Kids Lead the Way to a Greener Hawai‘iNovember 17, 2008
We’ve all heard it before. Out of the mouth of babes. Yet, never before had this struck me as so true as when I visited a small dual-language school in urban Honolulu, HI.
Each day the keiki (children) of Kawaiaha‘o School, aged 18-months to 10-years-old, gather to begin their day with what they call their piko (literally umbilical cord or that which ties them back to their foundation). This daily assembly is a time to gather, greet each other and start the day in the spirit of aloha (love) and lōkahi (unity).
An important part of their piko is a pledge. Not just to one people or one place, but to the entire Earth.
“I pledge allegiance to the earth and to all life that it nourishes – all growing things, all species of animals, and all races of people. I promise to protect all life on our planet, to live in harmony with nature and to share our resources justly – so that all people can live with dignity, in good health and in peace.”
Knowing that reciting and understanding are not necessarily the same thing, their kumu (teachers) work daily with the keiki to deeply instill Aloha ‘Āina – love for the land.
Several years ago, the keiki themselves began re-landscaping their urban campus, planting mainly native plants that encourage the return of native wildlife. Their efforts were recognized when the nation’s largest member-supported conservation group, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), named them the first school in Hawai‘i to achieve certification as a NWF Schoolyard Habitat.
Following upon the success of their native garden, the keiki instituted a full school recycling and composting program. The children began collecting and recycling paper, glass, aluminum, plastic and used ink cartridges. Today, their collections go far beyond the school campus. Families, friends and neighboring businesses are all encouraged to work with the keiki to ensure recyclables do not go to the landfill. The children also enlisted teachers and parents to help build composting bins so that biodegradable refuse could be used in their native garden. Their goal is to create a zero-waste school.
These and other efforts brought them to the attention of one of Hawaii’s best known education non-profits, The Moanalua Gardens Foundation. In 2008, the Foundation awarded the school with their 2007 Hawai‘i Needs Care Award.
However, even with such praise, the keiki felt their efforts needed to expand beyond their immediate sphere. “We do a lot for ourselves, but we need to help other people, too,” shared second-grader Kealoha Garvin.
Taking this to heart, the children found that even small actions can help in big ways. After learning about suffering children in the Azawak in Niger – the world’s most drought ridden area – the Kawaiaha‘o keiki chose to create a program called Ka Wai Ola – the water of life. As a part of this project, the keiki sell green products with 100% of the proceeds going to dig deepwater wells in Africa. Their first item, a reusable grocery bag, sold out in less than a month. Their second item, a larger reusable bag, will be available in a few days.
The keiki also created an earth-friendly cleanser and bug spray. Using only natural, non-toxic materials, the children researched how to create products that are both green and effective. They also researched how to market their products – from branding and packaging to sales, they are using their gained knowledge to better our community.
Another effort the keiki have undertaken is to help other children become environmental leaders. They wrote and produced a public service announcement encouraging other schools to establish recycling programs. The resulting PSA was created in conjunction with a local non-profit, The Lex Brodie Foundation and the City & County of Honolulu.
Indeed, the children of Kawaiaha‘o School are proof that from small things, big things come.