Origins: A Story 


A week after my sharing, I received thank you notes from the class and one little girl had written, "Thank you for teaching us that earth is `ohana." These words provided a flash of clarity! "Yes" I thought, "this is what I want to do, I want to share with as many people as I can that earth is `ohana." `Ohana is the Hawaiian word for family with a deep seeded understanding of responsibility. In that one word exists a thousand childhood memories on teachings around what it means to be part of a family.


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The story of this growing relationship that I feel so honored to call my work started in the fall of 2015. This particular time was an enriching moment of personal learning. Eager to understand new points of access into the tangled web that is our environmental crisis I was enrolled in an online class titled, 'Planetary Boundaries and Human Opportunities'. The Planetary Boundaries course supported me in deconstructing what is actually happening to our world that often left me saddened, yet empowered. This was the first time I was learning how to articulate the larger picture to my friends and family through a data-driven scientific lens.

Simultaneously I was in the midst of applying for The Spiritual Ecology Fellowship.  As part of this process, I was reading 'Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth'. This book is a compilation of thoughtful essays on caring for our common home, by various thinkers and doers. Their words and perspectives cushioned the weight of the Planetary Boundaries course, and the more that I delved into the field of Spiritual Ecology, the more nourished I felt. Somehow in my own way, I had found a unique thread that weaved between two varying perspectives that were both in service to our earth. I felt balanced intellectually, emotionally and spiritually in a way that seemed almost counter-intuitive in terms of the painful topics that I was exploring. 

After completing my application and wrapping up the online class, myself and four other native youth were invited by our home community, the island of Maui, to travel to Paris as representatives at the 21st UN Climate Conference (COP21). Before leaving we were tasked by elders to figure out a way to bring the knowledge of this experience back home in service to our community. Our time in Paris cracked my heart open. For three weeks we moved through the city which had been taken over by this highly anticipated COP. We wove our bodies amongst thousands in the streets in protest of climate injustice and cried daily as we exchanged stories with other native peoples on how extractive industry shifted societies and polluted land. As we navigated what felt like the world falling apart, I thought daily about how I was going to bring this experience home. My task felt both huge and insignificant. I wondered how I could break down the complexity that led to human-caused climate change, how I could bring the stories home of those most impacted and how I could radically shift one person's understanding of themselves within the whole. 

I returned home depleted and cynical, spending long days mulling over the challenge at hand. The words, "The real work starts when you get home" echoed through my being. My responsibility was now two-fold as I felt indebted to the stories that I encountered while away. More people needed to understand and feel into the reality that so many were already facing on the ground, where sea level rise was quickly eating away at homes and desertification made water and other resources scarce. While in the depths of this questioning, I was invited to share my story of Paris to a class of 5th graders. I loved speaking with this class, it was a reminder that all of this heartache and sorrow was for them, our future generations.

A week after my sharing, I received thank you notes from the class and one little girl had written, "Thank you for teaching us that earth is `ohana." These words provided a flash of clarity! "Yes," I thought, "this is what I want to do, I want to share with as many people as I can that earth is `ohana." `Ohana is the Hawaiian word for family with a deep seeded understanding of responsibility. In that one word exists a thousand childhood memories on teachings around what it means to be part of a family. In that one short phrase, I could feel myself overlooking the many moving pieces that I had been exploring over the last months. Suddenly it seemed that I was looking at a cohesive and whole map, and sharing this map seemed like a clear next step. 

For two months in the spring of 2016, Earth Is `Ohana became a living entity outside of my own head. With a dedicated group of 6 participants, I ran a 10-week class, complete with two guest speakers from the local university and a field trip to the Merwin Conservancy. The aim of the course was to explore environmental issues by looking at data and learning about how this information translated into real people's lives on the ground. We also read through the Spiritual Ecology book and utilized exercises that put Spiritual Ecology values into practice. It was a beautiful experiment that filled me with possibility and energy. At the end of our time together it was clear to me that I wanted to continue building out this project which had quickly become my clearest representation of what it could mean to build into a healthier future. 

Later that summer I started a 9- month journey with the Spiritual Ecology Fellowship. Spiritual Ecology as a field recognizes that our larger social and environmental issues stem from a mass internal spiritual crisis. This program's mission was to support motivated and passionate youth to develop and implement projects that are rooted in the values of reverence for nature, interconnectedness, stewardship, compassion, and service. It was clear to me that Earth Is `Ohana as a body of work would be the project that I would walk through this program. Since then I have been graciously introduced to many new bodies or work and have spent the last years in a state of constant study and questioning. Through multiple phases of feedback and development, this cherished project has sustained and held its own, and now that the fellowship has concluded, it finally feels ready to grow outside of my own head again.

Although this is still my own radical experiment in new forms of education and earth stewardship, Earth Is `Ohana feels stronger than ever and I feel ready to step into this new chapter of offering it outward and forward. Please consider yourself invited along on this journey. I always value questions, feedback and of course support. 

A genuine "Thank You" from my heart to yours,

Kailea