`Oni kalalea ke ku a ka ka`au loa: A Tall Tree Stands Above the Others

We as humans have responsibilities, kuleana. We must pay our bills, feed our children and/or animals, call our parents, show up to work on time, just to name a few. Too often in the “normal” list of responsibilities, caring for the Earth is not always one.

What does sustainability mean to you? To me, living a sustainable life means much more than just recycling and composting. My dream is for people to conduct their lives in such a way that even our relationships with others become sustainable by treating people with respect and aloha.

I am so excited to be the new Sustainable Hawaii Youth Leadership Initiative’s Project Coordinator. The SHYLI youth I have met really know what’s going on. They have new ideas on how to reduce our carbon footprint and get the most out of our natural resources without using them all up. SHYLI will nurture these youth into tall, strong, healthy trees that will stand high above the others.

My first week was SHYLI’s Sustainable Hawaii Youth Tour. We traveled around the island, visiting different places and people with one common ambition. Saving the Earth.

SHYLI’s Leadership Intensive with visiting faculty, Josue Cruz was a great experience for me. Thanks to his work with the Stone Soup Leadership Institute, he’s grown from a depressed 15-year-old without hope to a powerful 23-year-old youth leader with a vision for his life, his island and the world. As the co-founder of the Vieques Youth Leadership Initiative, Josue is an amazing role model for me and for other island youth.

Listening to Josue speak with a wide range of leaders in Hawaii was fascinating. In his curiosity and willingness to learn, I really got to see how eager he is to find ways to develop more sustainable islands. Josue’s passion and dedication just beamed through. He truly believes that each one of us can, if we work hard – and together – can solve our islands’ greatest challenges. I couldn’t have asked for better training. I am now able to take his spirit and share it with everyone on my island. He is one of those trees, standing tall, above all the others.

At the Kea’au Recycling Center, Josue took pictures of this Hawaii-model program to show people in Vieques, Puerto Rico. The bins were clearly labeled so people could easily determine where to put their trash. There was even an area where people could donate furniture and clothes. They make it easy to recycle so people are more willing to participate. It’s a win-win – for people and the planet.

For me, the best leg of the SHYLI Sustainable Hawaii Tour was visiting Holly and Eila Algood at The Algood Bamboo Barn in Hawi. It was much more than a barn. It is gorgeous! Their taste in furniture is great and it is all recycled or second hand. The Algood’s Bamboo Barn shows us that living sustainably doesn’t mean we can’t live comfortably and in style.

They are completely off the grid and use solar energy if there is no wind or wind energy from their windmill if there is no sun. What a treat to walk around their property. Their tilapia pond fertilizes the aquaponically- grown spinach that they feed their chickens. I especially enjoyed walking through the chicken coup and petting one of their very tame chickens, which will lay their eggs when they are older. Even their recycled bus serves as their office.

For Earth Day SHYLI is partnering with Kona Chamber of Commerce’s Kuleana Green Committee for The Grand Green Home Tours. The Algood’s Bamboo Barn and all the other people on our Island who have taken the necessary steps to lead such sustainable lives, starting from the ground up, are the tall trees among the rest.

It is no wonder adults want to work with today’s youth. Many of them have already dedicated their lives to sustainable living – agriculture, business, building, energy, cultures and transportation. They are eager to see others get involved and help carry on this work.

This summer SHYLI ‘s team will serve as youth delegates to the 8th Annual Youth Leadership Summit for Sustainable Development. We will share our vision and our plans and work alongside youth leaders from five other islands on the island of Martha’s Vineyard.

We are actively looking for donations in the form of miles so that our team will be able to get there.

Another way people can get involved is by nominating someone (ages14-22 )that has the potential of being a leader. After all, it’s the youth who will grow up to become the people who make important decisions for our world.

As Gandhi says “Be the change you want to see in the world”.
Are you ready to stand tall and make a difference with us?

About the author: Mariana lives on the Big Island and is a project coordinator for the Sustainable Hawai’i Youth Leadership Initiative. SHYLI’s mission is to inspire young people to envision, plan and create a more sustainable future for their lives and their island.