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Veteran Volunteer Chris O’Connor Builds Morale and Keeps Patients and Practitioners Smiling

Chris O'Connor is a teacher of contemporary acupuncture at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada.  Whether with patients or students, his relationships are warm, caring and compassionate.  He has a great combination of acupuncture and manual therapy skills, and he has been a great, dependable asset to GHF’s volunteer practitioner team.  Read all about Chris’ story with Global Healthworks Foundation below.

 

Veteran Volunteer Chris O’Connor Builds Morale and Keeps Patients and Practitioners Smiling

Dina and Anabella giggle quietly as Chris O’Connor smacks his belly like a drum.  “Muxu’x (belly button),” he says in his best Quiché accent.  The two health promoters have been teaching Quiché words to the jornada (medical mission) volunteer for the last thirty minutes.  Muxu’x is Chris’ favorite.  “Muxu’x, wachaq’ (belly button, backside),” he tells them, pointing to each body part and triggering bursts of laughter from the two young women.  “This learning K'iche' without a Spanish interpreter thing is pretty hard,” Chris says of his daily language lessons.  “I guess it would be hard even with a Spanish interpreter.  But it makes them laugh.  That’s never a bad thing.”

Chris is one of Global Healthworks Foundation (GHF)’s seasoned volunteers.  The April 2015 jornada is his third with the GHF team.  As an osteopathic manual practitioner with a background in both acupuncture and massage therapy, Chris is able to treat a variety of ailments.  His flexibility and multi-faceted skill set are a welcome additions to the team each time he travels to Guatemala.  And, as his interactions with Dina and Anabella demonstrate, he knows how to keep people smiling.  “Chris is great for morale,” says Kelly Call, GHF logistics volunteer. “He’s just a big, lovable guy.  And he’s easygoing.  He might be intimidating at first because of his size, but he’s a gentle spirit.”

“Chris is just a big, lovable guy.  He might be intimidating at first because of his size, but he’s a gentle spirit.”

“Chris is just a big, lovable guy.  He might be intimidating at first because of his size, but he’s a gentle spirit.”

Originally from Hamilton, Ontario, Chris first learned of GHF’s work through Dan Wunderlich, GHF Founder and Executive Director.  In 2012 the two taught several contemporary medical courses together at Hamilton’s McMaster University. 

“Dan had an overbooking for classes, so he invited me to help him teach for a few weekends,” Chris explains.   “The money Dan earns from teaching goes to his outreach work in Guatemala.” 

Chris says Dan finally convinced him to travel to Guatemala in 2013.  Since then, he’s seen a lot of growth in the Foundation’s operations.  “Things are much more organized now.  We don’t work until eight o’clock at night, and we have fewer snafus.  Everyone seems to ‘get it.’  Dan is really good at getting the right people for the job.”

 
 

Among those people are Peter Panken and Kristen Pawlick, who have volunteered in Guatemala with Chris since the early jornada years.  “Chris is very good at what he does,” Peter says.  “And he treats everyone in a way that makes them feel good—as if there’s nothing different about their backgrounds.  He’s ‘walking the walk,’ so to speak.”  A student of both Chris and Dan at McMaster, Kristen describes Chris’ interactions with patients as “warm, caring, and compassionate”—not unlike his relationship with students back home.  “He takes the individual time as a teacher and practitioner,” Kristen explains.  “He connects with each person wherever they are in the learning or healing process.  That translates well to Guatemala.”

Chris’ willingness to “roll up his sleeves and pitch in wherever he’s needed,” says Dan Wunderlich, GHF Founder and Executive Director, also translates well to the organization’s work in the country.  “During one of our Female Self Defense (FSD) classes,” Dan recalls, “a local female student asked how to confront a male attacker who was much larger in sizeSince Chris is probably our tallest practitioner, he volunteered to be thrown around by our FSD teacher.  Chris is always up for anything. Not only is he a very skilled acupuncturist, but he’s also dependable.  He’s a great asset to our practitioner team.”

Chris is one of the first practitioners to arrive and one of the last to leave each jornada day.  Yet, despite long hours and a seemingly endless stream of patients, Chris says he leaves Guatemala “feeling energized.  Coming here makes me appreciate life in the North—my family, my work, clean water, good streets, etc.  There is always a little fatigue, but by the third trip, it’s become mostly energizing.”

Chris’ patients appear equally as energized by his treatments, and he always leaves them smiling.  “After I put the needles in, I tell them, ‘Have a poco buenas noches.’  It makes no sense literally, I know.  In essence, I’m telling them to ‘Have a little good night.’  But they smile and seem to relax a little more.  That’s makes for a good treatment in my book.”