Celebration brings community together to share knowledge of `aina.
By Melissa Kelsey
The bleachers outside Mitchell Pauole Center were packed full with people watching films about the environment created by Molokai’s own keiki at Molokai’s 17th annual Earth Day celebration last Friday evening. From the serious to the hilarious, kids got creative during the Public Service Announcement contest, aimed at educating both students and the public. Aunty Moana’s hula halau, the Hawaiian language immersion program at Molokai High School, and the local music group Six Pac also provided the night’s entertainment.
“For us, Earth Day is an introduction to conservation for the community,” said Ed Misaki, the Molokai Program Director at The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the non-profit that orchestrated the festivities.
Throughout the complex, keiki explored the festival wearing painted faces of cats and dogs, painted by volunteers from the Molokai Humane Society.
“Parents bring the children, and four or five years from now, the kids may want to volunteer with somebody,” Misaki said. He explained that one of the event’s purposes is to introduce keiki to the importance of caring for the environment in hopes that someday they will want to be involved.
Inside, the building was crammed full with eager attendees perusing the myriad of interactive educational display tables, covering topics ranging from invasive species to hunting. Community leaders, students and environmental professionals from Molokai, Maui, and Oahu were represented in their efforts to educate the public on protecting the `aina.
“This is my first Molokai Earth Day, and it blew me away how many people attended,” said Noelani Lopez, an educator from the Lelekamanu program at Papahana Kuaola, a non-profit located on Oahu that educates grade school students about geology, native Hawaiian plants, and native Hawaiian animals.
“People seem connected to the land and already know a lot about the environment,” said Lopez, describing event attendees who visited her table.
Directly across from Lopez, Molokai resident and Aka`ula student `Olana Chow, 14, educated passersby about the dangers of polystyrene, known to most people as Styrofoam. Having conducted research on the topic for more than two years, Chow used her Earth Day booth to encourage individuals and businesses to boycott polystyrene and switch to environmentally friendlier alternatives.
“The reason I am trying to raise awareness is because the health and environmental effects of polystyrene are damaging. It takes 100 years or more for Styrofoam to biodegrade in a landfill,” said Chow.
Although Earth Day was coordinated by TNC, the event’s planning committee consisted of individuals throughout the community. Vendor fees, donations from local businesses, t-shirt sales, the Molokai Environmental Fund, and the TIDES foundation provided funding for the festivities, according to Misaki.
The theme of this year’s Earth Day festival was “Molokai Cares,” in honor of the group who started the event. Misaki explained that Molokai CARES (Conservation and Recycling Ensures Sustainability) founded the first annual celebration in 1993. The group, a grassroots organization to promote recycling on the island, dissolved soon after founding the festival. Before disbanding, Molokai CARES donated a lump sum of extra funds to TNC, under the condition that TNC would agree to continue the Earth Day event annually. In 1995, TNC hosted Earth Day for the first time. Throughout the years, they have made a series of changes and improvements to increase community attendance, including changing the location from the Kaunakakai School cafeteria to the Mitchell Pauole Center and making the event an evening event instead of a midday event.