A local massage therapist has recently returned from a mission of hands-on healing in South Africa.
Christine Sutherland was invited by the Stephen Lewis Foundation to the Hillcrest Hospice in Durban where she taught massage to those in need.
From HIV AIDS patients to outreach grandparent programs to the staff of the hospice, Sutherland continued her quest to put massage skills in the hands of the masses.
“There was just such a big need to not only help staff but teach everyone to put their hands on each other,” Sutherland said.
“I really felt like I left my thumb print on Africa.”
A licensed Massage Therapist and Massage Instructor, Sutherland is director of the Canadian Institute of Palliative Massage.
She is also the co-founder of the Sutherland Chan School and Teaching Clinic in Toronto.
It is there that her connection with the Stephen Lewis Foundation was formed during the 1980s when she helped with AIDS hospice during the early days of the illness.
“In those days it was a gay disease and everyone died,” she said. “Going to Africa was just such a reality check.”
Invited to work at Hillcrest, an old and well-established hospice supported by the Stephen Lewis Foundation, some of that old mentality got packed up with Sutherland’s skill sets. She was “instantly updated.”
“People were coming and going from respite. HIV and AIDS are no longer a death sentence,” she said.
“These people were seriously ill but many weren’t going to die. They come in, build up their immune system and then go.”
Worldwide, Sutherland teaches the practicality of respiratory, digestive and circulatory palliative massage to relieve pain and discomfort. She often works with cancer patients.
While in Durban, Sutherland who also works as a filmmaker, showed three films featuring Nelson families — the Coletti massage team of family and friends, the Hucket family and the Bund family. Making that connection to her community was important to the woman who’s called the Kootenays home since 1965.
While in South Africa, Sutherland also massaged in TB clinics and taught grown-up orphans to massage their grandparents.
“I would say to them, ‘where did you get hands like that,’” said Sutherland. In return she heard “I don’t know. My grandma raised me since I was a baby.”
With families devastated by illness, many were hospitalized without many visitors.
This is where the power of touch can bring much needed love and affection, she said.
While in South Africa, Sutherland had one day off with her host family wanting to tour her around.
“I don’t make a very good tourist,” she smiled.
The therapist discovered the International Wheelchair Rugby Federation was holding its Asia-Oceanic Championships at the University of Pretoria. Massage for the disabled is another passion for Sutherland and it couldn’t be ignored.
This was the woman’s first time in South Africa and the poverty, crime and garbage littering the streets caught her off guard.
It was discouraging to experience the lack of hope people had in their own government, she said.
But Sutherland would go back — and not just for the delicious locally grown fruits and veggies worth raving about.
Sutherland would love to spend more time in AIDS orphanages and offer rescued animal massage.
Having worked in massage for 40 years, the now 62-year-old says her continued volunteerism comes from an example set by her “compulsive volunteer” parents.
That and “the power of touch is needed and wanted,” she said.