…Sustainable Hawai‘i Youth Leadership Initiative
On the sunlit day, outdoors at the West Hawai‘i Civic Center, Skyla (“Sky”) D. Graig-Murray, a student at West Hawai‘i Explorations Academy, asks this question: “How often have you asked a young person what is their dream for their life, and expect a real answer? Youth are rarely ever asked.”
Until now. Now, their dreams and their answers have clustered into a self-empowering movement which has reached critical mass and aspires to establish Hawai‘i Island as a sustainability mecca. SHYLI, the Sustainable Hawai‘i Youth Leadership Initiative, challenges Hawai‘i’s adults to look closely with them at the human habits, trends and warnings about the fate of the earth and our island, and to do everything we can to save our part of the planet.
“I’m afraid we are throwing away our world,” 14-year-old Sky wrote in her first published article. “We are destroying our land and habitats to lay down concrete roads.” Sky dreams of becoming an author and says her friend Sarah wants to become a therapist. “Her dream for the world is to end racism, sexism, share the aloha spirit, and for everyone to get along. Our world, our land and home must be our top priority.”
Because their dreams are bigger than their fears, and their insights have potency far beyond their years, Sky and her friends, 17-year-old Wainani (“Wai”) Traub, 16-year-old Ashley (“Ash”) Mulvihill and other visionary youth have united to reach out to the larger community and help create a sustainable world.
Sky, Wai, and Ash have transformed their concerns into mature, concrete and even heroic action. They are speaking out, organizing, planning and working together to create a healthy world where they can achieve their dreams. “The point of a dream,” says Sky, as she looks out at the Civic Center’s gazebo and the luminous sea beyond, “is that you have one you are willing to work towards.”
Notable pioneers in the field of sustainability from every sector on the island—business, government, education, agriculture, energy, media and the arts—are hearing SHYLI’s call. To help fulfill the dreams of youth, they are collaborating to share their dreams for green enterprises and partnerships that range from organic farms and eco-friendly tour leaders to manufacturers of natural body products and state-of-the art recycling facilities.
Eco-Teens Have Deep Roots
There are a million ways to save the world. Sky, Wai and Ash know this because their parents, along with teachers the West Hawai‘i Explorations Academy’s (WHEA) and faculty from the Stone Soup Leadership Institute, have shown them.
Ashley, who dreams of being a performing artist, says her first inspiration to live sustainably came from the Youth Congress hosted by Hawai‘i Preparatory Academy (HPA) “because they showed us it was really not difficult, but it was really inviting to be eco-friendly, to be really good to the earth and to go out there ready to help. After a while, when you develop the habit of it, it doesn’t feel like you’re going out of your way to do it, to live sustainably.”
Ash later joined Sky and Wai at WHEA, an outdoor “school of choice” that serves grades 6-12 using “project-based” learning, and is probably one of the only high schools in America that has a shark tank and breeds seahorses and jellyfish. WHEA’s Green Team, a student class taught by Ben Duke, promotes sustainability through learning, ecosystem-friendly practices, video production to encourage green awareness and projects like the
Wai represented WHEA’s Green Team at the Institute’s Youth Leadership Summit in Martha’s Vineyard last year, brought back ideas from the summit and partnered with artist Ash on the design of SHYLI’s logo—two whale tails together, signifying natural collaborations that run deep. Sky’s article, “Calling All Big Island Youth for a Sustainable World,” invites all youth from high school and college to get involved. “Everyone can share their gifts and talents—and learn as we grow. SHYLI needs your help—from writing, to producing more videos, to working on projects with local organizations, to creating our first Sustainable Hawai‘i Tour using Google Earth.”
WHEA’s Ben Duke said at a December, 2011 meeting that, “As teachers, we aim to provide students with support and help them identify resources in the community.” One such community resource at the same meeting, Joan Ocean of Dolphin Connection, said, “The new youth leadership initiative is very powerful and timely. I think it will touch many people who have felt (as I have) the frustration of trying to assist the young people in a world that mostly is unaware of all they have to offer, all their intelligence and natural good sense. Thank you for honoring that.”
Dignitaries and devoted adults from the fields of youth empowerment and sustainability from all over the island have been invigorated by SHYLI’s potential. Councilman Angel Pilago hosted the December meeting; Kumu Keala Ching met with the SHYLI Leadership Intensive in January; Deputy Mayor of West Hawai‘i Wally Lau has attended several meetings, and a private donor has offered space for a Youth Initiative summer camp, says Ash.
The urgent voices of youth and the calming voices of wisdom harmonize into one song: we want to live in an enduring world so new generations, like the ones before them, can fulfill their dreams.
