Hope at the Front Line

A holistic model for humanitarian aid is helping people in Australia
As the Pakistan floods have shown in recent months, so many of the world's people live on the edge of a precipice. Even here in affluent, safe Australia there are many in desperate need. One organisation is answering the call in a holistic way, as founder Jimi Wollumbin explains.A political refugee from Central America called Maria (not her real name) is injured in a robbery by local bag snatchers, hurting her neck badly. While her application for asylum has been slowly processed for the last 11 years, she has had no Medicare, no work visa, and is not even allowed the right to volunteer her services to help pass the time and meet new friends. She hears of a free acupuncture clinic in Auburn in Sydney's west run for survivors of torture and trauma that she could access, but she receives free board in inner west Glebe, and can't even afford the bus fair to the clinic.

Such stories are not uncommon; in fact, anyone working in the community sector knows only too well how common they are. Whether they be political refugees from some distant land, or a 15 year old boy seeking asylum in the streets of Kings Cross from the angry words and fists of his alcoholic father, every day people are falling through the gaps right here in Australia. When our gaze extends to the situation in many developing countries, it is exceedingly difficult not to freeze in the grips of complete overwhelm.

So what is the answer? There is no answer; at least no single answer, just a series of gestures of humanity from many different hands on many different fronts. The sheer enormity of the situation demands a multifaceted, multi-sectoral, integrative and holistic response, and that's where One Health comes in.

One Health Organisation is Australia's first Holistic Humanitarian Aid Agency, and it arose to bridge the gap between the vibrant and growing international wellness sector and the consistently under-resourced community development sector engaged in trying to help those that have fallen through the gaps. It was hoped that by bringing holistic perspectives and practices to the frontlines of healthcare where stories like Maria's were unfolding, a more integrated, and ultimately more effective humanitarian response may be offered. In 2005, when OHO was launched, as with so many of the people on the projects themselves, hope was the only resource available.

A client from the early days of OHO's Youth in Crisis project with the Salvation Army recently contacted someone in the community projects team looking for the naturopath who had helped her with the heroin addiction she had struggled with since her early teens. When it was discovered that she had not only made a spectacular recovery, but was now a youth worker herself, she was asked how she did it and this was her response about the importance of hope:

"I'm not sure how my life finally changed for the better. I spent so many years struggling to keep my head above water. I was drowning and at times I seriously considered stopping the fight and letting the tide take me under. But I always had this flame inside me. A voice whispering never give up. My guardian angel was holding me, giving me hope. Now I don't feel like I am fighting. Something clicked and my life stopped being a painful effort. Now life is so good. There is so much to see, to achieve and to learn. Now when I wake up it is with a smile. The world holds so much beauty! What an awful waste it would have been to let myself drown. Thank you for helping me in my darker days."

Similarly for One Health as an organisation, the future is now looking bright. From the humble beginnings of its first project with two acupuncturists and a few boxes of donated needles, this year OHO distributed a massive three quarters of a tonne in nutritional supplements to over 40 community centres around Australia and sent more than 100kg of herbal supplements to projects overseas.

What's the secret to its success besides hope? A holistic, integrative and collaborative strategy based upon the very principles it espouses. What this translates into is ensuring sustainability by working together with leading businesses in the wellness industry, and building in stability through collaborating with a diverse range of independent ground level initiatives. In addition to its own projects, OHO extends its considerable infrastructure via a "collaborative partnership program" to small practitioner-led community health initiatives with a holistic focus.

Natalie Wareham, now OHO's National Community Projects Manager, was once a practitioner on such a collaborative project. "The project opened my eyes and my heart. To witness so many moments where people lost fear and began to heal and regain power and hope reminded me why I began this work," says Natalie. With the support of OHO, Natalie and a team of kinesiologists, counsellors and homeopaths were able to create an avenue for transformation and healing in Kenya by working with and training war torn and traumatised community groups and villages.

Natalie recalls a 12 year old girl, who had been at an orphanage for seven years. She had few friends and did not engage in eye contact, keeping her head and shoulders hunched and rarely engaging in any activities. During the treatment, the girl revealed that after her parents had been killed in a conflict, she had gone to live with her grandparents and was raped by a stranger. Her grandparents were unable to provide the care she needed and so, like so many other children, she was sent to live in an orphanage. The young girl had nightmares every night, found it difficult to trust anyone and was not engaged in her schooling - the only hope in helping move children out of poverty.

