Freshly dried sand ginger slices. A crystalline bottle of rice liquor. Put them together for 10 days, and you have an aromatic ginger essential oil that can melt the sore stiffness in your arthritic joints. This massage alcohol—a potent example of herbs’ healing properties—has the potential to rescue the Asiatic black bears of Vietnam.
In collaboration with Pitzer and Claremont Colleges alumni, Animals Asia, the Traditional Medical Association of Vietnam, and The Rick and Susan Sontag Center for Collaborative Creativity (the Hive) published a book of local women’s herbal remedies such as the aromatic ginger massage oil. This book presents an alternative to the practice of bear bile farming that is harming Vietnam’s bear population. In October 2022, the group hosted a launch party to celebrate printing 1,000 copies of Herbal Recipes for Health Improvement with alternative treatments to animal medicine.
The Phung Thuong region is one of the last hotspots of bear farmers in Vietnam. Bear farmers extract bile from Asiatic black bears’ gallbladders to treat inflammatory, liver, and degenerative ailments. The nonprofit Animals Asia partnered with the Hive—a hub for creative innovation at The Claremont Colleges—to use human-centered design to empathize and collaborate with Phung Thuong residents to explore herbal alternatives in ways that resonated with the community.
“Using human-centered design with Animals Asia turned out to be one of the most transformative experiences of my life,” said Pitzer alum Lena Tran ’18, who was on the Hive’s 2018 cohort for this project.
“From co-designing with community members to prototyping ideas for collective care, I learned how to advocate for community voices, facilitate creative problem solving, and ultimately leverage design for social change,” said Tran.
Students such as Tran worked on various prototypes until they landed on an herbal remedies book highlighting recipes from older village women. The Hive’s three research teams in Vietnam included four Pitzer alumni—Tran, Kimberly Ha ’18, Mai Nguyen ’19, and Olivia Hewitt ’22—as well as other Claremont Colleges alumni.