It is quiet as can be and all I can hear are the sounds of bugs chirping. To be honest I am not entirely certain what type of insects they are. Maybe that pegs me as a “City Girl,” but I don’t mind the title this week because I am definitely out of my element. I am lucky enough to be working down deep in the Gulf Coast re-planting wetlands and cleaning up the oil spill. I am volunteering with a wonderful non-profit called Restore the Earth. Just as the name implies, Restore the Earth, works to re-generate the environment. They are a dedicated team who has worked tirelessly to re-plant wetlands that are disappearing at an alarming rate.

So here is the situation: I am down here for one week with 30 other volunteers from around the country. We are all staying in cabins at the “End of the world” as locals say, but I like to say we are at the end of Louisiana’s boot. Actually we are in a region called Pass a Loutre, a part of Plaquemines Parish. During our time here we are planting over 4,000 mangroves and native grasses directly where the Gulf of Mexico has come into the Mississippi channels. On top of re-planting the wetlands, which are disappearing at an alarming rate, the soil in the mangroves and grasses contains oil eating microbes. This is to combat the damage still ravaging the land and water here in Louisiana due to the Deepwater Horizon spill which occurred last year.

Restoring the wetlands is vital to Louisiana, New Orleans, and the entire country. The wetlands are a natural habitat for the state bird, the brown pelican, as well as many other native species. They also act as a natural barrier or shall we say levy to protect the city of New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast. In addition, the locals, which include Houma Indians and Cajun French, live off the water via fishing. In fact 30% of seafood sold in the US comes from this area. However, the wetlands are disappearing fast and have been drastically doing so since the 1930’s. In fact, we have already surpassed the 2050 predictions for the amount of wetland degradation. Experts say every year, wetlands the size of Manhattan disappear!

Hurricane Katrina was a tough lesson about the necessity of wetlands (they drop storm surges down by miles). And the recent oil spill just adds salt to old wounds. On top of degradation, now the remaining wetlands have to deal with contamination. This hurts more than plants including fish, birds, alligators, and humans alike. Restore the Earth and others like them are looking to reverse the damage through their Gulf Saver initiative.

In the week I am here, I will be re-planting an entire stretch of wetlands with my fellow volunteers. Please be on the lookout for other blogs detailing my adventure. There is a deep connection between water, land, plants, animals, and humans here and we aim to balance it. Please join us on our journey.

Gina Williams

This January, the world witnessed one of the worst tragedies in modern times. A 7.0 earthquake rocked the already struggling nation of Haiti and caused incredible amounts of death and destruction on a level not many had seen before, including myself. Before the earthquake, Haiti had its fair share of issues, ranging from infrastructure to the economy. And it is even worse off now, with a death toll of at least two hundred thousand and over a million homeless, not to mention the near destruction of the UN mission efforts and parts of the government. With such a grim outcome, it doesn’t seem like anything positive could come from this. However, in the aftermath of this terrible tragedy, Haiti has a unique opportunity to rebuild.

Haiti not only has an opportunity to rebuild their capital city, but they have the chance to restructure their country in a sustainably: economically, socially, and environmentally.  Hundreds of conventional international aid groups have already made their way to the country; however, there are groups such as Global Green who are looking to help rebuild the country in a truly sustainable way. Global Green USA has been instrumental in the reconstruction of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Recently, Treehugger published an interview with Global Green’s CEO and President, Matt Petersen. Global Green has been constantly in contact with all parties including the Haitian government, local businesses, and several NGOs. The interview is a very insightful look at the struggles and opportunities Haiti will face in the coming years including some issues seen in Iraq and New Orleans, such as corporate leaps of power and some long-term investments like job creation. Global Green is looking to end these challenges as well as many others and begin assisting a sustainable future for Haiti.

So, is it possible for Haiti to emerge out of the destruction with a new lease on sustainablity? As Matt Peterson mentions in the interview, there are many challenges; however, there is hope. One can take a look at rebuilding New Orleans as an example. On a recent visit to the city, it still looked as if much of the 9th Ward and parts of downtown had yet to be rebuilt.  But upon researching as I returned home, it became clear that there is a movement to sustaibably rebuild the city, with organizations such as Global Green or Rebuild Green. Perhaps it is too early to tell whether Haiti can be rebuilt completely sustainable, but with organizations such as Global Green on their side, they do have a good chance. In his interview, Peterson mentioned their main focus was “four fold:”

1. To inform the codes and system for enforcing codes for rebuilding.

2. Identifying school(s) and partner groups to help ensure disaster-resistant, energy efficient/sufficient, and healthy construction.

3. Identifying partners to do the same with homes (we’re talking to Habitat about this).

4. Working with others to identify and support re-forestation, ideally via a network that supports women to lead the charge and supports job creation

Even with the massive challenges this country and the organizations involved in its reconstruction face, there is hope for a new Haiti. A Haiti that is self-sustaining in every sense of the word. If this can truly be accomplished it will be the only silver lining to one of the most destructive events of this century. And although we look to the future for hope, let us not forget the thousands that lost their lives.

-Gina Williams

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