|Flying Needles: An OCOM Grad in South Africa|
Gidon Levenbach, MAcOM, LAc (OCOM Class of 2007) is a man on the move. Since graduating, he spends half the year traveling and working in the U.S., and the other half running the Flying Needle Project, the acupuncture clinic and public health initiative he founded in South Africa. Serving a patient population with serious medical concerns and with very few resources, Levenbach’s work in South Africa is inspiring.
Alumni Relations Coordinator Caitlin Upshaw spoke with him about his activism, his passion for public health, and the path back to his home country.
CU: What is your background and how did it lead you to OCOM?
CU: Where did your focus on HIV and public health develop?
In my OCOM interview, I met Nancy Grotton, who had also focused a lot on HIV and had traveled in South Africa. I knew I wanted to focus on treating HIV patients and I knew I wanted to give something back to South Africa in some way. Public health (rather than private practice) fits with my philosophy that acupuncture shouldn’t be an elitist medicine. Acupuncture is very inexpensive to practice. When I graduated from OCOM, there weren’t any public health jobs available for acupuncturists, so I felt I had to create my own.
CU: Describe a typical day at the clinic.
CU: What were some of the biggest obstacles to starting Flying Needle Project?
It also took me a long time to get my license in South Africa. They reviewed my acupuncture education by years of school rather than by credits, and I had taken the three-year track instead of four years. When I began working on starting up the clinic in 2009, I practiced under a doctor, and I performed a more administrative role in the clinic. When I got my license in March 2011, I was able to practice.
Money is another challenge. I spend most of my time in the U.S. raising funds for the clinic, catching up with people, and working on building the infrastructure of the clinic. We’ve held a few fundraising events and raised about $18,000, which has kept the clinic open. We have a very small budget. I also work to raise money to live on.
CU: What do you enjoy most about your practice?
I find that the patients in South Africa respond better to treatment. For example, many patients are deficient in diet due to poverty, and small changes can make a big difference. I find these easier to treat than the diseases of excess that we have in the west.
CU: Where do you see the clinic in 10 years?
While the name “Flying Needle” is a technique, it also refers to the idea of transporting medical care to those who need it.
CU: What can you share with alumni who are still seeking their calling or who want to follow in your footsteps?