Tuesday, July 04, 2006
Already two weeks since I touched down on UK soil again, and the adventure seems almost like a dream. It all went so quickly and there was so little time to rest or even let things sink in, it sometimes feels like it didn't happen. This was an incredible experience, and I was blessed to be with a really lovely group of people who I felt very quickly comfortable with and where there was always someone to support you if things were getting all too much. The time we had there was all too short but we did our best in the time we had. Hopefully we'll manage to get funding for these projects in the near future and the future of AsF will not rely on people willing giving three weeks of their time when they can afford it. I will definitely try to go back there again, and maybe then have the time to see some of Sri Lanka as all I saw this time was Colombo and the East Coast, which was the whole point but it is a beautiful and fascinating place, which I would like to know better. So Sri Lanka may be a stry to be continued for me....
Sunday, June 11, 2006
The last few days have been slightly less busy, I have been seeing (only!) 40 people a day. It still feels like all of this isn’t real, that I am not really here it is so incredibly different from life back home. Days are so busy there is simply no time to reflect on this, no time to think. We are seeing some people with very extreme conditions, not knowing how much help we can actually bring. The morale then goes up and down, between moments of feeling that you are so helpless in the face of people with serious health conditions, poverty, civil war, but then again every little bit helps, and we hear people coming back saying that they aches an pains are gone, or their sleep is finally better after many months. Not everyone gets better with only 5 treatments over the 10 days or so in the village, but a lot of people do, which makes it all worthwhile. I suppose some of the credit goes to our work, but I cannot help to think that the simple fact that we took the time to come and bring help, talk to them, give them warmth, smiles, do our best for the time we are here, that all this has an effect too. Maybe it is placebo, maybe not, but there is value in simply helping people, regardless or what means you use to do it.
It is now almost time to leave and the past few weeks are a bit of a blur, it feels I am daydreaming, not quite believing I am getting to do this. The group of people I am with has also been amazing. We have been getting on so well it feels we have known each other for a lot more than 2 weeks. Trying to write about it all, I find I cannot even phrase things. It has just been an overload of experiences, feelings, meeting with people and a culture, working in extreme conditions. Maybe I need a few days back in London and let it al sink in. I know this has probably changed the way I will work with people and at least for a while given me a bit of perspective on life. We too often forget how fortunate we are, and how the majority of the world population actually has to worry about survival, and question whether one likes their life, job, living conditions is just not something most people have the luxury to worry about or have choices on. I suppose in short this has been an amazing journey for me, and I just hope I have managed to do some good along the way…
The beach town that once stood here is still all but ruins. 900 people lost their lives on that beack alone, quite hard to imagine...
We are going to spend the rest of the trip in Thirukkovil, further up in Tamil territory. From what we heard, 900 people died in the tsunami, out of a population of 10,000, that’s almost one out of ten people. When we arrive we first go to the beachfront, where the damage is still visible. Only house remains are visible, rubbles all over. Only a few houses are being rebuilt, with money from foreign NGOs, as this part of the country doesn’t get anything from the government. As we hear more and more about what is happening here, although there are two sides to the story, one cannot help but feel anger at the fact that not only disaster hit here, but there are just not getting as much help as less affected parts of the country, on the basis that they are of the wrong ethnicity….
In spite of the destruction, lack of money, poverty all around, having had a mini-cyclone hit the town 10 days ago (and the heat too, I must say), people here are incredibly good spirited, it is incredible and quite a lesson for us.
The first clinic is set up in a disused village school in Pottovil. In spite of having heard we would be busy, seeing the crowd awaiting us in the morning is a bit of a shock. Later on I see myself having worked non stop in a heat approaching 40 degrees, while people try and push in to be seen first. This chaos seems quite unreal, and rather comical too. Regardless of what we say, people just will not queue. Threatening to leave unless everyone stop crushing everyone else and forms a queue seems to have no impact al all, so we just get on with it, trying to contain the crowd. Funnily enough, it is the old ladies in sari that seems to be the most aggressive at this getting ahead of the queue (what queue anyway) business.5pm and that’s the day over for us, 6:30 and it is night already, dinner and a bit of rest and I find myself going to sleep at 9pm. This will turn out to be a regular occurrence during the trip. We all seem to manage to stay awake until 9 or 9:30, then wake up with prayer call at 4:30, and successfully or not going back to sleep for another hour or two, until is it just too hot to sleep.
