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Reflexology Outreach International

Reflexology Outreach International Expedition 2007 To India

Passage to India
Bach In 2006 a team of volunteer reflexologists from the ROI went to India for the first time. Basic training programmes were carried out in Kolkata,West Bengal, and Bodhgaya, Bihar,the one in Bodhgaya being particularly successful. In October 2007 a second team went to India; the aims of this expedition were to build on the training that had been done in Bodhgaya then to travel down to Kollum, Kerala, for a further training programme.

There were four of us in the team, Marilyn Williams, Pat Griffin, Sylvia Bates and myself. Marilyn was a member of last year's team and has been to India many times. For the rest of us, it was our first visit to India though we had all taken part in ROI expeditions to Uganda.

We flew to Kolkata which was everything we had expected and more - hot, humid, vibrant, noisy, colourful and very crowded with extreme poverty much in evidence. We were fortunate to be there during two major festivals. It was Eid - the end of Ramadan - just after we arrived and we were able to see thousands of Muslims congregate in the city centre for their early morning prayers the men all in white and the segregated women in colourful Indian dress.

It was also the run up to the Hindu festival of Durga Puga. We saw the final touches being made to many of the huge clay effigies of the goddess Durga that are displayed at all over the city before being transported to the Hoogley river for their mass ritual submersion. Millions of rupees are spent on these displays and it is hard to reconcile this with the extreme poverty that we saw everywhere.

Night train to Gaya
From Kolkata we took the overnight train to Gaya - Marilyn was an old hand at this but it was a new experience for the rest of us! We were met at the station by a therapist friend of Marilyn's and taken to our hotel in Bodhgaya.

Later that morning we had a planning meeting with Sister Anapuma Joseph, the Sister Superior from the Amar Jhoti Centre where thirty Sisters completed the basic reflexology training last year. Our intention this time was to teach a basic and an advanced group and we were expecting around fifteen students in each group. We were dismayed to learn that we would have only four students as the majority of the Sisters were on a retreat.

We had to make the best of this situation. Our training at both basic and advanced level normally consists of twenty hours teaching spread over five days. We decided to condense the training into three days. Marilyn and Sylvia taught the advanced students which for the first time covered hand reflexology. Pat and I taught the basic course. The students all did really well and at the end of the three days were presented with their certificates. If the advanced students successfully complete six case studies they will then achieve trainer status and be able to teach other students.

While we were in Bodhgaya we visited the Root Institute, a charitable Buddhist trust that, as well as running courses on Buddhism, yoga, meditation etc., has a health programme catering for the poorer people living in remote villages. We were very interested to learn that they have a HIV/AIDS education programme and indeed care for several people who have the disease. In India, HIV/AIDS is still very much a taboo subject; patients are often victimised and ostracised so they are very reluctant to reveal their status. There is a general lack of education and public awareness. We spoke to the head of the Root Institute health centre about the work that the ROI does, usually concentrating on teaching reflexology to carers of people with HIV/AIDS and those who actually have the virus. The clinic manager expressed interest in our coming out to carry out some teaching there and he will contact us when they have had a chance to consider this possibility in more depth.

Flying down to Kollum
After a week in Bodhgaya we made the very long journey down to Kollum, Kerala, in the South of India – this involved taking the overnight train back to Kolkata, then taking two internal flights and another overnight train down to Kollum where we were finally collected by two of the Sisters from the convent where we were to spend the next week. They were lovely people and made us feel very much at home.

Due to the other commitments of the Sisters, we again had to condense our teaching into three days which was quite a challenge. We had twenty very enthusiastic and entertaining Sisters to teach - many of them were nurses but we also had teachers and social workers. One was involved in an HIV/AIDS awareness programme which of course was of particular interest to us. We taught the students as one group, taking turns to present the theoretical parts of the course with all of us teaching the simplified foot sequence that the ROI uses (based on that used by Ann Gillanders). At the end of three days of hard work our students had a good grasp of the sequence. We had a very emotional certificate giving ceremony and feedback time. One of the Sisters gave an incredibly moving and articulate thank you speech - not a dry eye to be seen. Most of the students as well as Sister Lucius, the Regional Head, are very keen for us to return next year to teach the advanced course. We hope this will be possible though we would need to have a very firm commitment regarding numbers of students.

After we had finished the teaching, we all agreed that any future expeditions to India should concentrate on either the north of the country or the south. To do both as we did is far too time-consuming and tiring. We also agreed that we should insist on a five day training programme - the three days that we did this time is really far too intensive.

Our last few days were spent relaxing in Kerala - two nights at a very beautiful and peaceful Ayurvedic centre on the backwaters and two nights in colonial Fort Cochin where we were lucky enough to see a traditional Kathakali performance which is a combination of mime and dance with incredible costumes and make-up - a wonderful experience. From Cochin we flew back to a chilly Heathrow, unfortunately arriving some days before our baggage which had been mislaid in Mumbai!

The expedition was undoubtedly hard work and didn't always go according to plan. However, our students were a pleasure to teach and, as a team, we worked well together and had lots of laughs and very positive times. India itself was a great experience and one that I wouldn't have missed.


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