Perhaps many of our environmental problems exist
because we human have become disconnected from that which sustains
us. Water has become something that comes out of a faucet; the
source is no longer remembered as rivers or lakes with a host of
intricate and interconnected life within it.
I have been working on a project in Duluth, Minnesota, that integrates ecological restoration, art, water education, and community participation. The project will use settling ponds, wetland plants, and sculptures called flowforms to cleanse stormwater.
Sediment from the city streets will settle to the bottom of the first pond. This simple step will improve the clarity of the water. From the settling pond the water will travel through a series of wetland ponds planted with native wetland species that take up or break down various pollutants.
The ponds will be designed by artists to be bold and attractive, integrating art into ecological restoration. Each pond may be planted with one species to teach the public about various wetland plant species. The third step of water cleansing comes from sculptures called flowforms, interconnected basins that move water in a swirling motion to oxygenate it.
This project is located in Duluth's downtown waterfront, an area that receives about 1.5 million tourists a year, which creates a huge education and outreach potential. Walkways and interpretative signs will educate the public about the processes they are witnessing. Water quality monitor terminals will allow the public to see the improving quality of water from the first stage to the last. The electricity for monitoring stations and other needs will be provided by solar panels, creating energy without polluting the air or water. This project will be an ecological public green space that is educational and interactive. Readers can learn more about this project at www.sweetwateralliance.org.
In 1999, President Bill Clinton gave the first official U.S. apology to the people of Guatemala for the U.S. role in Guatemala's 36-year civil war. He said the U.S. “was wrong” to support military regimes in their brutal campaigns that claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people. As one of the 230 students who have participated in the Global Visionaries (GV) leadership program, I've experienced first-hand the effects of this tragedy, and have been forever changed.
Carmen, another GV youth participant who was also deeply moved, said, “The Guatemalans I connected with held no grudge toward me for being an American. The experience allowed me to let go of some of my guilt while holding onto my grip on the extent of the injustice.”
Global Visionaries, a Seattle-based non-profit, offers young people a year-long service and leadership program, including a two- to three-week trip to Antigua, Guatemala. Students help build homes and schools, volunteer at the local hospital, live with Guatemalan families, study Spanish, and work with local organizations to improve housing, health care, and educational opportunities for impoverished families.
GV's relationship with Guatemala began seven years ago in Colonia Hermano Pedro, one of the towns ravaged by Hurricane Mitch. At the request of the mayor, GV staff and students worked with townspeople to plant more than 200 trees, rebuild the community center, and repair roads.
Twice a year, GV youth participants return to continue the work and deepen personal relationships. The GV students have formed a Youth Board to bring our voice to the leadership of GV, and now we are planning to raise money to build another community center in Colonia Hermano Pedro.
What started as “lending a hand” has grown into an international partnership in which both parties understand the immense benefits of the friendship and shared vision. These experiences have transformed me into a person who is committed to service because it makes me feel like an active participant in the world.
GV participant and vice president of the GV Youth Board
with Xheni Shehu, GV Intern