A Polish Experience

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Last May the International Conference on Harm Reduction was held in Warsaw. Poland.  Little did we know at the time, that attendance at that conference would sow the seeds for a very special, moving and inspiring “Polish experience” for Acudetox Plus UK.

 Two workers from DHI (Drugs and Homeless Initiative), Trish Thompson and Mick Webb attended the conference, along with Rosie Phillips, who is the director of DHI, and colleague, Chris Hutchison.  Both Trish and Mick are trained in Stage I (detox points) and Stage II (Hep C) auricular acupuncture and are assistant trainers for Acudetox Plus UK.

 Though neither speaks Polish, they quickly made friends with drug workers from various parts of Poland.  Instead of returning directly to England after the conference, they took some holiday time in order to see a bit more of Poland. They were invited to visit the Monar Project in Krakow by Grzegorz  Wodowski, the director.  They were full of admiration for the wonderful work done by the dedicated people they met, who have to cope with lack of funding and very limited resources.

 Fortunately, they had the foresight to take some ear acupuncture needles with them, plus other necessary equipment.  While in Krakow they offered some sessions of ear acupuncture to staff and clients. The response was overwhelming.  This treatment, which was unheard of in Poland as an adjunct treatment for substance misuse, was so enthusiastically received and so much appreciated.

 Trish and Mick returned to Bristol, elated, and determined to do something to help rectify the total lack of ear acupuncture in Poland.  So when the next steering group (which regulates Acudetox Plus) met, we discussed the possibility of going to Poland to train some workers.  All were in agreement to the plan and Acudetox pledged to finance the project if no funding could be raised in Poland.

 In the meantime, Trish and Mick returned to Krakow in August for a holiday and did two drop-ins, where they treated a total of 40+ people.  Meanwhile, Grzegorz took on the mammoth task of recruiting people from all over Poland to do the training, sorting out training rooms, etc., while we at Acudetox had a lot of preparation, including getting our training manual translated into Polish by Zaneta, originally from the Monar Project, but now working for DHI in Swindon (and is also trained in ear acupuncture).

 After months of preparation – and many emails later, three of us flew to Krakow on 2nd March – Trish, Mick and I, Anne Marshall, the trainer.  This was something very special for me personally, since I visited Poland quite a few times in the 80’s and have a great love for the country. I even learned to speak the language.  We were met by Grzegorz and felt immediately at home.  He arranged for us to stay in an apartment in the old Jewish quarter of Krakow, Kazimierz.

 Training started the next day (Monday).  There were 21 students from various cities in Poland – Krakow, Warsaw, Lodz, Szczecin, Torun, Wroclaw and Bielsko-Biala.  Their eagerness and diligence amazed us.  They were so keen to learn what we were offering.  The atmosphere was happy, friendly and relaxed.  They practised their needle technique to perfection and literally soaked up every bit of information we gave them. When asked to pair up to needle certain points, this they did quickly and very well, and then went on to practise on several more people.

 The practical sessions were great fun.  The fact that Trish and Mick didn’t speak Polish didn’t seem to matter – they do know a few words, including the names of all the ear points.  There was always someone in the group who could speak English and quite a few of the students understood English and enjoyed having the training in both languages.

 The training finished on Friday, and everyone passed with flying colours. Their excitement and gratitude was overwhelming.  Fortunately, we had taken a generous supply of needles and sharps bins and were able to give everyone a box of needles and every agency one or two sharps bins.  We also let everyone keep their rubber ears (used for practising needle technique) as a souvenir of the training. This news was greeted with a huge cheer.  After the certificates were awarded, various future David Baileys took numerous photographs.  Many friendships were made amongst the students and also between the students and us.

 This, our Polish experience, was quite moving and emotional for us, as well as being very interesting.  We felt very privileged to be able to introduce ear acupuncture to drug workers in Poland, where it was so eagerly and gratefully received.  The feedback from the students was so positive and encouraging.  We have every confidence that the skills learnt from our training will very quickly be implemented and that numerous clients will benefit from this wonderful treatment.

 We definitely plan to return in a year to do reassessments and to train some more workers and suitable service users.  We hope that this is just the beginning of our Polish experience.

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