My father had passed away and I had turned 50. It was time to stretch my horizons and step out of my comfort zone. I had been working full time as a Homeopath in lovely Salmon Arm, British Columbia, but what I felt I needed was a new challenge. I googled ‘homeopathy volunteer work overseas’ and there were the opportunities – just as easy as that! I was off to Africa.
My first volunteer stint was with The Swaziland Homeopathy Project. Barbara Braun - who runs the Project - and Ruth, the volunteer homeopath, welcomed me with open arms and I embraced Swaziland. What an amazing country! Here are some excerpts from my letters home:
I have now been in Swaziland for over a week and I love it. It is a wonderful country, amazing scenery and fabulous people. It is a kingdom, still ruled by a king who has 13 wives and is looking for another one later this year! It is winter here (July) and the vegetation is actually quite lush with almost tropical-looking plants and beautiful flowers.
Every day, except Sunday I have been driving with Ruth to outreach clinics in the bush - often a 2 hour drive away. We set up our tables and chairs in some old barn or shed and the people pour in to see us, often about 40 of them, waiting patiently for their turn.
It is exhausting - try taking 20 new cases in a day! But it is rewarding, as the people are so grateful. Often while they are waiting, just sitting in the shade, they will all start singing; it really touches your heart. Their stories are so sad and often they cry; most have lost many family members to Aids and most are really hungry and have lots of kids to support.
At the end of the day, Ruth and I are tired out and when we get back to our basic house, with little furniture and no heating, all we want to do is make supper and fall asleep.
The Swaziland Homeopathic Project also operates a clinic based in a school for children who have lost their parents to Aids. Many of the children live in ‘child-headed households,’ where about 10 kids live in a house and the older kids look after the younger ones - there are no adults alive left to look after them. HIV and Aids are devastating this country and, obviously, hitting the poor and underprivileged first.
While I was there, the Swaziland Homeopathic Project was also involved in a research study on the use of homeopathy in the Mbambe hospital. The hospital was very run down and dirty; patients were in the corridors - on beds and below them! (There were even some prisoners wandering around in shackles on one of the days we were there.) We were given an office to work out of and were prescribing for patients with HIV and TB. If you would like to know the results of this research project, please contact Barbara at email@example.com
As of this year, Barbara is offering a two-week volunteering opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students seeking continuing professional development (CPD) in the field of Homeopathy. Practicing homeopaths looking to obtain knowledge of treating patients in indigenous rural communities are also welcome. Participants have a unique chance to experience African culture, visit historical sites, and enjoy the beautiful natural scenery of Swaziland. Participants gain practical clinical experience - approximately 50 cases - and learn about the treatment of a wide range of chronic diseases.
For the second part of my stay, I travelled from Swaziland to Johannesburg and then flew over the Kalahari Desert to… the middle of nowhere; we landed in Maun, Botswana. Maun is a cattle town with a sandy, dusty main street filled with people, wild donkeys, cattle, cars, and goats. People dressed in suits with cell phones mingle with the local women who are dressed in long Victorian dresses (really!) carrying material in the shape of horns. They are Harare tribeswomen and the horns represent the cattle they own. The town is overwhelming in its chaos - and very different from Swaziland. The weather is warm, around 26 degrees Celsius during the day and then very cold at night. Maun is in northern Botswana and has one of the highest rates of HIV and Aids in the world. Over 25% of people are infected with the virus.
The Maun Homeopathic Project operates a clinic in Maun and provides free treatment to those who are HIV positive and patients with TB. The project was set up in 2002 by Hilary Fairclough, a homeopath based in the UK. It is a charity registered in the UK and working in partnership with the local NGO’s - namely, Women against Rape, Bana Ba Letsatsi (‘Sunshine Children’), and the Lutheran Church.
Both the Maun project and the project in Swaziland use the ‘triad method’ of prescribing homeopathically. It is an excellent method of dealing with the complex pathology and disease states that characterize many of the patients seen, most of whom are HIV positive and often also have TB. The triad protocol is as follows:
- One remedy for the acute layer
- One remedy for the constitutional/fundamental layer
- One remedy for the miasmatic layer (a nosode)
For each layer and remedy, the totality of characteristic symptoms is the most important aspect of selection. Nothing is routine and every selection is individualized. Normally, the prescription will consist of taking each remedy once a week for 4 weeks, after which the client waits a week, and then comes back for a follow-up consultation. As well as the clinic in Maun, outreach clinics are also serviced.
Here is more from my letters:
I love the volunteer work in Maun. Last week we drove out into the bush and passed a million wild donkeys and tons of cattle that just wander all over the road. After hours of driving on flat, sandy tracks we reached a small village and there was a crowd of people sitting in the shade under trees, waiting patiently for us. We set up in the local church and outside it. There were four of us, two homeopaths and two homeopathic students (who also acted as interpreters when necessary). We consulted with around 40 clients, ranging from the elderly to small children.
We took sandwiches as there is nowhere to eat in the villages and nowhere to stop for a cold drink. You have to be very self-sufficient - and have a strong bladder, because there is no place to go to the bathroom either!
The Maun Project also offers home visits to its clients. These visits are for people too sick to travel into the clinic - so you can imagine how poorly they are… I would drive out with my interpreter, along some sandy bush track to a ‘shed’ with one room, to find a client lying on a mattress with old blankets on top, and they would tell me how they were feeling and I would then prescribe for them. It was hard to see people suffering so much. Anyway, we do what we can and hope for the best. Hilary works amazingly hard to keep the Project running and her results are outstanding.
The Maun Project also trains local people to become homeopaths. Check out their website for more details: www.homeopathybotswana.com. If you are interested in volunteering here, please go to the ‘Get involved’ section.
Volunteering in Africa was exciting, empowering and challenging. It opened doors for me and expanded my homeopathic knowledge and clinical experience. If you’ve come to feel comfortable where you are at, perhaps it is time for a change… - just open up Google! Or please donate - both Projects need funds to carry on their good work.
By Jude Corfield