Introduction by: Stacy Gomes, Ed.D., with special interview by: Christine Dionese, LAc, featuring the founder of Acupuncture Ambassadors
The increasing interest in grassroots global healthcare organizations has grown over the years. Pacific College students, faculty, and alumni continue to search out opportunities to serve others during their class term breaks. Opportunities abound among volunteer organizations, many of which are listed on the Center for Integrated Care (CIC).
Pacific College New York Faculty Member Maryanne Travaglione, LAc does work with one of the CIC organizations: Global Alternative Healthcare Project (GAHP). Her group of healthcare practitioners has provided aid on five continents and documented thousands of treatments. Travaglione said about her most recent trip to Bali, “For the seven volunteers who traveled to provide care, our lives were profoundly changed. We worked hard, learned and laughed; but most importantly, we had the incredible opportunity to see the powerful healing potential of Chinese medicine in action.”
Another faculty member, Gretchen Seitz, LAc volunteered through Acupuncturists Without Borders offering acupuncture treatments after hurricane Katrina, and the Witch Creek and Cedar fires in California. “This kind of work can be challenging in many ways,” she said, “but the beauty of Traditional East Asian Medicine is that it allows for the ability to adapt the treatment to the needs of the patient, as well as the environment within which the treatment takes place.”
If you’re looking for similar outreach opportunities, a prominent non-profit organization of acupuncturist volunteers is called Acupuncture Ambassadors.
“The mission of Acupuncture Ambassadors clearly captures the vision and intention of Chinese medicine in terms of its universal application and appeal,” said Terry Courtney, MPH, LAc, program coordinator for CIC, “There is overwhelming need for international humanitarian work and this organization is clearly at the forefront of the effort to meet that need.
Pacific College Alumnus Christine Dionese, recently had the privilege of interviewing Acupuncture Ambassadors Founder Anthony Giovanniello, LAc.
Anthony resides in New York and travels to serve countries across the world with Acupuncture Ambassadors. The mission of Acupuncture Ambassadors is to travel, teach, and treat with acupuncture internationally in areas of the world where healthcare is minimal or non-existent. Anthony’s dynamic private practice specializing in emotional issues of stress, anxiety, depression and Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with TCM and Japanese style acupuncture is located in the heart of New York City.
CD: Anthony, what is the current goal or mission of Acupuncture Ambassadors?
AG: The defining goal of Acupuncture Ambassadors is the integration of the medicine of acupuncture into global healthcare. Our mission is to organize sustainable acupuncture treatment clinics and training programs worldwide to care for refugees, victims of violence, war, international conflict and the poor.
At Acupuncture Ambassadors we feel that in a war-torn world where there are countless victims: refugees, sufferers of torture and human trafficking and the desperately poor, so many of them have PTSD. In developing countries with limited or non-existent healthcare these individuals have little or no hope for relief. Their illness affects their ability to learn, work, enjoy life and contribute to their family, community, country and our world.
As you may know, for many centuries acupuncture has been used as an effective, economical and versatile treatment protocol for so many health issues including PTSD and its devastating symptoms such as digestive issues, chronic pain, respiratory, cardiac and nervous disorders and depression. Our acupuncture ambassadors are dedicated to sharing their knowledge with those in need by treating patients, setting up sustainable clinics and ultimately schools to train personnel charged with their care. We serve communities independently and partner with existing humanitarian projects that are interested in adopting an integrated approach to global healthcare.
We believe that global change begins with personal transformation and our goal is to support global healing by mainstreaming humanitarian acupuncture while contributing to the health and productivity of individuals worldwide, one point at a time.
CD: You agree that we can learn from the past - from the classic principles of Chinese medicine to bring our global communities closer together. What types of responses do you receive - are there critics that think we already have enough work on our hands here in the US?
AG: I do agree wholeheartedly as there is so much to learn from the rich history and principles of our medicine, especially the principles of yin and yang, of “balance”. Our whole world is so out of balance and in a way, it was acupuncture and Asian medicine in general that was the first “global” medicine to teach about balance in the lives of people and our relationship to the world. I deeply believe that our medicine can be a vital source of healing for this “out of balance” world.
For practitioners of Asian medicine, we are constantly hearing contorted and misguided opinions of our medicine among other healthcare models. As with most anything, the perception is so far from the truth. Our similarities are many more than what is perceived as differences. It really is part of our responsibility as practitioners to dispel this perception and bring all medicine closer together. Not to become part of some other medicine but to “be who we are” in a great exchange of knowledge. Be the best we can be in our medicine, but understand and appreciate the best of all other practices. And, the time to do that is now!
I have great respect for the notion of “grassroots” kinds of movements, a slow and steady approach to build consensus and union with people of like-minded thinking; yet we as humans do not have that kind of time any more. What is needed is doing “big” things and doing them now. Some people look at the global projects and plans that I am working on with Acupuncture Ambassadors and say that what we are trying to do is admirable but, for instance, why don’t you do this kind of work in your own “backyard” for your “own” people? What I have learned from our medicine, the philosophy behind it and its long history is that there are no borders, no “that” group or “this” group. We are all the same and we all need healing.
I can certainly go through the myriad of excuses for the difficulties of practicing and doing charitable work in the U.S. For instance, as a practitioner in New York I can’t even take the Path Train and treat someone in New Jersey because I don’t carry a New Jersey license. That of course is true but if I am to be the best practitioner of Acupuncture and Asian medicine or just plain medicine, I need to open myself up to treating the world. I see a time very soon where acupuncturists will be integrated partners on medical missions with Doctors without Borders and various other important global medicine organizations. To see this to fruition we all as medical practitioners need to work on breaking down walls and initiate conversations. It helps us all, especially the patients we dedicate our lives to treat.
