Karen Allen, CCH has been practicing homeopathy since 1993, with a focus on healthy endocrine and hormonal function, in support of conception and pregnancy, and to repair endocrine function that has been disturbed following pregnancy loss, birth, personal trauma, medical interventions or ill effects from contraceptives. Karen has authored two widely used homeopathic texts, The Repertory Workbook and the CHC Prep Guide. She is a past president of the Council for Homeopathic Certification, where she still serves as a board member. She is working closely with Homeopaths without Boarders – NA in the project to bring homeopathy to Haiti as a low cost, effective health care option for the people there. You can see more about her work and classes she teaches at her website: www.karenallenhomeopathy.com
Editor’s note: At the end of this interview are numerous pictures of homeopaths teaching in Haiti.
Vatsala: Natural disasters are as old as Nature itself. To keep the universe on a forward momentum, nature, with equal favor to all the three processes, is constantly engaged in creation, preservation and destruction. The hunger for 24/7 news is, however, a recent phenomenon. The news media have figured out that news, if not pure bad news, is not worth telling. So, you turn any news channel on, and all you hear about is a graphic description of everything that can ever go wrong with Nature and with human behavior. In this genre, the large scale natural disasters are broadcast with ferocious eagerness. A Tsunami strikes a coastal town, and within minutes you can see Anderson Cooper braving the 30foot tall waves in his khakis, standing inches away from the jaws of death, microphone in his hand, camera crew nearby, wind lashing at his rain parka and messing up his finely combed silvery mane … you get the idea.
What this pictorial feed of 24/7 bad news does to the viewers is that it prompts at least some of them to get moving and act. Governmental and public relief agencies rise to the occasion (not necessarily in that order). Donations in cash and kind start pouring in. Volunteers from all over the world stir out of their nests and descend upon the disaster zone, bringing with them the much needed help, support, and supplies. Red Cross medical and paramedical teams pitch tents, taking over the job of restoration of health and limbs to the injured. United Nations teams hover close by doing their bit. The armed forces come along and do a commendable job of restoring order and some normalcy to the disaster zone, while the politicians of every stripe go on helicopter tours viewing the disaster from a safe height.
A few days later another disaster strikes somewhere else. News teams and volunteer teams move on to the new site. And the cycle goes on. Six months, one year or a few years down the road, the collective attention has also moved on to the new disaster sites. The old ones are left to heal on their own and away from international headlines and spot lights. Some do. Some need ongoing help – and sometimes that is rather hard to come by.
Even before the news media took upon itself the job of informing the masses about natural disasters, epidemics and tragedies, homeopaths have been dealing with these issues. In the early 19th century, homeopathy, founded by Samuel Hahnemann (1765-1843), had secured good standing and position in almost all the countries in the western world, including the United States, where it was introduced in 1825 (1). Around then people knew the difference between ‘Apothecary medicine’ (lancet and calomel were the mainstay) and the medicinal uses of native plants. They preferred the natural medicine and regarded the apothecary medicine as ‘uniformly poisonous’. These choices made by the masses brought on the economic competition between conventional medicine and homeopathy, and by the 1840’s, this competition was turning quite hostile (2).
Then came the cholera epidemic of 1849, when William Holcombe used homeopathic remedies to successfully treat his cases, and had no deaths in his care, except that his best friend had taken conventional medicine for the same illness and died (3). For a similar cholera epidemic in London, the death rate in conventional medicine was 59.2 % as opposed to 9 % under homeopathic treatment (4). Homeopathy saw a further increase in use and popularity right around the Civil War (1861-65) even though homeopaths were totally excluded from the Union Army during the Civil War (5). Yellow fever was another epidemic in which homeopathy was found to be highly effective. Homeopaths had a number of remedies for each stage of the disease – fever, exhaustion and collapse – and the mortality rate in their care was just 5.6 – 7.7 % whereas, the conventionally treated population saw a steep mortality of 27 – 72% (6). Meanwhile during the 1813 epidemics of typhus fever, Hahnemann himself had treated 180 cases losing only two, and the death rate in conventional medicine was 30% (7). Similarly, for treatment of influenza during 1918 pandemic, homeopathy death rate was 1.05 % and the conventional medicine death rate was 28.2% (8).
With such a stellar record of successful treatments during epidemics, it is only natural for the homeopaths to feel confident of their system of medicine and trust its efficacy and usefulness in the handling of natural disasters and emergencies (epidemics and pandemics being a part of the same process). They know that they can deal with these critical situations and that their system of understanding of the disease conditions and the arsenal of remedies at their disposal make them a formidable force for tackling natural disasters, epidemics, accidents and so on.
