As a follow up to Qi and Light in Burma, we embarked on a similar project in Raktrul, Eastern Tibet. The medical/solar team accomplished a great deal in a short amount of time.
After two missions where we set up clinics in very remote areas, using a model of bringing solar power and integrated medicine to the sites, we are very encouraged about the potential to expand our efforts. We know the model works: it is transportable, fairly inexpensive and has immediate and significant benefits. Most important it is sustainable.
Since Tibetan traditional medicine is very similar to TCM, the people we were seeing knew what to expect. Actually, many of the Tibetans equated acupuncture with the Chinese (they don't do much acupuncture), so they were calling us "the Chinese doctors." Most of the patients we saw are nomadic yak herders. Their life is very hard. They live in tents at 12,000-18,000 feet elevation, in one of the harshest environments imaginable. Annual incomes are $100-$300 a year and they have no public services such as water or electric.
The goal of the mission was to set up a temporary clinic, do a needs analysis, install 800-1,000 watts in solar power at two sites and get a buy-in from the surrounding villages for future projects. We got more than we could have ever hoped for.
We saw more than 1,200 patients (ranging in age from 6 months to 82 years) in 11 days. We treated a variety of people: monks, nuns, lamas, nomads and local village people Seven hundred pairs of eyeglasses were distributed. We gave backpacks and school supplies to almost 150 local school children.
According to my project colleague, Sharon Lang, RN, 90 percent of patients received acupuncture, with 20 percent of these being seen on two or more visits. The most common health complaints were: knee, back and shoulder pain, headache, heartburn/indigestion, vision problems, irritated eyes and respiratory ailments. Treatments were performed in a tent at Raktrul Monastery and at a temporary medical clinic set up at Raktrul Nunnery. We performed a variety of medical services, including vision testing/fitting of prescription glasses and sunglasses, acupuncture treatments, TENS treatments, wound care, patient education about diet and hygiene, and dispensing medications.
A young Tibetan girl awaits acupuncture treatment.
The most incredible news was that the Chinese government is turning over land nearby with two schoolhouses and a two small buildings that the villagers committed to turn into a medical facility. This takes care of the $100,000 we thought we needed for a permanent building. Now we can spend the money on equipment, dental care and full-time doctors. We also have started training our cook, Doira, to be a translator and clinic assistant. We will continue to identify people like her to become nurses and community health workers.
When it comes to the needs of these villagers, much of it starts at the basics: hygiene, infrastructure, clean water, sanitation. Many of them probably had never seen a toilet in their life. They work so hard, it's amazing their joints don't give out. As it was, we probably treated more than 2,000 Tibetan knees with acupuncture while we were there. Yet, with all their adversity and hard knocks, they are some of the happiest, grateful and loving people I have ever met. Their devotion to spirituality, family and community permeated everything they do. We learned a lot from them.
Sharon agreed with me, adding, "Participating in the medical/solar mission to Tibet was a remarkable experience. It was full to overflowing with so many aspects of our human experience. At times, chaotic, blissful, heartbreaking, moving, fulfilling and frustrating; a complex tapestry of sights, sounds and emotions. The most precious memories are of the faces of the people; their genuine smiles, laughter, courage, generosity, kindness and devotion. They will forever be in my heart."
We hope to go back in one to two years. The medical facility will hopefully be ready next year. We are looking for TCM practitioners, doctors, dentists, nurses and donors who are interested in participating. Please contact me at
Lastly, none of this would have happened if not for our donors. Our goal was to make it sustainable. We did just that, thanks to you.
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