SHYLI’s message begins with personal decision-making. “If you eat healthy food, you already lead a more balanced life, because your body has more balanced nutrition. And if you grow your own food, it’s healthy and it also helps the economy as well,” says Ash. Seeing how much shipping costs, how much energy it requires, and the fact that Hawai‘i imports 85 percent of its food, SHYLI is exploring strategies for reducing dependence on shipping and expanding local island food production.
Sky recalls living in upstate New York. “There’s a recycling bin on every single corner and it’s more rural than here. But here, there are entire malls where they don’t recycle at all. It goes in the garbage. It’s like, ‘Really! How does that work out?’ But it’s worse. I mean they ship it overseas and it takes more fuel to ship over than it’s worth recycling. I’m like ‘But it’s recycling. It’s not worse.’ I think it’s a big shock.”
Ash agrees, but thinks that on the Big Island we’re more sustainable in other areas. “There’s a lot of focus here about growing your own food and being able to sustain yourself off your own residential area. It’s a massive, massive influence around here. People have been growing their own food, growing their own fruit, and eating healthy, natural food for years. So that’s a very large part of culture around here.”
The group has so far visited and negotiated partnerships with 14 sustainable businesses around the island, and they are seeking more people who have ideas, visions and dreams to create a map of sustainable Hawai‘i. The Sustainable Hawai‘i Tour in January, led in part by the Stone Soup Leadership Institute’s Youth Director from Puerto Rico, Josue Cruz, brought together others in the Hawai‘i Island network.
Founding director of the Stone Soup Leadership Institute, part-time Hawai‘i Island resident Marianne Larned, says the servant-leadership model is central to the Stone Soup Leadership’s approach to humanitarian action. She wrote a handbook for humanitarians based on the enlightened idea that “ordinary people doing extraordinary things” will improve the world by bettering people’s lives.
With stories told by individuals who are either well known themselves (Jimmy Carter, Steven Spielberg, Nelson Mandela) or are affiliated with organizations devoted to improving the world by helping others, the book’s introduction is written by “the most trusted man in America,” the late Walter Cronkite. He writes: “It’s time to take action and chart the course for our future.
Stone Soup for the World: Life-Changing Stories of Everyday Heroes features heroes, legendary people and ordinary folks, who, by conviction, imagination, innovation, persistence, hard work and moral or physical courage, have lifted their neighbors and their communities. They challenge each of us to respond in kind.
The Stone Soup Institute which Ms. Larned helped establish has a history of developing strategic public-private partnerships that have helped organize hundreds of young people in eight youth community initiatives, first on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, then in inner cities and on other islands over the last 16 years, including Oakland, California; Vieques, Puerto Rico; Virgin Gorda, BVI and now, Hawai‘i Island.
The Youth Initiative’s next big event is to support the Grand Green Home Tour organized by the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce and the West Hawai‘i Mediation Center, to be held on April 22.
That will help further their goal of creating a visual display of sustainable practices and populations in the form of a geographic map. Collaborating with leaders in sustainable industries, the Youth Initiative seems clearly to have the passion for creating such a map, and contributing to a sustainable future.
New SHYLI project coordinator Mariana Garcia says, “It’s imperative that we learn now, before it’s too late. Young people hold the key to our future.” The map will answer the questions: Who’s here? Doing what? How can we support each others’ dreams? But the only real value of knowledge is in giving us the wisdom to take action.
That’s why SHYLI wants more people involved, “because it is important for our youth to learn about sustainability. Our world is in trouble, and we are going to be the ones who will have to save it,” says Ms. Garcia.
“I also want more people to be involved so we can see that living sustainably can also mean living comfortably. A lot of times when people think of living green, they think they will have to live in grass shacks. This is just not true,” she says. “There are very high-quality, sustainable homes and I am excited for more people to see them.”
Mentors and contributing specialists to the Youth Sustainability Initiative include Angela King, Hawai‘i County Recycling Specialist; Ming Wai Koha, HPA Energy Lab; Guy Toyama, (NELHA) Natural Energy Laboratory Hawaiian Authority; Andrea Dean and Michael Kramer, Hawai‘i Alliance for Local Economy; Kristine Kubat, Recycle Hawai‘i; and Nancy Redfeather of the Kohala Center.
Get involved, they say. Grow insight as well as organic vegetables.
Teen writer Sky puts it this way: “I think that people want to help and they want to be part of things that are productive. I think just getting the word out there will bring people in. Just letting them know how easy it is and what we’re doing is the biggest way that people can help.”
They challenge us to collaborate with them, to come up with better lifestyle solutions so they don’t have to live with the karma of our and our ancestors’ poor choices. They shouldn’t have to live in fear for the very survival of our planet.
No, that’s not too much to ask.
Who wants to join in this endeavor? The Kellogg Foundation has provided seed money and everyone will want to pitch in to help the Youth Initiative make the connections and learn the skills they need to energize a sustainable new earth.
Contact writer Marya Mann