A quick review of application of homeopathy in emergencies and natural disasters in recent times shows that homeopathy has been used well during the man-made disaster of 9/11/2001 in the US (9), the March 2011 nuclear disaster in Japan (10), Hurricane Katrina (11) and so on. This list would not be complete if the work done by Homeopaths without Borders (HWB) after the January 2010 earth quake in Haiti is not included. Being a homeopath myself, I have been following the work of HWB with much pride. When Sally Tamplin, a US based classical homeopath with links to my dear teacher Misha Norland’s School of Homeopathy, Devon, UK, shared a hair-raising slide show of her and HWB’s work in Haiti, I made a pledge to keep an eye on this project and if possible meet with or talk to someone who has worked in Haiti to get a firsthand idea of what HWB (12) was up to in that country.
In a chance meeting with Karen Allen during the NCH 2012 conference, I learned that she had visited Haiti in connection with HWB’s ongoing work and it was only natural that I would ask her questions … why, when, what, who, where and how… Just imagine my excitement when I found that in the backwaters of earthquake ravaged Haiti, HWB has become the “little engine that chugs along and says it can”. This is the very reason I must share with you what I heard from Karen Allen.
Vatsala: Way back in January 2010, Haiti was struck by an earthquake that measured 7.2 on the Richter scale, took 316,000 lives, injured 300,000, made 1,000,000 homeless and destroyed 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial buildings. It is 2012 now, two years later and Haiti is not in the headlines anymore. You are still visiting Haiti. What makes you want to go there now? What inspires you?
Karen: About eight to ten years ago, I was at a NCH conference and a few of us were sitting around speaking with each other. Carole Boyce, a British homeopath whom I admire, was talking about all the countries she had visited and worked in. That was very inspiring to me, but at that time my kids were little, I was raising them and growing my practice. Even though I considered Carole’s work very valuable, I could not do what she was doing. The time was not right for me. Presently, my kids have grown and left home. I have eased back from the leadership role of running a homeopathy school. So, when Holly Moonigian, the executive director of Homeopaths without borders, (HWB), suggested that I could work in Haiti, I said, “YES”. It is the right time for me now.
I am inspired by the project itself. About half of the population in Haiti has no access to basic health care. HWB asked us homeopaths if we could provide community service in the area of acute diseases, trauma, basic lesional complaints like acid stomach, vaginitis, sore back from over work, injuries, flu, dengue, and so on, and help the country with basic health education, and we were very willing.
As volunteer members of HWB, what we are trying to do in Haiti is to create a group of local Haitians who would be trained to provide basic homeopathic care. These people, with the training we would give them, would go back to their communities and give basic homeopathic care to the members of their community. What HWB has in mind is what we had way back in the 1880’s when the great American West was being formed. People from the East were traveling Westward with all their family and meager belongings piled into covered wagons. There were no roads, trains, buses or hospitals back then. But people carried a kit of a few homeopathic remedies and Boeninghausen’s pocket materia medica and repertory. If they or their animals fell sick or got wounded, as they invariably did, they knew how to read the repertory, find a remedy suitable to a condition and initiate a treatment. The situation in present day Haiti, especially after the January 2010 earthquake that turned the country into a pile of rubble, is no different than the situations that existed way back in the 1880’s… no running water, no electricity, no money, no availability of medicines, doctors and hospitals, no sanitation, not even proper housing and food for the masses that are still living a life that is totally shattered from the earthquake.
In these circumstances, we, the members of HWB, want to create an educational curriculum to teach the Haitians the art of self-care when the hospital and drug based conventional therapeutic and emergency care is not accessible to them.
Haiti has so little in terms of money and resources. Haiti needs our ongoing help. That is what inspired me to go to Haiti now, even though the disaster occurred two years ago.
Vatsala: I understand about your inspiration for trying to work with HWB to provide basic health care to Haitians who have essentially nothing and who live on very little. This is a formidable goal indeed. My question in this regard is, how is HWB received in Haiti? What is the response of the community that HWB is serving?
