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13 Herschell Sq,
Walmer Kent CT14 7SH.

The ROI became a recognised UK
charity on 2nd September 2004
and its number is 1105706.
Reflexology Outreach International
ROI EXPEDITION 2006 TO INDIA

Reflexology Outreach International Expedition 2006 To India

I've always loved travelling in India and ten years ago I'd spent a month learning and practising reflexology in an acupressure clinic in Gujerat. So when we first founded the ROI organisation in 2000, I knew that one day I would take the ROI to India. Six years later my dream came true.

We were a team of four; Bob Lewis, another founder ROI member; John Parham, my uncle; Maggie Maule who stepped in at the last minute and myself. All were experienced reflexologists and teachers. We had decided to teach at two locations, one in Kolkata, West Bengal, and the other in Bodhgaya, Bihar. Bob made the contact in Kolkata with an HIV organization, BNP+ (Bengal Network for People Living with HIV/AIDS). John and myself had previously worked closely with a charity known as the John Buddha Health Clinic in Bodhgaya. They were already practising reflexology and other complementary therapies and we thought this would be an excellent focal point for our teaching. We also contacted a group of Sisters who'd expressed an interest in learning reflexology.

Our training, which is continually evolving, is offered on two levels, basic and advanced. Both courses consist of 20 hours training spread over five days, including A&P, case studies, client and therapist care, as well as a simple foot sequence based on the Anne Gillanders' technique.

We landed at Kolkata airport early in the morning and were driven to our hotel through streets that were rapidly coming to life. The smells, sights and sounds brought all my memories of India flooding back.

The next day we were taken to the BNP+ clinic to clarify our programme and see what facilities they had provided for our training. It turned out that our expedition coincided with three major festivals, Eid, Divali and Durga Puja, which meant that two of our intended training days were national holidays. Also we had been expecting to train BNP +workers but because most were involved in fieldwork we were asked to train mainly clients, few of who spoke English. Things in India often don't work out as you intend and we quickly learnt to relax and accept what was offered. So we hired an interpreter and with our group of 24 students we modified our teaching and just went through the basic foot sequence relating it to the different parts of the body. The students were very curious to know how reflexology could help relieve the many symptoms they were suffering from. Most of them were HIV+ and some were taking anti-retroviral drugs. I don't know how many of them will go on using what they learnt, but our training days provoked a lot of laughter and good feeling, and most of them said they could feel the positive benefits of reflexology. Importantly, some had practised on their family members and it was good to hear good feedback from this source.

While we were working we were very much aware of the celebrations going on around us. Durga Puja is a major festival in Kolkata and hundreds of enormous clay effigies of the goddess Durga were commissioned and displayed around the city. In the final ritual of the festival, which celebrates the triumph of good over evil, they are taken down to the Hooghley River and submerged in the flowing water. It makes you wonder about the values of a culture where so much money is lavished on a ten-day celebration and yet so many people are living in poverty without any health care.
Ten days after our arrival in India we took the overnight train to Gaya, where we were met by Vinay, one of the therapists from the John Buddha Centre. He took us to their two clinics In Bodhgaya. The clinic on the outskirts is mainly used by local village people, who are treated with a range of complementary therapies including reflexology, whereas tourists often frequent the newer centre in town. Treatment is free and the centres are funded by donations, with seven therapists, including one woman, working there. Five of them had volunteered to attend our training so that they could make closer links with the ROI and continue their professional development.

We then visited the Sisters at the Amar Jyoti (Eternal Light) Centre. Normally there are just six sisters working there but because of our training they had invited twenty six other Sisters from the surrounding areas of Bihar to learn reflexology. Most of them are nurses, midwives or physiotherapists and all are involved in working with their local community on health and social issues. Our initial meeting with the Sister Superior, Anapuma Joseph, was exciting as we discussed the possibilities of our training and their obvious commitment to it They all spoke excellent English and of course their knowledge of anatomy and physiology was vastly superior to ours. I think that was one aspect that made our teaching so successful, they had a strong framework to build their newly acquired skills on and all the time they were thinking how they could apply reflexology.

On our first day of training we divided into two groups, as two rooms had been made available for us. John and I included the therapists in our group as their knowledge of English was limited and we can both speak some Hindi, John being quite fluent. After we had introduced ourselves the sisters made us very welcome by giving us some flowers and lighting special candles. We then started with some hand warm up exercises, however on the second day, the sisters took the initiative and sang the most beautiful bhajans (devotional songs) to begin our sessions. It created a most powerful atmosphere. The students paired up and were quickly absorbing the information in our teaching package. It was interesting having the therapists working with us as they shared their knowledge, and the Sisters acted as excellent interpreters. As I mentioned earlier their knowledge of A&P was extensive and they were fascinated how each part of the body could be related to an area on the foot.
On day three we asked them to prioritise the illnesses that they encountered most in their work with villagers. Sciatica, anaemia, back pain, infertility, diabetes were high on the list.

By day four they had learnt the whole foot sequence, some without looking at the diagrams and when we asked them which area of the foot they were working on they always replied correctly. At the end of the day they were working in pairs and taking each other's case histories.

On the fifth day they practised as if they were working on a client from beginning to end. We then fed back on how the week had gone and what they had achieved. And finally we presented them with their certificates and took group photographs.
Every lunchtime they had prepared the most delicious food for the whole team that often included specialities from Kerala where some of the sisters had grown up. This was also an opportunity to get to know each other better and ask the Sisters about their lives and their families.

One of my strongest memories was that the Sisters were always laughing. There were no tensions within the groups, they were eager to learn and wanted to teach people in the villages the skills they had learnt. The price of medicine is always a problem for some of the poorest families, whereas reflexology is free and all you need is your hands. So even before we left we were setting up our programme for next year. They want us to come back and teach the advanced course so that they will have the ROI qualification to teach others. They also want to know more about hand reflexology.

I know all four of us felt that the expedition was a great success and we had some very positive feedback from our students. As a team we got on extremely well and learnt a lot from each other (Bob even tried to teach us bridge!). I don't think that anything or anyone can fully prepare you for travelling in India; it's something you have to experience for yourself. However it won't be until October 2007, when we return, that we will be able to assess the full impact of our training and whether the Sisters have put their newly aquired skills into practice. But I have a strong sense that the Sisters will be greeting us with completed case studies.

If you are interested in supporting or joining us and knowing more about our organisation please look at our website: http://www.roi.org.uk.





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