Arrived in Colombo, very hot already although the people meeting us at the airport seem to think it is much cooler compared to Arugam Bay. The next day was our first experience in Sri Lankan road travel. We spent 10 hours in a minibus, crossing the island to get to the East Coast, going through beautiful scenery along the way, jungle, tea plantations in the mountains, elephants and monkeys, all this on a road that was just about wide enough for one vehicle. Interestingly, that doesn’t seem to stop anyone from overtaking trucks, tractors, tuk tuks, all this at high speed, with or without any visibility ahead, but it seems preferably in the middle of a curve, when you can’t see what is coming in the opposite direction. At first we all were noticeably nervous at the thought that we might actually not make it to the other side of the island in one piece. Somehow though, between breaking and moving on the sides of the road at the last moment, accidents seem to be avoided almost all the time. After an hour or two I decided to stop looking at the road and enjoy the scenery, which did actually work quite well. We did almost hit a dog a couple of times but them too must be used to these unorthodox driving rules.
After 10 hours driving, the last stretch of the journey sees conditions deteriorate more and more as we approach the Tamil region. The road turns into a dirt road (apparently the government doesn’t allocate money to the Tamil areas), there are more army check points, reminding us that although it is not spoken of as such, there is civil war in the country. At last, crossing a bridge we get to yet a bumpier road and then to our destination, Arugam Bay. This “temporary” road was rebuilt after the tsunami, and turns out to be neither really a road, nor really “temporary”. It is dark already but the place looks beautiful, the sea peaceful and it is hard to think that the houses around us are replacing other that were destroyed by a giant wave last year…
Sunday, May 21, 2006
If I didn't know any better I would think I am getting ready for some beach holiday. But this little piece of paradise has also been badly hit by the tsunami and eighteen months on many people are still living in camps around the area. Thinking back on the huge amounts of money raised at the time, one cannot help to wonder, where did all the money go if after a year and a half thousands still don’t have a roof over their head?
The community in the area is a mix of Tamil, Muslim and Singhalese people. It will be interesting to see how they live together since just a little further North, civil war is still raging. The increasing violence has left almost 300 people dead since the start of April and more and more, civilians are being the victims of the conflict.
This will definitely be an enlightening experience in more ways than one. Four days to go…and counting the days now…
(to be continued...)
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Actually, just over two weeks to go, a bit of money left to raise but things are mostly on track...plane ticket has arrived, insurance taken care of. It felt I had weeks to get ready for the longest time and now the D-day is almost here, and somehow it all feels a little surreal.The first group from AsF left for Sri lanka 10 days ago, and the ten of them had already treated over 400 people during their first four days....sounds like the trip will be demanding, especially considering we will be working in hot and humid weather.
Sunday, April 02, 2006
For their pioneering first project last September, Acupuncture Sans Frontières (AsF) organised clinics at Buddhist temples in the southern cities of Galle and Matara, with satellite clinics further north in the regional centre of Kurunegala. Patients received acupuncture, herbal medicine, homeopathy and massage, and according to research figures, 77% of the 2000+ patients reported a positive benefit from their treatment. The AsF team now plan to take their skills to the most seriously affected part of the island - the East coast - which has so far received the least in the way of aid. Clinics will be held in the districts of Ampara and Hambantota, with satellite clinics in the surrounding regions where many still live in temporary structures and refugee camps.
According to the Venerable Makure Mangala, Chief Incumbent of the East London Buddhist Centre and co-organiser of the AsF initiative, the main conditions afflicting tsunami victims are musculo-skeletal injuries, gastro-intestinal illness, respiratory and skin diseases. "However, the most significant and widespread issue for the survivors is that of low mood, depression and mental health problems. Just recently, an elderly lady in one district has died of a broken heart - without any physical illness. She just gave up living due to the mental and emotional pain."
Danny Maxwell, a member of the AsF Executive Committee, comments, "As well as being an excellent method of treating physical injury and pain, gastrointestinal complaints and the other problems being faced by the tsunami survivors, acupuncture can have a hugely powerful effect on the mental-emotional aspects of a human being. Our first trip to Sri Lanka was hugely successful, and we hope to be able to continue to support them in transforming their immense pain and loss into strength and hope."
Acupuncture sans Frontières is a non-profit making project. The 2006 Sri Lanka Project will run for a 6-week period. All the AsF volunteers are experienced acupuncturists/herbalists or practitioners of other selected alternative therapies. They are giving their time and skills for free. All equipment and funding is being donated.