CD: In Feb of 2010 you traveled to Nepal and reported experiencing treatment of health concerns we don’t regularly see in the US. How did that experience enrich the way you practice here in the US and what can other practitioners learn from what you have?
AMG: I have had the privilege to work in Nepal on a number of occasions so far as well as other developing countries. They all have something unique to teach you. Some of it is about disease but mostly it is about human nature. As far as health issues, you will see cases of TB, leprosy, symptoms of poor or malnutrition and polio just for instance. The first time these patients come through the clinic door, you usually take a good deep breath and do your best to center yourself. Sometimes at the end of the day you feel the urgent need to cry. There are times when you can’t help but be emotional about the work. Even the sheer number of patients that you can easily see in a day is overwhelming. For the most part, the patients are so grateful. You may be dead tired after your shift but feel purposeful and fully engaged in life.
When I get back to the States, clinically I feel more confident in my ability to help my patients. There are always some new theories, techniques or protocols that you pick up from other practitioners you meet. You also get very fast in getting to the root of the chief complaint of the patients and the treatment itself as you have so many more to see that day. It is not that you give less of a treatment but you must get the job done as soon as possible. One important personal “gift” I received and brought back to my practice is much greater appreciation of the life that we live at home. I feel it is so important to see the rest of the world to fully embrace life wherever you call home. We have so much to be grateful for and its not to be taken for granted.
CD: Are there plans to employ any efforts or special projects here in the US?
AMG: We are very proud to be a part of the Humanitarian Acupuncture Movement worldwide and applaud the wonderful volunteer work of groups like the Community Relief and Rebuilding through Education and Wellness (CRREW), Global Alternative Healthcare Project, The Global Clinic and Acupuncturists without Borders who have been doing so much for disaster relief in the U.S. Acupuncture Ambassadors is looking into the potential of opening a Community Acupuncture Clinic in New York City to work directly with the as many as 90,000 refugees and victims of torture living in N.Y.C.
We have been invited back to Nepal in 2013 to begin to set up a permanent Acupuncture Ambassadors clinic in Kathmandu. There are also plans in the works to set up clinics and teaching programs in Senegal West Africa, South Africa, Venezuela, Jordan, Haiti, Guyana, Barbados, India and the New Republic of Southern Sudan.
CD: I understand AA is developing a documentary style television series following Asian medicine practitioners on the road. Its working title is From Point To Point: On The Road with Modern Barefoot Doctors. What type of awareness do you hope to create and how can practitioners become involved in this project?
AMG: Well to be quite honest I am not a fan of reality based shows but our series will be very different. The idea of From Point To Point came out of reading the journals of some of my acupuncturist friends and colleagues who have made trips to very remote and very interesting places. The stories were absolutely amazing. My first thought was putting their stories in a book and using the sale of the book as a fundraiser. At the end of each chapter would be the contact information of the individual authors so their particular group or mission would have an opportunity to get noticed and potentially have readers donate directly to their work. The book project is in development at this time, but this idea soon became the concept for a travel television series. As my past career was in television production, I felt I could create a series that would do justice to the medicine. The whole production would not only become a fundraising tool for medical missions but also give the viewing public an opportunity to see the medicine at work in the field. I truly believe that this kind of production would be able to help mainstream understanding of the medicine of acupuncture and Asian medicine in general. So many more people could really see it work in real life situations. It is our hope it will raise the level of awareness and respect it deserves.
On another media front, Acupuncture Ambassadors, in partnership with In Balance Media, a New York based production company, is also developing a YouTube sponsored channel. This new venture called “The Balance Channel” is on integrative medicine and wellness, Western and Eastern medicine with a focus on the Eight Branches of Chinese Medicine. The Balance Channel with be launching at the beginning of 2013.
As far as practitioner involvement with the TV series, we are planning to follow and film the missions of the more than thirty humanitarian acupuncture and Asian medicine groups that are in existence now and in the next few years. By supporting all the missions planned and now being executed, would be a great start for participation. I encourage practitioners to find some time, join a mission if you can or if not donate to your favorite group or individual volunteer. We acupuncturists and practitioners of all modalities have a great capacity for generosity and compassion and sharing of resources and knowledge. I urge all in our community (individuals, organizations, schools, manufacturers etc.) to support the efforts of all those who have the ability, time and life situations that allow them to volunteer and bring the power of our medicine to all who need it in our world.
Pacific College will be hosting panel discussions at each campus to discuss how you can get involved with organizations like Acupuncture Ambassadors. The San Diego Panel is scheduled for March 14, 2013 from 6-8pm.
Stacy Gomes is Vice President of Academic Affairs at Pacific College of Oriental Medicine. She is currently interested in increasing awareness of service opportunities in the TCM community. She writes, consults and trains on accreditation, instructional and curriculum design, faculty development, program evaluation and student learning.
Christine Dionese, a graduate of PCOM works bi-coastally in both California and New York. She is an integrative health specialist, medical and food journalist and co-founder of Garden Eats, an organic gardening and food therapy business. Christine’s private practice highlights the field of psychoneuroendocrinology, which explores the dynamic connections between neuropsychology, endocrinology and immunology. Her devotion to patient awareness and advocacy is evidenced through this result-driven, multi-disciplinary practice style, which integrates Chinese medicine, functional environmental medicine, acupuncture and clinical nutrition.
Currently, Christine is working on a medicinal culinary therapy book incorporating Chinese herbal medicine and kitchen garden wisdom for the modern eater. Visit Christine at her website and find her blogging at Garden Eats; she’d love to hear from you!