Posted by: rcieri | November 15, 2009

Bridging the gap: Lumen Scholar brings holistic, traditional medicine to Elon from remote corners of globe

September 29, 2009

By Rachel Cieri

Bleam, left, poses with a few members of the Himalayan Health Exchange in a small village in the state of Himachal Pradesh in Northern India.

Even before he left for Australia, senior Ryan Bleam knew the Aboriginal town he’d visit would be different. But when he found himself surrounded by people eating half-cooked kangaroo legs like fried chicken, he had to fight the urge to flee.

“I’ve never felt so out of place,” the Doylestown, Penn., native said. Instead of sprinting back to his home for the week, Bleam made the most of situation, forcing himself to “really experience the moment.”

After all, this unique culture was what brought him to the middle of the Australian desert in the first place.

A Lumen Scholar studying sociology and anthropology, Bleam spent a semester at Curtain University of Technology in Perth to research “bush medicine,” the holistic health care of the Aboriginal population.

“I’ve always been interested in holistic and traditional medicine,” Bleam said. “My brother is a leukemia survivor, so I’ve seen the medical system here and have respect for it. But I’ve always known there was more to health than medicine, and I wanted to study the human approach.”

Anthropology professor Anne Bolin, who mentored Bleam in his research, suggested a trip to Australia because of her expertise in Aboriginal culture.

“Bush medicine is very connected to the earth,” Bleam said. “I wanted to find that unquantifiable factor of the tradition. (For them), there is no separation between health and spirituality.”
In fact, Bleam found the Aborigines have an entirely different perception of cancer from Americans.

“They call it a ‘white man’s disease,'” Bleam said. “They didn’t have it until the British came and they adopted a sedentary lifestyle.”

Because of this, cancer carries a certain shame with the Aboriginal population.

“It shed light on the problem, but it also muddied the water on what to do about it,” Bleam said.

Bleam discovered similar perception on his second excursion abroad. Through an international health exchange program, he visited one of the most remote areas of the world, a region in the Himalayas called Jammu Kashmir that provides a unique cultural mix of Chinese, Tibetans, Indians and Pakistanis.

There, Bleam interviewed dozens of local residents, mostly Tibetans, about their experiences with allopathic (American) medicine and Amchi, the traditional herb-based health care of the region.

“India is trying to modernize its health care beliefs, and people are afraid of seeming backward,” Bleam said.

At first, Bleam said he was very formal with his approach, introducing himself as a student and taking notes in his notebook, but eventually, he discovered that he could get more out of the process if he turned the interview into a conversation.

“I’ve had more cups of tea with Indian shop keepers than I can count,” Bleam said.

Of all the interviews he conducted, Bleam found one quote stuck out to him, summarizing the attitudes of almost everyone to whom he spoke.

“He said, ‘When things happen, they’re going to happen. So why worry about it?'” Bleam said.

Now that he is back in the United States, Bleam is working on presentations for the National Conference for Undergraduate Research and the Student Undergraduate Research Forum as well as building a Web site to share what he learned.

Bleam said he found that holistic medicine may bridge the gap between health and wellness that exists in Western medicine.

“I don’t think anyone should go completely holistic, but using both methods could have a lot of power to it,” he said.


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