We respond to disasters to support the victims affected and those working on the frontline, as well as fundraise to support the keyline workers and provide volunteer therapists to be of assistance.
Our work during COVID-19 Pandemic
During one of the worst health crises of the century, the IFA implemented a series of measures for communities most impacted by the crisis. The IFA collectively donated more than four thousand (4,000) masks, hygiene products and hand sanitisers to frontline healthcare workers in the UK serving the most vulnerable people striving to curb the pandemic i.e. Ealing Hospital and Northwick Park Hospital and local hospices. In addition, we also donated a further 300 care packages to key frontline workers at Clay Ponds Rehabilitation Hospital, local to our West London Head Office who were receiving those who had recovered from COVID 19 from St Thomas, St George’s and St Mary’s hospital Paddington. At one point, they had over 200 key workers including nurses, doctors, carers and not forgetting cleaners that were in lockdown stationed there. Away from family and friends we wanted to make sure they felt cared and appreciated for all they were doing on behalf of use all. We also made sure, at the heart of it, that each of our own members were well stocked with masks when supplies were limited.
Response to 911 Attacks
We have also helped:
Bulgaria Funding Project
Hand in Hand for Syria
Help the Heroes (Afghanistan)
Response to Tsunami in Japan
Rest UK is a voluntary organisation that offers rescue workers onsite chair massages in highly stressed and sometimes dangerous locations during the course of their shift. The effects are instantaneous and self-evident; people need to sit down, relax and after a short massage session will return to their grim tasks hopefully feeling recharged; enabling them to function more efficiently without the need for longer breaks. Rest UK is composed entirely of volunteers, many of whom are IFA members; the founder members are Kim Wooldridge MIFA, Lynne Woods and Stephen Paine. Rest UK have assisted with the UK fire service, including the search and rescue teams and the urban search teams. In the past they have attended international major incidents including Ground Zero following 9:11 and the Tsunami. At Ground Zero, many rescue workers suffered bronchial complaints, so oils such as eucalyptus were handed to them by volunteers. In 2010 the IFA raised £1,000.00 for the charity. The IFA chair, Sue Mousley inspired by their work also joined the team at the Emergency Services Show in Coventry in November to raise awareness. The IFA also donated essential oils which were given to the ‘Help the Heroes’ fund, which is also being supported by Rest UK and went to the soldiers serving in Afghanistan.×
When an email from United Aromatherapy Effort was forwarded to the IFAroma e-group concerning the voluntary work of a team of aromatherapists in America, I didn’t think there was much I could do. The letter was very moving, describing the horrors of 11 September- “the emotional anguish involved in cleaning up the devastation”, “the physical insults to their bodies” and worst of all, “dealing with the horrific smell of death” .
Sylla Sheppard-Hanger, founder and director of the Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy (Florida), who was unable to give blood because she is a cancer survivor, decided to help her long-time friend Doug e.Rasmusson who she knew would be going. Doug who is the Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy’s Principal Tutor, was moved to form a team of massage therapists after the Oklahoma bombing of 1995, and is now leader of Carolina’s Emergency Response Massage Team (CERMT), known as ‘Kermit’. Doug also worked on the North Carolina floods after hurricane Floyd and was flown by government helicopter to co-ordinate the efforts of hundreds of volunteer massage therapists working on the rescue workers.
Physical and Psychological Benefits
The team’s aim is “to provide massage and aromatherapy for all rescue workers” and the appeal that came through via Gabriel’s e-mail was for this work to be carried out on the New York rescue workers. They offer a 10-15 minute chair massage to anyone that needs it, and find it helps people to ‘open up more’ as well as relieve muscular tension. The newly formed United Aromatherapy Effort team can now provide aromatherapy during the massages. There are other massage groups, but this is the first aromatherapy team.
To get back to the e-mail letter. Doug and Sylla were appealing for volunteers, as well as funds, oils and other aromatherapy materials to take to New York. I thought I would probably send a cheque, and that would be my small contribution to something that shocked the world with its sheer horror and devastation. I am sure that, like me, we have all felt helpless, wanting to do something to help the people of New York and Washington. I read reports of people in London hugging American tourists shortly after 11 September, just to let them know that we were all there for them at that horrific time.
I didn’t think about the e-mail for another couple of days - it was something I was going to deal with eventually. Then a friend of mine, Lynne, who is also a massage therapist, came to visit so I thought I would show her the e-mail. She looked at me after reading it, and said that we should go! That was it, we both felt why shouldn’t we volunteer? We immediately e-mailed Sylla, who responded straightaway in her upbeat enthusiastic way that is so infectious. She wasn’t expecting volunteers from Britain, and she was thrilled. This now meant we were committed. Lynne and I would see what we could do to get ourselves sponsorship for our flight and accommodation.
We were offered discount flight tickets from Virgin Atlantic, to travel on 2 January 2002. Body Shop offered a box of oil, and the IFA insurance company Blackmores sponsored me for the extra insurance I needed for the states. We had been on a local radio station, as well as in a couple of newspapers.
Plans for a UK Team
Lynne and I have also made a major decision while being involved with this work. We want to come back to Britain ‘armed with our experience’ and set about forming a similar Emergency Response Massage Team for our own rescue workers after major disasters in this country. We know a few people in the emergency services, firemen, police as well as military personnel who have all experienced traumas such as train disasters, motorway pile-ups, even war, and all have welcomed the idea of a team of people who could help them deal with such horrific events.
