New Orleans in a support capacity: "Shortly after arrival and seeing the magnitude of the devastation, I wondered how could acupuncture [possibly] help heal this city and its people?

But then when we began to visit venues my opinion shifted. People, whether it was displaced residents who now lived in a homeless shelter or police and firemen who have been serving the community with limited resources for the last year, or jazz musicians at a church, they were all genuinely happy to see us and were lining up to receive acupuncture treatments. [Later on in Nick's story he says:] I feel so lucky to have heard the stories from my friends in New Orleans and look forward to returning there and am honored to have been given the opportunity to help create a space where people could participate in their own healing."

The students of Five Branches, Oregon College of Oriental Medicine, Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, and Bastyr have been collecting money from student organizations and donating supplies. And the BIG KUDOS goes to the students of Southwest Acupuncture College in Boulder - for doing a fantastic fundraising event (with food, music, silent auction and more) and raising $3,600.00 for AWB!!!

The school administrations that have been financially supportive include my own school at the top, giving a generous donation from clinic proceeds, The Academy for Five Element Acupuncture. The administration of Southwest Acupuncture College generously donated to the student auction. We appreciate the donations from Acupuncture and Massage College in Florida, ACTCM, OCOM, Bastyr, and Seattle Institute Of Oriental Medicine. Cynthia Neipris at PCOM has been instrumental in getting the word out to schools, and we thank PCOM for that support.

NCCAOM and Mayway Corp. have been our biggest organization supporters, and we are greatly appreciative. We thank NADA, the AOMAlliance and AAOM for collecting donations for us and helped publicize our work. And Rainstar University in Scottsdale, Arizona invited us to speak at their graduation!

Mostly, many individual acupuncturists and others have given from $10.00 - $1,000.00 to support the work.

Those of us creating these programs have done this from our hearts, with little monetary reward for the tremendous number of hours required. This has been necessary for the short term, but we really need more financial support to make this work.

With this money and a huge amount of volunteer effort (and a great deal of their money) we have set up an organization, with a Board, set up a large volunteer management system, developed materials, had hundreds of stories in news media, many of which were initiated by acupuncturists locally, developed kits and polices and procedures, worked through legal issues in Louisiana, developed donor systems, done a field evaluation program, and much more. We have also developed a Disaster Relief Training Program - with a 6 hour module and a 15 hour module which we are taking around the country. We would love to bring this to schools.

We have brought the awareness and experience of acupuncture to communities that have never heard of this medicine. Working with local acupuncturists in Louisiana, we have been able to support the rebuilding of their practices as well.

The work in New Orleans continues and is still urgent. The levels of despair and trauma are unprecedented.

We need your help to make this organization work. We need your expertise, your skill, your organizational support, your donations. And we can help each other.

We are planning to start a program to offer free acupuncture to Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Acupuncture schools can become involved in this project locally. Please talk with us if you would like to pursue collaboration. We are aware of the need to promote the wonders of acupuncture far and wide; the media call us, and we try to spread that around.

AWB is about hope, renewal, transformation, diversity, purpose, compassion, service. Probably the most transformative thing about doing this work is experiencing that when one gives in this way - what comes back is so much larger, we become so much larger.

We intend to be a world class organization, and we hope it is one that you can call your own. I look forward to pursuing this vision with you.

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