By Belen Chacon and Molly Molloy
In this interview with Molly Molloy of the Frontera List, Bemis shares how acupuncture plays a role in the healing of an underserved border community racked with violence, emotional trauma and poverty.
How did you first get involved with acupuncture and what made you want to work in underserved/border town communities?
I started out as an addictions counselor at a detox program where group ear acupuncture was a daily therapy for alcoholics and heroin addicts. And as a counselor I had the chance to study in the South Bronx, NY at Lincoln Hospital where activists had developed this model of grassroots, community-based ear acu care. Health workers from anywhere could come to Lincoln to learn it: a standardized ear acupuncture technique as an alternative to drugs, a tool for recovery, and adjunct for community health clinics. One of the students in my class, for example, was a peer HIV counselor from Kenya.
The protocol — known as NADA (National Acupuncture Detoxification Association) – is safe and simple, and easily taught to community workers, and has been implemented in a variety of grassroots mental health and humanitarian aid contexts for the past 4 decades. I saw what an effective non-verbal intervention it proved to be, especially for people who struggled with talk-therapy or 12-step groups or pharmaceutical care. And the fact that it can be taught to health promoters and front-line providers makes the service delivery extremely cost-effective.
I went on to go to acupuncture school where I had the chance to write for a periodical that focused on researching the use of this protocol. One report I did was on a family clinic in Anthony, NM that was — in 2008 — providing ear acupuncture for refugees from Juarez fleeing violence. I returned in 2010 and visited a few different projects within churches in Juarez serving women and marginalized groups in the city, to learn more about the challenges in providing community care.
I was invited to do a community acupuncture session for some laid-off maquiladora workers. They were gathering regularly in a small church on the north side of Juarez to do breathing and relaxation and stretching exercises similar to tai chi and yoga.
They liked the treatment, and asked me when I could come back. I told them that it would be much better if they could learn these techniques themselves. This led to many conversations with church leaders, who were able to organize a training in 2011 for pastoral workers serving in some of the fringe parts of the city. At that time, the churches were developing new programs specifically to serve victims of violence. Since then we’ve been invited back to offer several other trainings.
Read the full interview with Ryan Bemis here: http://latinalista.com/new-headline/acupuncture-for-healing-in-border-communities