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Volunteering with Earth Medicine: one perspective amongst many

I came to Earth Medicine through a colleague, Sarah Budd. Sarah had posted some photographs of the most delicious looking food made by Afghani migrants, while she was on a volunteering project in Lesvos. Never one to resist the pull of food, I followed up her post with a request to write more about her experiences.

As soon as I read Sarah’s article about the work of Earth Medicine and the treatments she’d given, I felt a strong connection with the communities she described and was moved to participate in the project.

In particular, the work struck a deep chord with my previous experiences as a teacher working with migrant families, using my mother tongue to establish connections and support families and unaccompanied minors integrate in their new surroundings in relation to the education system. I had some notion of where some of the children and families had come from, the journeys they had made, but of course by the time I met them, they were new arrivals settling in the UK. Now, as an acupuncturist, it felt like the natural path for me was to go beyond national borders.

Soon after reading Sarah’s article, various on- and off-line meetings followed, in preparation for volunteering with Earth Medicine. I completed additional trauma-informed training through Acupuncture Sans Frontieres and Acupuncture without Borders, and before long was fortunate to accompany Sarah on her return to Lesvos. Our trip was co-ordinated to fit in with a rolling programme of other volunteer practitioners, so that continuity of care is maintained where possible.

Earth Medicine’s integrated programme of provision, both on and off-site is pioneering. Thanks to the vision and dedication of Earth Medicine’s founder Fabiola, the programme of care provided for patients is not only patient-centred and needs-based, also but comprehensively integrated.

Earth Medicine’s triaging system enables patients to receive as much of the best suited care that they need from the selection of interventions available at any one time – acupuncture, homeopathy, physiotherapy, healing, nutritional supplements and tinctures. As well as ensuring the treatments are integrated within these disciplines, Earth Medicine advocate for patients to access any necessary medical interventions and investigations such as diagnostic scans, blood tests and referrals to specialists. At its best, I felt I was working in one of the most integrated health care provisions I have experienced anywhere in the world!

On a personal level, given my heritage as a young migrant, although in very different circumstances to any of those I treated, I readily related to some of the experiences of upheaval, bereavement, uncertainty, anticipation, and hope that some of the patients expressed. Another bond for me was sharing a language with some of the migrants, adding layers of shared felt experience, emotion, maybe even vulnerability to the interactions. Although it is not by any means a requirement to the work of volunteers, it was helpful to lighten the load of interpreters, and to have the opportunities to delve deeper for patients in their native language if they so wanted.

While circumstances and stories are too frequently unimaginable, the experience of meeting someone eye to eye, heart to heart, as a fellow human, in their path and dignity, as you are in yours, goes beyond my ability to put into words. In this moment, in the cosmos, you are gifted with the opportunity to connect and for each to make a difference to the other. What has gone on before and will go on after, is beyond anyone’s control, but in this moment, you each have a chance to add potency to your actions in the world, and perhaps make life a little more comfortable, and who could not seize that opportunity?

I am so grateful to Earth Medicine’s core team for their unrelenting commitment, to the therapists who participate whole-heartedly in delivering treatment programmes, and to the patients who turn up for those programmes. Together, theirs is an honest, humbling, enabling, supportive and life-changing community. Be a part of it!

Houri Alavi Acupuncturist

January 2023

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Kara Tepe, Centre for Refugees & Migrants, Lesbos T.K 81100, Greece.

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