Stepping into the Heart of Community at Omaroti Well of Indigenous Wisdom
I first met Olatokunboh (Ola) Obasi in November of 2017, shortly after Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico, which happens to be the home of my family and ancestry. She was the keynote speaker at the Portland Plant Medicine Gathering and her first address was inviting the audience "to be more like water."
Over the years I have continued to be inspired by Ola’s heartfelt efforts to support and uplift her community—the community of my homeland. When she was selected as a recipient of Banyan’s Community Grant Fund in 2020, I was thrilled and excited to see how she would use the funds to grow and evolve her work and vision.
In the time that has passed since then, I have come to call the island home, and have had the opportunity to visit Ola’s shop and herbal clinic in downtown Mayagüez, Puerto Rico. Here, it’s clear to see that her devotion to community health and wellness continues to grow, spread, and thrive.
I am honored to be able to share here some of the ways that Ola has been able to use Banyan’s grant funds to evolve her offerings and put her heartfelt visions into action.
Visiting the Omaroti Well of Indigenous Wisdom
Walking into Omaroti Well of Indigenous Wisdom herb shop, you are greeted by an atmosphere pregnant with reverence, intention, and care. At her shop, Ola offers a variety of herbal preparations such as Ayurvedic teas and tinctures.
You can also find a selection of locally crafted altar items, body adornments, and incense. This small and welcoming space is where Ola hosts her free herbal clinic, community health consultations, and educational workshops.
She works with people in need of nutritional guidance, receives referrals for patients with terminal and mental illnesses, and tends to marginalized folks who are unable to receive the healthcare they need in conventional settings.
She welcomes all beings into her space, especially those on the outskirts of the mainstream and those eager to experience the healing properties of plants.
Ayurvedic Gardening for Abundant Community Health
Banyan chose to offer Ola the 2020 Community Grant Fund for all of the reasons above. But what stood out most was her desire to plant an Ayurvedic garden to continue supplying her free clinics and to empower her community through further involvement with planting, tending, and preparing the herbs.
When sourcing and purchasing seeds to plant, Ola carefully chose companies that offered a selection of herbs that fit her ancestral African wisdom, her professional Ayurvedic training, and the climate and culture of the tropical island.
Puerto Rico is known for its rich and fertile soils and Ola’s home is nestled at the top of a beautiful, lush mountain. Here, she has planted moringa and neem trees among the papaya and mangoes. Bountiful African basil is growing beneath a fruiting banana tree. Golden turmeric is hidden between pumpkin leaves. Bitter melon wraps its tendrils along the neighboring fences.
In the paradise of this thriving botanical sanctuary, Ola has allocated a large portion of the grant resources to labor. With the help of the grant, she has been able to offer reliable work to her community by hiring people to help cultivate and tend the land.
She shares, “The community has put so much love into the fertile land. They’ve even come together to build an improvised greenhouse for all the seeds and baby plants.”
Spreading Green Love in the Spirit of Reciprocity
With so much change and uncertainty in our world today, there is something to be said about the resilience of our plant allies. “It’s not about me,” Ola says about her work:
“Even when I pass, when I’m gone, the plants will still be here, and somebody will get to use them. Nothing can be possessed. Not plants, not seeds, not humans. We belong to the earth and that’s where we will go back to.”
Lucky for us and for the Ayurvedic community at large, Ola says she is going to do her work until the day she dies, until her last breath.
During one of my magical visits to Ola’s shop, I asked her what she loves most about her work. She described her love for the plants and the color green, communing with the mystery of life, and simply observing the amazing ways nature reveals itself in each ray of light and shining leaf.
“I like connecting with the plants in that way and feeling like I did my best to act as a bridge, harvesting and packaging the love I receive from plants and sharing it with others.”
Ola’s generous spirit, vision, and love for the plants is apparent in every aspect of her daily work. Whether she’s in her shop, offering clinics and workshops, or tending to the garden, she shares freely and openly of her heart, her wisdom, and her passion for the plants.