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ON THE SCENE: Siberia, week two

November 28, 2011
My second week in Siberia began with a three-hour informal luncheon and discussion with Pandido Khambo Lama Damba Ayusheyev, the 24th Khambo Lama, head of Buddhism in Russia, Ganzhur Lama, director of the Buddhist University, and Yanzhima Vasilivea, director of the Itigelov Institute. First though we, Olga Kutnesova, academic dean of the East Siberian Academy of Culture, and Bair Uskeev, a minister with the Republic of Buryatia, and I, paid our respects to the earthly remains of Khambo Lama Itigelov, the 12th Khambo Lama, the reincarnation of the first Khambo Lama, whose body was unearthed about seven years ago, 75 after burial, perfectly preserved, skin still soft, joints flexible and sitting upright in a lotus position.

His preordained return has sparked a spiritual rebirth and excited Buddhist scholars and pilgrims throughout the world and, as a consequence been a bit of an economic boon for the area. The Ivolginsky Datsan, home of the Khambo Lamas, was bursting at the seams with at least a third more new offices, dormitories for monks, shrines, educational facilities and temples. Lunch was a lively discussion about art, healing, death, birth, the meaning of time, creativity, the oppression of and self-emulation protests by Tibetan lamas in China, Steve Jobs and more. During my previous Fulbright I spent a fair amount of time with they and other lamas, and documented the dedication of the stupas of the first and twelfth Khambo lamas, so this was a bit of a jovial homecoming and an even greater honor to be so treated and given such an amount of time.

At the Academy of Culture I have been asked to give a series of presentations on the creative arts therapies and professional artists in health care along with an overview of healthcare and how the arts are being used to enhance the patient experience, reduce staff turnover, build community relations and help brand the institution.

While the use of the arts in healing can be traced back to the dawn of humanoids, and found in the texts of ancient Egyptian, Greek and Chinese civilizations, and they were first used formally in this country by Dr. Benjamin Rush at the Pennsylvania Hospital in 1751, our nation’s first. The field grew out of occupational therapy, which was founded in Baltimore in 1895. Of local interest is that the first institutionalized use of the arts and occupational therapies was at the Trudeau Sanitarium beginning in 1903.

The Academy is eager to expand work opportunities for its students through launching the most diverse arts in health program of its kind in Russia, one that will tap into its location where Eastern and Western medicine meet, as well as shamanistic and contemporary cultures, Buddhism and Christianity, amongst others. Part of my job is to walk them through the training and accreditation requirements for the six creative arts therapies (arts, music, drama, dance, poetry and expressive), establish certificate programs for professional artists or arts administrators in health, and assist them develop funding and exchange opportunities to help members of their faculty get certified as soon as possible. In addition to that I am teaching workshops in color therapy and will give a keynote speech and a funding workshop at a conference next week.

The Academy, led by its formable Rector Raisa Ivanovna Pshenichnikova has been moving boldly to carve out allies in unexpected places. As an example on Thursday, the National Day of Recognition for the Police and Homeland Security, they partnered with the Republic of Buryatia’s police and security forces to put together an celebration that was very moving, uplifting, spirited, entertaining and appreciated. The opening gambit was a policeman’s ball, the first of its kind in the country.

Over the past year police men and women have took classes in 18th and 19th Century dance (Viennese Waltz, Polonaise and the Cotillion), which they performed in formal gowns and full dress uniforms accompanied by musicians, also policemen, who again learned the music under the guidance of Academy faculty. The point was to use these classes to introduce dance as a means of providing a change of pace from the stress of their work, illustrating the value of such activities, and setting a tone of excellence for the tributes to come – an event covered by national television.

The next day I participated in a discussion to develop priority initiatives for the arts and health program and, not surprisingly as an outcome of the successful celebration, expanding activities with the police was one. As a consequence a meeting with Senior Lieutenant Anna Ivanovna Salisova, senior inspector for human resources of the Ministry of Internal Affairs was arranged to review the celebration and discuss next steps. Out of that we drafted a set of priorities.

Our team has since been invited to meet with the senior leadership of the Ministry of Internal Affairs on Monday, present these ideas and my experiences of working with the military, and agree on a final set of priorities for the coming year. This session will be followed on Wednesday by a meeting with the department heads of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, those who lead police stations, special forces units, detective bureaus, border services, and special task forces to address issues like drugs and alcohol, etc. Our goal is to identify certain departments or units wherein to establish some pilot programs.

To give you a sense of what this means, imagine establishing a partnership with an agency that represented the New York State Police, the state division of Homeland Security, the Border Patrol and the FBI all rolled into one. As part of next week’s activities we will be looking for potential agencies within the Unites States to work as partners. Locally, they are very interested in the efforts of the Lake Placid-Wilmington CYC to reduce the use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs by children as such initiatives are of great interest to the police in Russia.



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