I have also written to the Police Federation, and they featured my article in their Police magazine. I suggested the idea of an Emergency Response team in the UK to Doug and Sylla, and they both offered to come to the UK to help with a training programme for volunteers. In addition, while in New York, Sylla and Doug met two detectives from Northamptonshire who helped the effort for Britain’s own team.
I would like to end this article with an extract from Sylla’s e-mail after her visit to New York in November. It’s a very moving and vivid personal impression of the atmosphere, the horror, the tragedy and the heroism of those dreadful days in 9/11. Sylla wrote:
“ What an incredibly trip - I bet we touched over 350 people: firefighters, police, rescue workers and those giving assistance to victims, and gave out $5000 worth of supplies.
“ At night we worked at the Medical examiner’s office, where they bring in the bodies or parts…That was an experience, working in the Salvation Army chapel on members of the New York police department and others there. My only (knock on wood) ride in the back of police car! We debriefed nightly across from the hotel in mid-town Manhattan at the wonderful Irish pub BB Doyles- THAT was wonderful. By the end of week we took a chair in and gave them all a short massage - they loved it, and it was our relaxation nightly debriefing and we met some great folks there.
“Ground zero is a very toxic place; soon as subway doors open – blocks away, you can smell it (awful plastic burning chemical smell, and something else, nothing like I have ever smelled) and then once up in the air there’s a hazy mist all around. They have narrowed the perimeter so you can get a block away from the ‘pile’ – throngs of people walking by , looking, feeling, being there…almost like a toxic tourist trap (I hated seeing babies and kids without masks…). We sprayed our masks but our lungs still burned, and I’m still coughing. The huge cathedral of St Peters wasn’t touched, yet was immediately next to the towers, the chunk s are still on the columns and they are leaving it there as a memorial- lots of flowers, flags, etc out front. A touching place.
“The fire station near our hotel called the Pride of Manhattan, lost all 17 members on duty that day, and it’s a shrine too, covered in black cloth, flowers, pictures from kids cover the walls. We worked on the guys there – they were from the Brooklyn station, filling in for the unit who have to attend the memorial services for the lost ones.
“These guys have not stopped for two months – until now. The Fire Marshal of Brooklyn came to meet us one night in the pub, took off three hours to come over- said it was first time he’d sat in bar in two months. Hearing their stories was incredible - many of them just needed to talk, they are just now starting to deal with it, so I’m glad we can help. They are just now starting to deal with it, so I’m glad we can help. The next month through the holidays is going to be especially tough, as they now are back to duty since Ground zero is a construction site, and the heavy picking through is done at the Staten Island landfill. They have begun to grieve.
“One of the highlights of our adventure was meeting two Northamptonshire detectives over for the English families of victims – they were really cool guys, gave us patches and a plaque of their badge for CERMT. Through our connections we will help set up ab team over there for them and their families – the process has already started, so anyone in England wishing to participate there contact me and I will forward the contact info.
“Our hotel neighbours included 100 firefighters from Vancouver – here to give $600,000 they raised (they all took out loans) to give to the families of firefighters- they are very tight group and taught us some code words they use. They are sending numbers through December, attending funerals and ceremonies showing up in numbers to give the New York guys breaks. I have an entire new appreciation of our heroes the firefighters, never realising what an awesome team they are, and how they feel the losses of any of their brothers, anywhere.
“NY has a really different feeling to me – everyone smiles more than before, they are helpful to strangers (maybe it was those chairs on our backs they felt sorry!) and they are so grateful for all the help now. They may have been tough in the beginning, but they are now welcoming any help, visitors, etc. They are hurting though they hardly show it. Really it was an incredible feeling. Our team was tight, we all had our jobs and did them as if we’d practised!
“Anyway, I’m home, exhausted with the World Trade Centre cough (where’s my oregano!), but exhilarated and really proud of the work we did. I really look forward (and so do they) to going back to be there for them for the holidays and to support NYC.”×
On 11th March 2011, Japan suffered the effects of an earthquake swiftly followed by a tsunami, which had a devastating impact on parts of the country. The IFA quickly responded by organising a relief fund and put together a plan to support four emergency shelters in different locations. One of our own schools in Sendai City was completely destroyed including the school owner's home. To us, this brought home just how vulnerable we are to the power of nature. We organised teams of aromatherapists to visit different locations:- Tateiinogowa High school in Ishinomaki City, treating 250 people, many of whom were suffering from poor circulation and high stress levels, Higashimatsushin City where 91 people were confined in 4 large rooms, each housing three or four families, Koizumi Junior School in Kesenuma City, treating 210 people mainly children who had escaped to the top of the hill where the school stood. On May 21st we were at another high school in Ishinomaki, the shelter there housed over two hundred people. The IFA raised £3,000.00 for the Japanese disaster fund and donated oils for our therapists. Many of the people we met along the way told us that they had felt much calmer after treatments and felt positive for the first time. We continued our efforts and sponsored a network centre in North-east Japan in order to support local children (many of who had lost a friend or relative) and have organised the Yappashi Festival.×
In September 2011, IFA therapists headed by Susan Fujimoto went to Otsuchi, Japan to bring much needed relief to those affected by the Tsunami. The Otsuchi NPO office was responsible for the coordination of residents at eleven different locations in makeshift houses. As therapy couches were not available, they improvised by using Japanese-style mattresses placed on the floor for Leg/Back/Arm/dry hand and head massages. Advice was given to people living in cramped conditions; leading sedentary life-styles, the possible physical problems that may arise from blood circulatory, lymphatic, immune and nervous disorders, and how to take preventative measures. In six days a total of 132 treatments were given with ages ranging from 26 to 92 rewarding for all concerned.×