Welcome to Chinese Medicine Bristol's official blog! Here, Acupuncture and TCM pracitioner Sandra Arbelaez will share information about Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine, how they work, and the latest research and developments related to TCM. You will also find knowledge and ideas on how to enjoy a full, healthy life that she has picked up over the course of 15 years of exploring the world of natural health

Monday 1 August 2022

My third trip to Lesvos to offer acupuncture to refugees


I have just come back from my third trip to Lesvos to offer acupuncture to refugees at the wonderful Earth Medicine project.

As times are difficult everywhere and we are all feeling it, this time I didn’t manage to raise the amount of money I aimed for but I was fortunate to collect just enough to make the trip happen thanks to the generosity of friends and family. Another example of how without help from others we can go nowhere!!

I arrived in Lesvos on Sunday July 3rd, wondering if I was up to the task as I had contracted covid two weeks before I was due to fly. I wasn’t feeling 100% when I got there but, as it turned out, I was well enough to do everything that was needed for the following three weeks, and the sun and hot weather seemed to help my body recover.

I was surprised to find that most of the people I met last year were not in Lesvos any more. Some had been moved to other camps in Greece but many of them had actually been granted asylum and had moved on to other countries, mostly to Germany.  This made me very happy especially for the grandmothers and those with disabilities who had endured the bad terrain and poor conditions in the camp for so long and for the children who can now go to school and have a future but it also made me sad as I would have loved to see them one last time to give them a hug and wish them good luck. I hold them all in my heart and pray that they will always be safe and that they will have a beautiful future.


New Arrivals

In contrast with my previous trips, when most of the people I treated had been living in the camp for at least a year, this time practically all of the people I saw had just arrived. This meant that they were still experiencing the physical, mental, and emotional consequences of their long and difficult journeys, of their sudden change of status, of their finding themselves in a place they didn’t know or understand. Amongst them, we had people who experienced rape, torture, who had been shot at, a family who walked over the mountains for days trying to cross borders between Pakistan and Iran and Iran and Turkey without food or drink, terrified of being shot at by police; and a young woman in her early twenties who had had a stroke.

Most people were having difficulty sleeping and could not relax at all when I first met them, many had nightmares about attacks they had experienced and about the night journey on a flimsy boat from Turkey to Lesvos, the mass of water representing a terrifying dark hole where they could die. Everybody’s bodies were solid with muscular tension from the fear that got stuck inside them even before leaving their homes, the wear and tear, the exhaustion and shock from all the difficulties of the journey; and, in many cases, also from the hard labour of many years, were also evident. There were also some very sad faces, and some others with the unmistakable look of chronic pain, both physical and emotional.


Mr A.

We saw men and women from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Somalia, and Sierra Leone. The newest arrivals were mostly from Afghanistan and a few from Somalia.

 Amongst the Somalians I treated from the first day was Mr A. He is in his early 20’s and arrived in Lesvos in 2021, fleeing Somalia after his father and brother were assassinated by paramilitary forces. His family had a business, and he has a young wife and some land but he was forced to escape or he would have been killed too.

 In the last year, he has experienced many health issues including TB, after which he developed polyneuropathy that resulted in a complete loss of sensation in his lower body and rendered him unable to walk or even stand.  He was in this state when he first came to Earth Medicine in February this year and he was also extremely thin and unable to eat due to severe abdominal pains. Initially, his treatment solely consisted of special food made for him to restore his ability to eat and digest so that his body could start to build the strength necessary for his recovery. When his digestion was better and he was absorbing nutrients, physical therapy started to be used to recondition his lower limbs and spine and he had some acupuncture treatments from practitioners who visited in March.


By the time of my arrival, Mr A had already regained strength and was able to eat good meals. Over the months of physical therapy sessions, he has worked very hard showing he is determined to fully regain his mobility. On our first treatment, he was already standing and walking very slowly with aid, his feet stuck to the ground as he was unable to lift them at all. At the end of my first week, he had had five scalp and body acupuncture treatments followed by sessions with the physiotherapist. He made progress every single day and we were all delighted with his spirit and strong commitment to getting better. By Friday, he was able to lift his knees, started to bend his ankles and lift his feet off the ground, and gave a few careful steps all without aids. I nearly shed some tears that day seeing the effects that the team work in this amazing organisation combined with the hard work and zeal of a person can produce. Mr A continued making a lot of progress and by the end of my second week he was playing basketball and walking without any trouble at all! He was so excited he started over exercising and ended up with pain from over using tissues that hadn’t moved for months. We had to stop all the work to allow this to subside but when I left, he was still walking, without aids and looking forward to a bright future if he is granted asylum.

Scalp acupuncture treatment for the lower limbs and anxiety

Acupuncture at four hands!

On my second week Lyna Trinh, a brilliant and very experienced acupuncturist and TCM practitioner from France, arrived to give a hand. We had never met but felt instantly united in our desire to help and everything went very smoothly. We work a bit differently but we managed to combine our knowledge and experience and learn from each other (I was the one who learned the most!!) in order to offer the best we could to people. We used the different systems of acupuncture we knew, between us we had Scalp acupuncture- Yamamoto, Jiao and Lin systems-, Tung acupuncture, Ear acupuncture, as well as the normal body acupuncture, we also did a lot of cupping, different types of massage and loads of moxa as well as using a TDP heat lamp kindly donated by the organisations Acupuncture sans frontiers and Les mains du coeur pour le Cambodge. 

Between Lyna and I we gave around 180 acupuncture treatments in 3 weeks. Dozens of people received treatment and we saw some big changes and sometimes complete relief in mood and sleep, digestion, pain levels, and mobility. We even saw smiles sparkle on previously sombre faces. By the end of my stay, pretty much everyone was smiling, chatting and able to relax, which filled me with joy. 

The stories I hear from the refugees and the conditions they live in always fill me with sadness, but I am also filled with awe and respect of the resilience, strength, dignity, hope, and ability to heal that they display.

To me, as a human being and as a Chinese medicine practitioner, it's a huge privilege to be able to do this work, to receive the trust of people, to be offered their stories, gratitude, and warmth, and to learn so much from every single person. I am humbled and feel more human at the end of each trip. I am also more hopeful despite all the pain and suffering I witness because of the experience of the effects that community, solidarity, and love can have on all of us, no matter who we are. I have great appreciation and gratitude for the work done at Earth Medicine not just because they are doing such an amazing job, but also because they give us all an example of how to create community and hope where there were none.

With gratitude, love and hope,



If you would like to donate to support Earth Medicine's work in Lesvos, please click here