As residents in Puerto Rico continue to live without power, drinking water and basic supplies, a group of herbalists in Detroit is preparing to send special care packages to the island.
Adela Nieves sent out a call to her friends, colleagues and what she calls her “healing justice family.” She asked them to give, buy and create items that would go into wellness medicine kits for Puerto Rico.
“I’m helping to do that — one because I’m a Puerto Rican woman who knows that the Puerto Rican people have been treated unjustly and unfairly,” Nieves said. “And they still are, but now it’s a matter of life and death. In a time like that my heart is breaking. I need to do something.”
Donations came from across the country to Nieves’ home in Southwest Detroit. More were created by herbalists who brought them in, rolled up their sleeves and helped stuff bags and boxes to ship.
Talitha Johnson is the creator of Amor AllNaturals. She made respiratory and immune system tea blends and muscle and joint pain creams to send to the island. These were items Nieves requested.
Johnson said this opportunity came when she was looking for a way to support people in Puerto Rico.
“When you hear about things that happen all over the world a lot of times you feel so helpless and you don’t know where to start or how to give or who to help or if the organization will actually get the money or get the goods to the people that you’re sending for,” Johnson said. “But this was someone that I knew, and I know her values, and I know her intentions around doing things, and I knew that she meant well. I know that this will actually reach the folks. And I feel like this is the way that I know how to give.”
Heather Mourer is a Highland Park-based herbalist with Hedgewitch Holistics and a friend of Nieve’s. Mourer made several herbal products for the shipment. She says she’s grateful she could contribute.
“I guess you usually think about things like Doctors without Borders and the Red Cross and these more medical-based organizations getting to participate,” Mourer said. “It’s really cool for her to provide this opportunity for those of us who are not in that world.”
Community Herbalist Angela Newsome brought her products and her help. She said in times of crisis her work allows her to feel a closer to people in need.
“To be able to make something from your hands that you create and you put your energy into and then you pass it someone in need — I think there’s something so special about that connection between people,” Newsome said. “I think it’s really important.”
The kits also include ibuprofen, aspirin and heat packs. There are coloring books specially designed for children who have experienced trauma. There are tips and exercises for managing diabetes and asthma.
Nieves said surviving this disaster may depend as much on developing new knowledge as much as on any other tool.
“It’s important that when basic needs aren’t being met that we learn how to care for ourselves,” Nieves said. “I’m not talking about surgeries or broken arms. It’s important to go to the hospital for that. We can’t do that. But things like asthma or stress and grief and trauma – we can take care of that for ourselves. We just need the tools to do that.”
And there’s the challenge of making sure the kits get to Puerto Rico and to the people who need them. Nieves has been working with an organization called CEPA in San Juan.
“That is the one place that I will be sending it to through UPS,” Nieves said.
“It has only been a week that [CEPA has] been able to get packages. And so I’m hopeful.”
Nieves plans to send half of the shipment this week, then sned the rest once CEPA has confirmed the items have been received.
Each wellness medicine kit also includes a handwritten note.
“So that it’s more personal,” Nieves said. “And that it doesn’t just feel like remedies coming in an emergency, but that it feels like love, too.”
Nieves plans to visit Puerto Rico in late November as a part of her fellowship with the Detroit Equity Action Lab at Wayne State’s Damon Keith Center for Civil Rights. She said the fellows have been working with Puerto Rican organizations for a while, but Hurricane Maria and its aftermath have changed the focus and added urgency to their trip.