Sharon is the fiance of a long-time friend of mine, Bill. During their visit to New Hampshire a few months ago, Sharon mentioned in passing her experience with Flor Espinosa, a village acupuncturist in rural Nicaragua. It was like she dropped a precious gift on my messy dining table. The moment I heard the story, I knew this was something my POCA community needed to hear. So I asked Sharon for an interview.
In 1998, Sharon went on a service trip to Nicaragua. The local Quaker House arranged for her to stay with Flor Espinosa. Sharon was drawn to do service in Nicaragua because she wanted to see what life was like in the country after the revolution in the 1970's and 80's. The Sandinista Revolution was a people’s uprising that overthrew a family dynasty that had tyrannically controlled Nicaragua over four decades. You can read more about that here.
Now working as a hospice nurse in North Carolina, Sharon told me about her introduction to acupuncture through Flor Espinosa and what it was like to live with Flor and go to work with her.
Before Flor Espinosa was the village acupuncturist of her community in Achuapa, Leon, she struggled financially and suffered from arthritis. Her husband had left her and she sold eggs on the street to try to carve out a living. She decided to go to Managua, a bigger city in search of healing. She found a Korean acupuncturist who gave her treatments that greatly improved her health. Flor asked the acupuncturist to teach her how to do acupuncture. Sharon does not know how long Flor studied with the Korean acupuncturist. When Flor returned to her home she set up shop and to this day treats patients at a sesame seed coop that makes products for The Body Shop cosmetic company.
Sharon went into greater detail about the poverty in Achuapa, Leon. She would lie awake at night and listen to the rats on the thatched roof. In the morning, she would wake up and find rat feces in her bed that had fallen through the roof during the night. Electricity was scarce. Only one household appliance could run at a time, so the blender couldn't run while her host family was enjoying soap operas. Meals were cooked in an outdoor kitchen and they ate tortillas and beans 3 meals a day.
It is important to mention the poverty in Achuapa. Sharon worked with Flor at her office at the coop. Patients would arrive one at a time for private treatments and would usually say something to the effect of “I don't feel well, put the needles in.” I was surprised that the treatments were in a private setting and I asked if Flor's community could afford private acupuncture treatments. As a North American, I only know of expensive private room treatments. Sharon said she did not know what Flor charged for treatments. Everyone in Achuapa Leon has the same living conditions as Flor, it's safe to say that treatments were affordable to the average person in that community. “Flor did a lot of bartering or she would say, 'just pay me when you can.'”
Because Flor was able to get the training that she got from a generous practitioner she not only supports herself, she is the matriarch of her family. Her elderly mother moved in with her and so did her daughters and their children. She was able to build an addition onto her home to treat patients after hours and on weekends when the coop is closed.
Flor’s daughter would come to work with her and train when she was able to. I asked Sharon if Flor has trained apprentices from other villages so that they could treat their communities, or if the Korean acupuncturist in Managua had ever trained anyone else who set up shop in another rural community. Sharon had no idea. The nearest towns to Achuapa are too great of a distance for others to travel to get acupuncture. In our work in POCA, we see many requests for affordable community clinics in underserved communities. Just imagine all the underserved communities around the world.
Flor’s story is an example of how POCA ideals manifest organically. The concept of affordable, community-oriented clinics is not new. Flor’s clinic has been around for decades before POCA even existed.
In Flor’s case, she could learn acupuncture through an apprenticeship. And then, in turn provide affordable treatments in her community. This doesn’t work in the United States, that’s why we need POCA Tech.
Every membership drive is a chance for us to take a step back and talk about POCA’s long-term development. Our focus this spring is on the accreditation of POCA Tech. For acupuncture to thrive in the real world, new practitioners need to be grounded in the practicalities of a high volume/low cost clinic, or in owning a clinic in an underserved community.
If every clinic signed up two members, we can reach our goal to provide one-fifth of accreditation costs for POCA Tech. This is one significant step for POCA as a movement: having qualified candidates for jobs that need to be filled and clinics that need to be opened and sustained.
Flor’s story is inspiring because of what she has accomplished on scarce resources and a lot of ingenuity. Working alone, as punks, our resources are also scarce. As a co-op, our resources are abundant. Membership to our coop is what sustains the growth of our movement and the accessibility of our cheap needle naps.