In Fatima Mansions, truly in the heart of Dublin, five colleagues currently run a successful clinic offering free/affordable homeopathic care for residents. Here are some thoughts and stories related to our work with this friendly and inspiring community….
How it all started
Back in 2008, I was a 4th year student at the Irish School of Homeopathy looking for a venue to do our most dreaded milestone of the year: the compulsory public talk!
It is one thing to rattle on mercilessly about homeopathy, boring relatives and friends, but the prospect of stepping into the formal homeopathy speaker shoes, brings on a different set of skills and nerve. Following a casual conversation with a fellow mom in the school yard, I participated at a Fatima Health “open day” with plenty of books, remedies and a fair dose of enthusiasm. The day worked out very well for me! Rather than elaborating too much on abstract concepts, I defend a very “hands on”, practical way of promoting and introducing people to homeopathy, and this, I believe, has stood in my favour.
Through the experience of participating at a number of similar events, I have developed a technique that has worked a treat for me, and for that reason I would like to share it with you. It simply involves opening up the first aid kit to your listeners and asking them to select a remedy (the random, pot luck feel is also fun). I then just explain what the remedy can be used for, while speaking a little about signatures and the law of similars. Sometimes the remedy will have an affinity with the person, and sometimes not and they may relate it to someone else they know. I usually offer to give away a few samples, taking care just to caution people that the level of reaction depends on the accuracy level of correspondence to the symptoms and that for the treatment of chronic diseases, it is best to refer to an experienced, qualified homeopath. This gives others an immediate sense of confidence and a clear idea of what homeopathy can do.
So it felt right from the beginning. From the start I sensed a strong bond with the people I met on that day, and soon after I was invited along with four other homeopaths to participate in the Fatima Health Initiative Holistic Evenings. The current team of homeopaths working in Fatima is comprised of me, Mark O’Sullivan, Cristina Boccardo, Mags Fitzgerald, Crea O’Dowd and the invaluable generous backstage support of our supervisor Ali Welfare.
Our team: from left to right: Roisin Ryder (FHI coordinator), Crea O’Dowd, Rita Garland, Mags Fitzgerald, Anne Malone (Health worker) and Mark O’Sullivan. (Cristina Boccardo is also part of our team, but unfortunately couldn’t be present on the day we took the photo!)
(View of F2 centre and Reuben Plaza)
Fatima Holistic Evenings
Fatima Health Initiative is the branch of a larger group called Fatima Groups United. FHI works specifically in the area of promoting health in the community. On Tuesday evenings (6:30pm to 9:30pm), residents in this area can avail of free homeopathic treatment, reiki, acupuncture and massage on a drop-in basis.
As homeopathy has become more known and established, we now have begun to book appointments outside these hours, at a convenient time for us and our patients.
Boons and Challenges of Outreach Community Work
As our clinic matures it is useful to cast a reflective eye on what has so far worked for us, as well as trying to avoid potential pitfalls.
We work with a flexible and competent team of health workers, namely Roisin Ryder (FHI coordinator) and Anne Malone (health worker). These are the people who promote our work and schedule appointments for us. They are a vital link between the services offered in the centre and the community. We have found it very beneficial to have regular group meetings (about 4 a year) where we discuss progress, procedures, feedback and questionnaires, funds, etc.
As part of the bigger team, we have participated in demonstrations and protest marches against financial cuts, sent letters of support for those whose jobs were in danger, joined in at local social events and even braved the mini-marathon fundraiser for FHI (well done Mags and Cristina!).
At another level we are also creating friendships with the other holistic practitioners working at the centre and wish to stimulate a practice of collaborative integration and mutual referrals.
The homeopathy consultations are subsidised, which means that we get paid for the first three consultations by the Fatima Heath Initiative and all subsequent visits are paid by the patient (a very affordable rate) if they consider that homeopathy has been helpful to them. This format has worked quite well for our patients because it makes the initial choice of visiting us quite an easy one. It works very well for us also, because by being paid we don’t feel depleted or devalued.
The clinic takes place in the beautiful newly built F2 centre in Reuben plaza, well in the centre of the recently renovated Fatima area and acts as a busy social hub for the locals with bingo nights, pilates, knitting groups, sports, music gatherings, homework club, gardening groups etc.
There are two health rooms specifically allocated for the holistic sessions and in one of them we proudly display the collection of remedies very kindly donated by Nelson’s Homeopathic Dispensary in Dublin. The F2 is also an excellent venue for workshops and courses with affordable rental rates and free parking outside, beside the Luas Line with very friendly and accommodating staff.
Potential challenges & Pitfalls
Early on in the year we produced a series of leaflets promoting our work and then sat back waiting for calls. This didn’t work so well – our recent series of talks has shown that face to face communication works at a much more effective level and that the leaflets are useful merely to support the clinic with practical information.
Another challenge related to many patients showing up once in the clinic, and then not really returning for follow up treatment, or even just not showing up for booked appointments. We spoke about this as a group and are trying to tackle the problem by making sure the patients are well aware that homeopathic treatment is an ongoing process that requires regular meetings with the homeopath. Also, our local clinic coordinator has agreed to routinely text patients to remind them of appointments. Overall I feel that the clinic is getting stronger and busier by the day and that our task is now to consolidate the initial efforts.
