Acupuncturists Without Borders

In 2015 Dr. Sara Gordon Kendall traveled to Ecuador where, working with Acupuncturists Without Borders and the Osa Foundation, she and eight other acupuncturists treated over 900 people. This is her story.


We boarded our own bus and proceeded through the Andes passing a luscious cloud forest and arrived in Tena, Ecaudor, where we were met by the ministry of health and other government officials along with television and video cameras inside the local community center.

There were 150 people were waiting for us. We were surprised at the turn out, though went to work immediately and at that point it was obvious that our group would work extremely well together. Our guide, Jonathon, was very well known and revered as he was being interviewed regarding the many indigenous and reforestation projects within the Amazon and Andean region.

The next morning, we found ourselves leaving the bus at some point in the jungle and hiking farther in. After our morning feast and clinic, we were met with about 150 people again. It was amazing….how everyone was so quiet and calm. They all received five needles in both ears to reduce the sympathetic nervous system, strengthen the heart, kidneys, liver and lung.

The next day we found ourselves treating another large crowd of 100 or more in the community center and a smaller one down the road in a neighboring town.

A few days later, we all boarded a smaller bus that took us far deeper into the rain forest. This group of indigenous had been moved and displaced many, many, times. In the pouring rain, we literally drove through four rivers and over two bridges, clapping for the bus driver each time expressing our relief that we had made it without getting stuck!!

After treating a very large and unexpected amount of people , we realized that we were running low on needles. We called Lhasa acupuncture supplies in the US, trying to organize a donated shipment from them to arrive at the city of Riobamba where we would be staying for several days at the end of our trip. Since we still had a couple more clinics before Riobamba, we all started to pull needles together from our personal supplies.

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Then we were off to Riobamba and the high Andes. Here we stayed at a mission and were fed by the sweetest nuns.

After we spent the morning in clinic we went up the hillside to the community of Agua Santa. The day continued becoming more intense.

As we came off our bus, we were met by people asking us if we had brought them water. We were literally in the heart of the equator where the most fertile land was. The area was experiencing a drought and their lives depended on the rain. Their corn was dying.

We treated about 80 people there. They hadn’t showered for a long time, it was obvious by how matted their hair was and even though they cleaned their ears with alcohol before our treatment, we had to use Q-tips to re-clean them before inserting our needles. Many children looked so dirty that we wiped their faces clean with antibacterial wipes. They soon became our friends.

At this point, I could feel the impact of the trip working its way into my heart. Feeling the difficulty to sit intimately with these people, taking in this extremely poor village and their dire situation, I sat there with them anyway and ate from the large bowl of fava beans that they passed around for lunch. I had a moment where I had to walk away, feeling tears rolling down my face. I had to sit down onto the dirt and just breathe deep for awhile. I felt guilty that I was going to leave that night and be in a comfortable bed at the mission. Marin seemed so far away.

The last day we met with a traveling healer/shaman in the village of Flores. His name was Anti Paxi and he was a healer and agriculturalist. His teachings included reconnecting people to farming and the cycles of the moon and sun. It was obvious that he embodied quite a bit of Taoism. He talked about healing as reestablishing the connection with the earth through gardening, eating from the garden and growing medicinal plants.

The shaman told us of a prophecy that was very old and spoke of a time where the eagle from the north would fly with the condor from the south. This would be a time where North and South America would come together to create healing for the indigenous and be a model for the rest of the earth. He pointed out to us that we were this living prophecy. We were all very touched by his words.

That afternoon we went back to the village center and performed our last clinic. The people requested to hear from each of us about who we were and what motivated us to come and visit them. This clinic time was the most powerful and as we all sat together during the 45 minute treatment many of us including Jonathon were in tears.

I still feel the impact of being with those that live so close to the earth with such dependence on the earth’s environment. Of course I’ve been filled with unanswerable questions about how it came to be that my life is in this comfortable heaven-realm of Marin. And theirs, in the earthy highlands of the Andes and lowlands of the Amazon jungle where their life survival literally depends on maintaining a piece of land that won’t be encroached upon by corporate interests, and the ability to grow food, medicinal plants and environmental influences like rain for water.

The indigenous of Ecuador have touched my life in a way that will be unfolding for a long time.



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