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Hawaii to host World Conservation Congress: Ancient Hawaiian Farmers Offer Lessons in Sustainability

The Hawaii botanist says he hopes that by coming to Limahuli, visitors will learn some valuable lessons from the ancient Hawaiians who worked this land

Limahuli Garden and Preserve is set in a verdant tropical valley on the north shore of the Hawaiian Island of Kaua`i. Against a backdrop of majestic Makana Mountain, the garden overlooks the Pacific Ocean. Image source: VOA

Hawaii is hosting the World Conservation Congress. Thousands of government officials, environmental activists, business leaders and other delegates from nearly 200 countries are in Honolulu for 10 days to shape the direction of global conservation and sustainable development. This is the first time the Eco-summit is being held in the U.S. Organizers say one of the reasons the Aloha state was chosen to host the quadrennial conference is because it’s been a model for incorporating indigenous culture into its conservation initiatives.

A shining example of this is Limahuli Garden and Preserve, on the island of Kauai.

Its director, Kawika Winter, points to the evidence of successful, sustainable farming in the verdant tropical valley. “You see all these terraces that are remnants of the ancient agricultural complex that dates back almost a thousand years. So the original inhabitants of this valley built these walls and left them to be able to grow taro on the land.”

Kawika Winter gives a tour of the garden to a group of environmental journalists.
Kawika Winter gives a tour of the garden to a group of environmental journalists. Image source: VOA

Winter notes while most of Hawaii’s food is now imported, once upon a time, valleys like this one nourished the whole community.

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“If you’re to take the time to walk through the jungle over here, you’d find terrace after terrace after terrace, all the way down to the ocean. So this valley was definitely feeding a lot of people in the old days.” In fact, its name – Limahuli – in Hawaiian, means turning hands, and Winter says it might refer to the people who once turned their hands here to work the earth.

Ancient land management system

Limahuli Garden and Preserve is one of four gardens in Hawaii run by the National Tropical Botanical Garden. Winter says it’s also one of the few places in the state where people can learn how to manage resources based on the ancient Hawaiian ahupua`a system. He explains, “An ahupua’a is basically a land section that extends from the top of the mountains, out into the ocean and it’s within the borders of an ahupua’a that Hawaiian communities were developed and managed.”

Artist's depiction of what the area around Limahuli might have looked like many years ago.
Artist’s depiction of what the area around Limahuli might have looked like many years ago. Image source: VOA

Limahuli’s approach gives it a leading role in saving native species. Hawaii is the endangered species capital of the U.S., if not the world. There are more endangered species per square kilometer on these islands than any other place on the planet, and Winter says nearly 40 of them are in 400 protected hectares of Limahuli’s garden and nature preserve.

“We’re working to do ecological restoration to prevent extinction of this precious biodiversity that exists in this valley,” Winter says. “Some of the species are only existing in this valley, and some of them are down to a few individuals in the wild.”

Lessons for sustainability

The Hawaii botanist says he hopes that by coming to Limahuli, visitors will learn some valuable lessons from the ancient Hawaiians who worked this land: whatever you do on the land affects the life and ecosystem of the ocean, and that fresh water is the secret to everything. One of the last pristine waterways left in the Islands runs through the garden.

Limahuli Stream is one of the few pristine waterways left in the Hawaiian Islands.
Limahuli Stream is one of the few pristine waterways left in the Hawaiian Islands. Image source: VOA

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At more than 1,000 workshops and panel discussions, delegates to the World Conservation Congress are focusing on the theme of our planet at the crossroads, with topics ranging from species recovery and eco-tourism to indigenous peoples and megacities and watersheds.

Kawika Winter believes Limahuli Garden and Preserve can show the world how to care for the planet. “From our perspective, instead of reinventing the wheel, all we need to do is look back to a system that worked in Hawaii for at least a millennium and quite possibly more. And our hope is that we can be a model of sustainability and we can show that the ahupua’a system can offer viable solutions to our contemporary issues regarding sustainability in Hawaii and the globe.” (VOA)

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Medical Students in Limbo as Young Immigrant Program Ends

Zarna Patel poses for a portrait at the Loyola University Medical
Zarna Patel poses for a portrait at the Loyola University Medical School in Maywood, Ill, Patel, a third year student

Chicago, October 21: Medical students such as Alejandra Duran  Arreola are trying to shape the debate, and they have the backing of influential medical groups, including the American Medical Association.