(Images from our last Health Fair held in Fatima February 2010)
Open Homeopathy – Spreading the word…
Part of our goal in Fatima is not only to offer free/ affordable homeopathic care to residents, but also to contribute to their dynamic health education programme. Fatima Health Initiative has recently won a health literacy award : Crystal Clear MSD Health Literacy Award 2010. This prize acknowledges the high standard of effective communication which is part of the FHI culture. In this context we have started to run a number of free information workshops focusing on specific health issues such as first-aid, treating children, homeopathy for gardeners, women’s health, etc.
We know that others would like to replicate similar clinics in other parts of Dublin or the country and with this in mind we are in the process of establishing a charity organisation called Open Homeopathy. Through this charity we aim to support similar projects by fundraising and getting people to connect with others in their area and setting up their own clinics.
Homeopathy with a Heart
Our fundraising strategy will also include organising courses such as the one facilitated last May at the F2 centre venue by Ab Straatman: Homeopathy with a Heart. This was a highly successful event, very specifically focused on heart health and materia medica, while also helping to provide financial support to the Fatima community and our project in particular. At a deeper level, for all participants it was a heart awakening experience where compassion, joy and love were brought in by the wonderful presence of our speaker, as well as meditation and group sharing exercises.
Other courses will be planned to fine tune our skills as homeopaths working with issues particularly, but not exclusively, relevant to our environment : Healing Trauma and Abuse, Overcoming Drugs and Addiction, Enhancing Sexual Health and Family Constellation Work.
All in all, the best part of working in Fatima is really the people you get to meet and the generosity with which they share life stories. One of such encounters was with a long term resident and one of the pioneering leaders in the community, Annie Donahue. This formidable lady carries a little spark of my Portuguese granny within and when I visit her house I always have the warmest of welcomes and the nicest cup of Barry’s tea! In my view, she truly embodies the good sprit of Fatima – non sentimental, humorous, generous, harsh at times, but always true to her heart.
Due to a bad knee injury, Mrs. Donahue spends many hours confined to her much awaited brand new house. These hours are spent doing word search, thinking about her lost sons, the lifelong carelessness and neglect from medical services and all the good and bad memories of a life. All this while she looks out at the beautiful new square and experiences an array of conflicting emotions.
On the one hand there is much pride in what was achieved, on the other hand there is also much anger and frustration at realizing that many of Fatima’s old problems have still not gone away, and that there is still much work to be done. I also love the way Fatima seems to cut through preconceived stereotypes. Men in general are considered second fiddle in terms of community work, openness to alternative healing methods or emotional expression – but this is not the case in Fatima! We recently gave a talk to a mens’ gardening group and found an audience full of curiosity and enthusiasm for homeopathy. Fatima also holds very successful music mornings for men and in general seems to have a sound gender balance regarding the community workers.
The classic “Mother & Toddler” drop in sessions are renamed in Fatima as “Parent & Baby” meetings and this is in reality reflected by the presence of fathers and grandfathers, at their busy Wednesday morning gatherings.
On a personal note, I can say that I am very happy to be part of this wave of change and hope in Fatima. After a year and a half of hard work, we are starting to reap the benefits of the best promotional tool in the world – word of mouth!
If you have been in any way inspired by this article do us. I expect that over time similar clinics can be started in different parts of the city and the country. For further information on upcoming courses, connecting to like minded homeopaths or becoming part of the Open Homeopathy project, check our Open Homeopathy website or Facebook Page:
Websites for photos:
Fatima Health Initiative
(Excerpt from their Programme)
“The main aim of this initiative is to tackle the high rates of ill-health within Fatima Mansions and improve the holistic wellbeing and spirit of the community.
This initiative is a community development model and a working partnership between Fatima Groups United, Fatima Regeneration Board, and Community Action Network. This initiative has a common understanding of the causes of poverty and its effect on the health of communities. The initiative works from the principles of participation, equality, belief in people’s ability to change and identify solutions and supporting individuals to participate in collective action on health.
The Fatima Health Initiative started in 2003 when Fatima Groups United started to look at the issue of health within the Fatima Regeneration. At the beginning it held health fairs, holistic sessions and “looking good, feeling good” days before Christmas and during the summer festivals. It employs 4 part-time workers and a coordinator.
What we do:
- Identifying health issues which are important to local people and developing programmers in response
- Making health related information accessible to local people
- Linking in with relevant community groups and community events to maximise opportunities to develop health initiatives and programmes (eg festivals, celebration events, breakfast mornings, community education etc…)
- Identifying and facilitating local people to experience health promoting opportunities that they could not otherwise access.
- Building alliances between community and health service providers through a Community Health Forum
The role of the community development and health workers can be summarized as follows:
- Developing programmes and events suited to local people’s health needs
- Asking people rather than telling them what the issues are
- Building on the strengths that already exist in the community
- Starting from the assumption that community development health workers are equal with local people
Annie Donahue in her welcoming kitchen!
Portrait of Mrs. Donahue in her younger years
Image of the old Fatima flats
Brochure for Holistic evenings in Fatima
Brochure for Homeopathy with a Heart Seminar held in the F2 centre