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Massage Today
November, 2006, Vol. 06, Issue 11

Healing the Wounds of War

A nonprofit group is bringing the benefits of alternative medicine to those who need it most.

By Stephane Babcock

The Serbian siege of Sarajevo in the mid-1990s has left scars on the land, its people and their spirits.

For four years, from 1992 to 1996, the city's inhabitants suffered through ethnic cleansing, torture, rape and being cut off from food, electricity and medicine. Ten years later, the Healing Hands Network, a U.K.-based charitable organization that brings healing in the many forms of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), is helping the people in the region to rehabilitate physically and emotionally.

Since 1997, Healing Hands has been sending two practitioners a week from April to October, treating more than 10,000 people. CAM treatments offered include massage, reflexology, aromatherapy, reiki and acupuncture. Patients are referred to the organization by the Association of Concentration Camp Victims, the Center for Torture Victims or the Association of Civil Victims of War.

"The impetus came from a group of complementary therapists who visited Sarajevo in 1996, shortly after the end of the war, and realized how much their therapies could help the people there," said Deirdre Parrinder, one of the organization's volunteer practitioners.

The volunteer practitioners operate two treatment rooms from a rented house in the old area of Sarajevo, as well as from outreach homes in three surrounding areas that were Serb-controlled during the war. Four practitioners always are on hand, with two new volunteers arriving each week and staying for two weeks. There also are two interpreters on hand who help organize the patients' visits and manage the office. Practitioners work half of the time in the rented house and the other half in one of the outreach homes. "The first year I went (2005), we worked in a building in one area in which some of the patients had been held and tortured during the war," reminisced Parrinder.

To join the missions to Sarajevo, practitioners need to be fully qualified, have insurance that can be extended to cover work in Bosnia and must raise money to cover airfare, living expenses during their stay and a contribution for the Healing Hands general fund. "Although most of the volunteers are British, Healing Hands has a few volunteers from other European countries, and is open to volunteers from other countries," said Parrinder.

Practitioners who volunteer their time, money and background with Healing Hands do so for many reasons, each unique to the individual. "In one way, working in Bosnia was a natural extension of my career path," said Parrinder.

The benefit to the volunteers comes in the form of memories that have their own way of healing. "On the first day of my second visit, I went to work in an outlying area of Sarajevo and there, waiting outside, was a man who told me he had not had any knee pain since I had treated him the previous year," recalled Parrinder.

Some of the memories remind Parrinder of the hardship faced by the residents of Sarajevo. "One woman lost 22 family members, including her husband, daughter and son-in-law. Another woman saw her three sons blown up by a landmine. Another woman lost her whole family, a husband and two sons."

The efforts of Healing Hands have not gone unnoticed by the people who have benefited and the country that needed them. "In Bosnia, there is a healing tradition called bio-energy and people are very open to the work of Healing Hands," said Parrinder. "The work of Healing Hands is greatly appreciated. To quote Muzafar Teskeredzic, Union Secretary of the Civil Victims of War, Sarajevo Canton Citizens Association, 'Our members say Healing Hands gives them a reason for living.' He added that some people were happy to go without food to travel to the treatment centers."

Healing Hands has plans to visit other areas in need of their healing missions. "They will probably send a few volunteers to Kosovo next year," said Parrinder. "There also is a project starting in Kenya at a Nairobi woman's hospital with rape victims. This project will concentrate on involving local therapists [and] showing them how Healing Hands works, and will be organized differently from the work in Bosnia."

To find out more about the Healing Hands Network, visit


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