When Chicago native Rosita Arvigo moved to Belize in 1982, she had lofty goals: to seek "medical freedom and racial harmony."
Actually, the alternative physician ended up with results even more lofty than the goals she had set. Arvigo has persuaded the Belizean government to set aside 6,000 acres of rainforest, which she calls Terra Nova, the world's only tropical reserve specifically dedicated to the preservation of medicinal plants. She has also combined efforts with ethnobotanist Michael Balick, in cooperation with the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, to search the plant world for possible cures for cancer and AIDS by collecting and cataloguing more than 3,000 plants for testing. And she educates what could be the next generation of healers, providing tours for students, pharmacists and doctors, as well as sponsoring a camp for at-risk youth, who help workers identify and rescue trees.
In the United States, Arvigo's research has been translated into a line of nine traditional healing products called Rainforest Remedies. The products, including Belly Be Good for indigestion and Clearing Support for internal cleansing and blood purification, stem from her years studying with one of the world's oldest Mayan healers, who died at age 103 last year. Twenty percent to 50 percent of all sales go to help save the rainforest.
"I went to Belize for medical freedom. I didn't have a big plan. Everything else just happened," says Arvigo. "I wouldn't say I started out to make a company or save Mayan medicine. I just followed my heart."