By Richard Muhammad
The idea that pins and needles could help people may be a revelation for many, but Acupuncturists Without Borders (AWB) has used the ancient healing art to soothe the stress, aches, pains, tired minds and muscles of residents, relief workers and National Guardsmen struggling under the weight of surviving and rebuilding a still devastated New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita.
Founded after Katrina hit New Orleans, AWB has been working in New Orleans since October 2005. Rotating teams of volunteer acupuncturists from across the country come to offer their unique services with free community-style acupuncture provided in health clinics, food distribution centers, Red Cross shelters, mobile units, churches, and the tent cities and hotels housing relief workers.
The group’s work is also rather unique: It uses a timeless Asian art to serve Blacks, Whites, Latinos and Asians who are all part of New Orleans’ racial gumbo. “We see people of every color (and) different cultures, and enjoy doing our small part to help make the city whole,” said Diana Fried, executive director of Acupuncturists Without Borders. “New Orleans remains a very difficult place to live and work. People are under tremendous pressure to keep things together and we are doing what we can to help. We also bring a different understanding to what ‘put a pin in it’ means.”
She also stressed that the practitioners with her non-profit organization are experienced, licensed and follow recognized treatment guidelines.
Treatments last from 30-60 minutes with fully clothed patients sitting in chairs. The protocol AWB uses is with needles on the ears and other accessible body points. Done in groups, community-style acupuncture can help break the isolation often felt after traumatic events. Even those who resist traditional treatment for Acute Stress Disorder are often willing to receive acupuncture. “The treatments support rebuilding strength and resiliency that is essential for the recovery process. Acupuncture treatments have a calming effect and help those struggling with anger, hostility and frustration,” Ms. Fried explained.
AWB volunteers travel in teams throughout the city and nearby towns. Serving everyone from volunteer homebuilders with Habitat for Humanity, Red Cross workers, to Latino immigrants and Vietnamese and Black residents of the Big Easy.
“There is so much devastation, so much to clean up, so much homelessness,” said Geralynn “Gigi” Felicetta, an acupuncturist from San Diego, who was working Feb. 3 in the Ninth Ward. Standing on the corner of Claiborne and Pauline, she said the food lines, filled coolers due to a lack of refrigeration, makeshift shelters, sleeping bags, rubbish, abandoned and condemned buildings made a distinct impression. “It is like a war zone in America,” she observed, yet added, “There is so much spirit. The spirit cannot be broken.”
The aim of Acupuncturists Without Borders is to tap into that spirit and offer relief. People are open to the treatments, though most patients don’t know much about acupuncture, noted Ms. Felicetta. It gives people time to rest and be still, she said.
“It’s pretty stressful down here, a lot of chaos and craziness. I feel there is a lot of racism here against the Black folks who should be back home,” said 33-year-old volunteer Joy Patterson, who shared that it is difficult to see whole portions of the city leveled.
She also pointed out that many medical professionals might have to leave because of a law that requires state licensing to perform services.
“Anyone here is just an angel,” said Ms. Patterson, who regularly uses acupuncture. “It really, really helps. It’s kind of like a little miracle in the middle of the day.”
New Orleans could still stand just a few more miracles.
(Distributed by the Katrina Information Network.)