Medical student has life-changing experience helping Tibetan refugees

Document Type

Media Release

Publication Date

Winter 25-6-2010

Publisher Name

The University of Notre Dame Australia, Sydney Campus

Publication Place



Courtney Harrington, a third year medical student from The University of Notre Dame Australia recently participated in an inspiring trip to India on a mission to relieve pain and suffering among the people of a Tibetan refugee community.

The project organiser, Maureen Fallon, has been visiting this group of refugee Buddhist monks from Tibet since 1994 and has since raised enough money to build a monastic university near Dharamsala, India.

During her visits Maureen noticed that many of the monks suffered from gastric pain, known as Phowa. She decided to start a pilot project in India, to determine if there was a link between Phowa and Helicobacter Pylori – the bacteria known to cause ulcers.

Notre Dame medical student Courtney joined Maureen, and other medical professionals at the foothills of the Himalayas, where she spent several weeks with the monks helping to cure their abdominal pain.

Her interviews revealed decades of pain. 77% of those she tested turned out to be infected with Helicobacter Pylori and the vast majority have now been cured with a simple treatment of antibiotics.

“The monks are grateful, but the exchange is far from one-sided,” says Courtney. “It has been life changing. It shows for the first time that all my studying and late nights in the books can actually help someone somewhere. I have been able to make a little difference.”

There is now a campaign to build a gastric clinic outside the monastery grounds, where Tibetans and Indians can be treated. The team also launched a public health campaign, teaching the young monks to wash their hands and installing taps and sinks outside their dining room.

This project and the efforts of Maureen and Courtney were featured on the ABC program Foreign Correspondent recently in the segment ‘Gut Instinct’.

Media contact:

Moira Saunders
02 8204 4407