Cynthia Thielen

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Kanu Project: Planting Native Trees

KANU: nurturing the connection between environment and culture

As more voices join the conversation on Hawaii’s energy usage and its impact on our environment, more people are shifting from talk to action. Many of Hawaii’s schools are leading the way. From Kailua High School’s highly successful Project Graduation recycling fundraiser to `Aikahi Elementary School’s involvement in Kokua Hawai`i Foundation’s earth-friendly programs, students are exemplifying how each individual can make a collective difference in caring for the `aina. As a direct response to rising concerns over global warming, I’ve initiated Kanu (meaning “to plant; fig. hereditary”): a native tree planting program for schools in my Windward district.

Under the Kanu program, native trees are planted to remove carbon (a major contributor to global warming) from the atmosphere, provide shade for playing keiki, support native plant growth, and give students a hands-on opportunity to study ecology, natural history, and Hawaiian culture. Kanu ultimately benefits the environment and community while providing a learning tool for students.

We currently have two schools participating in the Kanu program: St. John Vianney School in Enchanted Lakes and Kainalu Elementary School. On February 11 at St. John Vianney, the entire student body gathered for the introduction of the program and a representative of each grade (K-8) helped with the planting of a milo tree.

During the planting, we shared with students that every year as their tree grows, it will remove more carbon through the process of photosynthesis and help reduce global warming. Because milo is a native tree it will require less watering and maintenance and is more pest resistant, all of which is better for the environment. We also talked about the important role that milo trees have in Hawaiian tradition. While it was a valued plant carried by Polynesian voyagers to Hawai`i, it may have already been growing here. A beautiful shade tree often grown near homes to keep them cool, milo once surrounded the Waikiki home of Kamehameha the Great. Milo is used for woodworking, medicine, and lei, and has its own proverb: He milo ka la`au; mimilo ke aloha (“Milo is the plant; love goes round and round”).

The younger children at St. John Vianney were especially interested in how fast their tree will grow, comparing their height with the tree’s and wondering what it will be like when they are older. In the few minutes between their morning pledge of allegiance and the start of their first class, these students already felt connected to and responsible for their tree. A similar planting is scheduled for Kainalu Elementary on March 7.

Eventually I hope to involve all schools in my district in the Kanu program, bringing together more students and native trees. By teaching our keiki to take an active role in environmental stewardship, we can honor tradition while creating a positive impact on the environment for decades to come.

With warm aloha,

Representative Cynthia Thielen
50th District (Kailua-Kaneohe Bay Dr.)


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