Arreola dreams of becoming an OB-GYN in her home state of Georgia, where there’s a shortage of doctors and one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the U.S.

But the 26-year-old Mexican immigrant’s goal is now trapped in the debate over a program protecting hundreds of thousands of immigrants like her from deportation. Whether she becomes a doctor depends on whether Congress finds an alternative to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that President Donald Trump phased out last month.

Arreola, who was brought to the U.S. illegally at age 14, is among about 100 medical students nationwide who are enrolled in DACA, and many have become a powerful voice in the immigration debate. Their stories have resonated with leaders in Washington. Having excelled in school and gained admission into competitive medical schools, they’re on the verge of starting residencies to treat patients, a move experts say could help address the nation’s worsening doctor shortage.

“It’s mostly a tragedy of wasted talent and resources,” said Mark Kuczewski, who leads the medical education department at Loyola University’s medical school, where Arreola is in her second year. “Our country will have said, ‘You cannot go treat patients.’”

The Chicago-area medical school was the first to openly accept DACA students and has the largest concentration nationwide at 32. California and New York also have significant populations, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

DACA gives protection to about 800,000 immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children and who otherwise would lack legal permission to be in the country. The immigrants must meet strict criteria to receive two-year permits that shield them from deportation and allow them to work.

Then-President Barack Obama created DACA in 2012. Critics call it an illegal amnesty program that is taking jobs from U.S. citizens. In rescinding it last month, Trump gave lawmakers until March to come up with a replacement.

Public support for DACA is wide. A recent poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed that just 1 in 5 Americans want to deport DACA recipients.

Arreola took a break from her studies last month to travel to Washington with fellow Loyola medical students and DACA recipient Cesar Montelongo Hernandez to talk to stakeholders. In their meetings with lawmakers, they framed the program as a medical necessity but also want a solution for others with DACA.

A 2017 report by the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts a shortfall of between about 35,000 and 83,000 doctors in 2025. That shortage is expected to increase with population growth and aging.

Hernandez, a 28-year-old from Mexico simultaneously pursuing a Ph.D., wants to focus his research on early detection of diseases. His work permit expires next September, and he’s worried he won’t qualify for scientific research funding without the program.

“I’ve shown I deserve to be here,” said Hernandez, who met with Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat who’s called for Congress to quickly pass a replacement for DACA.

For Arreola it’s about returning to the state she’s called home since she was 14 and giving back to areas in need of doctors.

“My family is from there; I know those people,” Arreola said. “Those are the people that inspired to really give this a push.”

Among those Arreola met with were policy staff for Georgia Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, who believes the Obama program was “an overreach of executive power” but also wants Congress to write a plan to protect DACA recipients.

Medical school administrators say the immigrant medical students stand out even among their accomplished peers: They’re often bilingual and bicultural, have overcome adversity and are more likely to work with underserved populations or rural areas.

“They come with a cultural competency for how to best treat the individuals from their background, whether immigrants or different races and ethnicities,” said Matthew Shick, a government relations director for the Association of American Medical Colleges. “That gets translated over to their peers in education and training.”

Zarna Patel, 24, is a third-year student at Loyola who was brought to the U.S. from India as a 3-year-old without any legal documents. Her DACA permit expires in January, and she’s trying to renew it so she can continue medical school rotations that require clinical work. If she’s able to work in U.S., Patel will work in disadvantaged areas of Illinois for four years, part of her agreement to get school loans.

“Growing up, I didn’t have insurance,” she said. “I knew what that felt like, being locked out of the whole system.”

For others, there’s added worry of being stuck with debt they can’t repay.

Marcela Zhou, who was born in Mexico after her family moved there from China, is in her third year at the University of California at Los Angeles’ medical school. She wants to work in public health.

“Can I even afford to finish medical school?” said Zhou, who was 12 when she came to the U.S. on a visitor visa that eventually expired. “It’s sort of hard sometimes to keep going.”(VOA)