"After the first treatment of kinesiology, the girl looked in my eyes and said 'thank you'. The bad feelings were gone and she then hugged me and cried," recalls Natalie. On her return to the orphanage some weeks later, the girl ran up to Natalie excitedly, and told her how much she was now enjoying school and that her nightmares had stayed away. "She then asked if instead of treating her again, could I treat one of her new friends, and she believed she needed it more than herself!"

The project was heralded as a great success and attracted significant interest from government agencies and other NGOs alike. As part of her work with One Health, Natalie now assists similar small initiatives form collaborative partnerships with OHO so that infrastructure, micro-financing, medical supplies, policy and legal status can be channelled into them, allowing them to stay focused on the work at hand. For while Darwinian competition may rule supreme in the corporate sector, in the community sector, a model of symbiosis evolved long ago, which allows both parties to maintain their autonomy and uniqueness, yet benefit from the other's strengths.

One such collaborative partnership formed during Natalie's time with OHO is with a Melbourne-based organisation called Traditional Healthcare. It is building a sustainable healthcare facility in rural India that features sustainable architecture with renewable energy sources, permaculture gardens, and holistic medical services centred around Traditional Chinese Medicine. The centre is expected to be finished by February 2011.

Meanwhile, back in Australia, Dorge, a young Tibetan student, arrives in Sydney on a tourist visa. He had been working as a translator and was a member of an activist group in Tibet. Arrested and imprisoned by the Chinese authorities, Dorge escaped to India with the help of a courageous relative. Dorge presented to one of One Health's community partners, the Asylum Seekers Centre of NSW, homeless and in need of both financial support and health care. The centre's caseworker arranged emergency temporary accommodation on the day of his arrival, basic financial assistance, and referred Dorge to the centre's health care program, which OHO supports.

Dorge's foot had been fractured during his imprisonment and had never healed properly. Appointments were arranged with the physiotherapist and a community podiatrist and appropriate treatment, including orthotics, was provided free of charge. Psychological support was also arranged at the Asylum Seekers Centre as his mental health had deteriorated and he was not sleeping very well at all. He came to the centre every day for meals, yoga and basic computer skills training. Just last month, Dorge came to the centre very relieved to have recently received his protection visa after a relatively brief interim period.

OHO's integrative health care services have been offered to refugees such as Dorge since early 2006, and have included naturopathic advice, nutritional care, remedial massage, shiatsu, physiotherapy and Feldenkrais.

Such stories will hopefully be a lot more common in future, both in Australia and on the international stage, for One Health was officially accepted as a registered associate of the United Nations DPI earlier this year. As one of only 111 organisations around the globe to have gained such recognition, OHO then attended the 63rd International UN Conference on "Making Health Global", representing holistic perspectives for the first time at a major international event.

As the founder and CEO, the privilege and challenge of speaking to the assembled UN representatives in front of the 1700 delegates from some 350 international NGOs on the relevance of integrative and holistic medical practices in advancing global health, fell to me (after several very deep, very slow breaths). As a direct result of further discussions with the Executive Committee, the conference declaration was then amended to specifically urge the prioritisation of integrative national health and nutritional plans and the amended declaration was submitted to the UN General Assembly at the world summit in New York on September 20 this year.

Not only did this act not solve any of the problems of the world, it is doubtful whether any of the international leaders at the General Assembly even noticed the change among so many other significant issues, such as infant mortality, malnutrition and the devastating spread of HIV/AIDS. The real impact of this event, I hope, will be the inspiration it gives others to similarly share holistic, sustainable and integrative perspectives in arenas and environments they may otherwise shy away from... and that means you.

But what about Maria from Central America and her injured neck? Hope is at hand for her also, for One Health has just launched an "Open Clinic" pilot project with the Toyohari Japanese Acupuncture Association of Australia, so that clients such as Maria may be referred directly into the clinics of One Health's professional members to receive treatment for free. There is already such an "open clinic" in Maria's neighbourhood. If successful, this service will be extended to include the full spectrum of holistic treatments available in Australia at a national level.

For more information on how to join as a member of OHO, or to get support via our collaborative partnership program please visit our website: www.onehealthorganisation.org