From the installation of solar panels to the construction of eco-friendly buildings, ‘Iolani has been on the forefront of the new green initiative for years. However, the Ala Wai Community Park directly off-campus is quite a different story, with trash piling up on the shores of what should be a place for public gathering. This Earth Day, ‘Iolani did their part in protecting the planet by organizing ‘Iolani Aloha ‘Aina, a volunteer student cleanup of the neighboring Ala Wai Canal along with an expo to teach people how to protect the environment. Students and faculty alike used this project as an opportunity to not only help clean up trash along the riverbank, but also to take a greater look at how we treat the Earth.
The event was held the Saturday before Earth Day, April 20, with students arriving at 8:30 A.M. to begin cleaning. Student organizers Kyra Tan ’19 and Yufei Xiao ’19 worked alongside advisers Dr. Debbie Millikan and Dr. Yvonne Chan to make sure that the whole project from cleanup to expo would flow smoothly while sending a message of action to the ‘Iolani community.
“While education outreach and cleanups are important, if we don't stop pollution 'upstream,' we won't solve the problem,” explained Dr. Millikan. “We allow erosion from soil from our yards when we leave it bare, we add pollution when we drive our cars, spray chemicals around our house, and we had microplastic when we wear synthetic clothes and use microbead products. We need to get at the direct cause of the problem in order to solve it.”
One of the first steps to solving the problem is taking away existing pollution, and for two hours students worked to throw out garbage on the banks of the Ala Wai Canal. What they found was both disheartening and shocking.
“I heard that we picked up around 1,300 pounds of litter from the stream banks,” said Madison Kai ’20, one of the student volunteers. “One of the adults pulled a doll out the water. It didn't have legs or a left arm, and it’s hair was covered in some sort of sludge.”
For other students though, this garbage was not a surprise. Fellow volunteer Kylee Takanishi ’20 is extremely familiar with the Ala Wai and its problems and knew that this would be a challenge from the start.
“I used to run by the Ala Wai a lot, so the amount of debris was sadly expected,” said Takanishi. “In addition to the shopping carts, carpets, broken dolls, ramen cups, and pieces of plastic, we found an alarming amount of used cigarettes that were just discarded on the floor.”
With the help of student volunteers, the Ala Wai Community Park is looking better than ever. Finding so much trash only minutes away from school helped shock many into realizing just how badly people are treating the Earth. Luckily, the following Home Garden Expo started at 11:00 A.M., showing how people can create a cleaner, healthier society through gardening. Hosted by Dr. Millikan, this event helped teach students and parents the benefits of growing food at home for a cleaner environmental footprint and a healthier watershed.
The ‘Iolani Aloha ‘Aina event ended at 12:30 P.M., leaving with it a cleaner Ala Wai and a more educated ‘Iolani community. This successful operation has led to talks of organizing similar events next year, including ideas of planning field trips where students help clean up streams to learn about environmental preservation. For now though, with news about the global warming and polluted environments, protecting the Earth is a top priority beyond Earth Day.
In the words of Takanishi, “We have a duty to our planet. Destruction will not stop when we sit back and worry for our planet. Worrying is the first step. Nothing can be solved by watching. We need to use our brains and get to work. We need to be innovative to figure out new ways to sustain ourselves and we need to join in on the efforts to restore the earth. The main thing is that we take action.”