I am writing to thank you for supporting my recent acupuncture work in Gaza, which was a truly a remarkable experience, and to share with you some of my experiences during my time there.
I was part of a team of ten acupuncturists, one researcher and one therapist. We worked from three medical centres in the Gaza strip run by United Health Care Committee and were assisted by clinical staff that helped with translation. The warmth and good spirits of these staff was exceptional, especially in light of their ongoing struggle and still surrounded with reminders of the January 2009 war, where several bombed and crashed ambulances/mobile clinic vehicles remain in the clinic grounds. The volume of patients coming for treatment was huge, men and women of all ages and many children also. The conditions they presented with were vast and varied, ranging from muscular skeletal problems (such as neck, shoulder, back, hip and knee pain), respiratory and neurological conditions. Many showed signs of anxiety, stress and fear; in general, post traumatic stress symptoms. Thankfully a number of conditions could be treated with acupuncture. However some problems were beyond our experience and a stark reminder of the sometimes limiting or lack of medical expertise available there, something we all too often take for granted here in England. Some of the more serious and complicated medical conditions are difficult for the Gaza people to address due to their inability to travel freely in and out of Gaza. As such, some of their expectations stretched beyond our capabilities and resources, especially in the short period of time we were there.
‘The Long Mile’ The walk across no man’s land between Israel & Gaza
During this visit, as with a previous one, some local medical personal were trained in a five point auricular protocol (ear acupuncture), which is used widely for the treatment of stress and trauma. This enables continued treatment of patients with a model of care that is convenient and economical, therefore several patients can be treated at the same time and this helps cope with large numbers attending the clinics.
We treated between five to eight patients in one room at any one time, each receiving an approximately ten to fifteen minute acupuncture treatment. This was in stark contrast to how we practice here in England, where each patient gets one hour, alone.However, there was much to be said for having several people been treated in the same room, as their positivity and desire to become well was contagious. On the other hand they often all wanted the ‘same’ treatment as the people around them and this could be challenging, especially with time constraints and appropriateness of treatment.
The availability of only one couch could also pose a problem as to whom, if anyone got the privilege of using it. Contrary to what might be thought it was not always the infirmed or elderly who benefitted, but mostly some of the young men who were more inclined to faint!
The Gaza skyline with the remains of a bombed out political headquarters in the foreground
In regard to Gaza and the general atmosphere there, I can only say that there was a great spirit of hope, determination and joy. Despite the apparent affects of ongoing war and oppression, there were little gems of material improvements to be seen, an appetite for knowledge and a zest for life and enjoyment which we witnessed on a daily basis. Hardly an evening went by without hearing small groups of young people on their way to some celebration playing their musical instruments and in high spirits. This vision was pleasing to the eye, music to the ears and food for the soul.
This journey would not have been possible without your support and I offer a wholehearted thank you for making it possible.
World Medicine is charity providing acupuncture to people around the world suffering the effects of trauma, disaster and poverty.
We offer humanitarian aid and training where it is most needed, regardless of race, religion, the politics or gender in order to strengthen and support local communities.
Mary Shevlin is an experienced acupuncturist and medical professional with a practice in Leamington Spa. If you have any questions about how acupuncture may be able to help you or you’d like to book an acupuncture appointment, contact Mary.
This is an updated version of the original article for the new website.