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As my program comes to a close, one theme of my self-reflections has been how successful I have been in my restoration work. I think the common perception is that this should be evaluated based upon what sort of project I did to help restore/ conserve natural areas around me, some answer that is finished and wrapped up in a pretty bow. However it is clear to me through this experience that restoration isn’t always one “sexy” project that has a start and an end. Restoration is ever-continuing and is made up of a little highly visible and a lot of less visible work.

Waipā Foundation, my work home for almost 2 months now, has been a fulfilling and meaningful place to learn this lesson because I believe so much in the work and messages the foundation seeks to further, those of cultural preservation and reminding, an emphasis of the connection of spirit, land, and the culture of Kauai.

It is also a very fitting example for my point because of the multitude of roles employees and interns have. Two of us work on the land itself, and while this includes some “sexy” elements like a stream restoration project, a majority of our work (including individual tasks that went into that project) is spent weed-eating, hand weeding, moving lumber to clear paths, pulling up fences, and the like.

Honestly, I get a lot of sustenance out of being covered in dirt and sweating, and work is probably my favorite place to be. However these kinds of things aren’t really what you immediately think of when you visualize restoring nature and conservation and they don’t sound “sexy” in themselves.

Other Duke interns also work to prepare lunches and maintain the foundation’s gardens, and the final pair at Waipā helps with the children’s camps designed to connect the younger generation to culture. None of these things are really disconnected from restoration, though. Just taking a look around at work and the sustained nature around me reminds me of that.

Volunteers working in the lo’i, beauty of Waipa in close view

The food the other interns make goes to invigorate its workers who spend their days in the lo’i, keeping weeds away from the kalo (taro), or up mauka (in the mountains) reviving native plant communities with the children’s camps. Our children’s camp interns are instilling messages within the children to care for the land long after they finish their summers, and bringing them to weed and labor and garden. All of these tasks, and those of everyone who gives any amount of time to Waipā, conglomerate into what the foundation is: a beautiful, ever-developing, ever-changing hub of restoration, culture, and pure aloha.