Karen: From the very beginning, since HWB volunteers first arrived in Haiti way back in February 2010, we have been received in a very positive manner (reference 12, 2nd link). In the very beginning, we were mainly concerning ourselves with running free clinics and providing homeopathic care to the sick and injured. Now, we have changed our focus. Now we are trying to educate Haitians in self care and community service using homeopathy. We have been teaching groups of interested students. These students in our main group in Port Au Prince are very passionate about their desire to serve their community. Some of them travel a long distance to come for our classes. Many of them work in areas where there is no other form of health care available. When HWB interviewed these students individually, they expressed how grateful they were to receive the basic tools of homeopathy so that they could take care of themselves and their community. They told stories about the people who have been helped. A man who was injured and could not stand on his feet for the past two years, was given a dose of Rhus tox and he was now able to walk. The students are very excited when they see the possibility that they can relieve suffering. Besides this, the regular people are happy to come to our clinics.
We see 75-100 patients during the clinic days. The students are learning while we do the case taking and treatment. Mothers of small kids are very happy to have us there. There are some other places they can go, but there are rules. Some clinics and hospitals will see them only if they are actively bleeding. Others will see them only if they have money – no money no care. But in HWB clinics we see them whether they have money or not, whether their injuries are new or old. We see them because they need health care, irrespective of whether they can afford to pay or not.
One fortuitous development is that a group of Haitians working in the south east part of Belle Anse have approached us about partnering with them to help create a sustainable and inexpensive health care place. Some members of this group live in the US and are helping their community in Haiti now. Belle Anse is an extremely poor area, not easily connected to the rest of the country and the local education level is second or third grade. Very few high schools or universities exist there. These folks are asking if HWB would come to their communities and partner with them to teach homeopathy to the community service volunteers from their area. HWB has agreed to provide this help.
This group of forward thinking Haitians has put out a call to the people who are interested in this educational program. We are getting students from villages who want to train with us as community service homeopaths. There is a lot of interest on the part of people in clinical and other philanthropic organizations who want to create sustainable, effective, and affordable health care options for Haitians, so that when conventional medicine is out of reach – as it is mostly, due to the lack of hospitals, doctors and medicine, as well as due to their utter poverty – they can take care of their own and their community’s health using the basic tools of homeopathy.
Amongst the students that we have trained so far, some of them are nurses, one is a medical student, and they are very excited about talking to others about homeopathy and teaching them the basic tools that they are learning from us. To help them in this regard, NCH is building a curriculum similar to that which is followed by the US based study groups. Our Haitian students can follow this curriculum to expand their own knowledge as well as disseminate the knowledge to other interested people in their community. These students are eager to learn from the visiting homeopaths as well as from books. They come up with creative ideas about how to make the training more familiar to Haitian students. They want us to teach all over their country. They want to distribute this health care and education option all across their country. Their enthusiasm is infectious.
Vatsala: Haiti is a French / Creole speaking country. In what language do HWB volunteers give instructions? Do you need and use any translators?
Karen: There is no free education in Haiti. You have to pay to go to school. Schools teach in French. People speak in Creole, but books are not available in this language. We teach and give educational handouts in French. The classroom conversation is in Creole. Some students do not read or write French because they never went to any school. We are teaching them in Creole and giving handouts in Creole.
We could not function without a multi-lingual translator. Actually Holly Moonigian is excellent in hiring translators. We contribute to the local economy by hiring them. We have been giving the translator a lot of books to read so that he can get a better understanding of homeopathy and its philosophy and thus do a better job of translating. We use a translator in our clinics as well. The supervising homeopath speaks English-and French.
Vatsala: Regarding contributions to the economy in Haiti, what I am wondering is whether the students whom you train in the basics of homeopathic care, intend to go out into their community, help people with homeopathy and make a living for themselves, by charging a fee for their services.
Karen: I believe these students have this on their minds. Remember, the unemployment rate in Haiti is over 50%. Prior to the quake it was 80%. Most adults are jobless.
Holly and I have talked about raising funds for the strongest of our students to receive pay from us for the first couple of years while they establish a practice or are working in the existing clinics that HWB has put in place. This would come to perhaps 200-300 dollars per month to fund them as a full time homeopath. This is our next project and we are seeking to establish six of our students as full time, paid practitioners and for this we are raising money.
Look at the potential good. One of the students going to a community where there is zero health care, sets up a homeopathy practice and holds clinic – three or four days per week – treating people and discussing cases with HWB homeopaths. They will see over 30-40 patients per day, 120 patients per week, 500-600 patients per month, 6000 and more patients per year. Now, that is a huge community service and for their first two years, HWB will send them a pay check every month. That means, for very little cost, and with just some basic training, a Haitian homeopath will be able to help and provide basic health care using homeopathy in his or her community where hospitals, doctors, pharmaceutical drugs and other forms of health care are not available.