Cane burning clean air keiki

The other day I was reading an article about meditation and HA breathing that offered an interesting definition of “Hawai’i” – HA, meaning breath or breath of life, WAI meaning water which symbolizes Mana (life force) and ‘I meaning supreme. I thought to myself, “What a perfect way to think of Hawai’i…We are so lucky to live in a place where the supreme life force (Mana) rides on life’s breath.”

I began to think about just how important having a healthy breath is… My Yoga teacher emphasizes the breath; deep breaths help to calm a stressful moment; as a massage therapist I would ask a client to breathe deeply into areas of pain in the body; structured breathing got me through a marathon; during labor breathing was ohhhhh so important. As parents we anxiously await that moment when our newborn takes that precious first breath on his or her own. When a loved one crosses over, there is that fateful last breath. For me, that breath completes the transformation of spirit into a human body and it is wondrous. Ahhh, how many times I peek in on my sleeping children to see the rise and fall of his chest, to be assured that YES he is very much alive and BREATHING! Then happily, I exhale.

However, these joyous thoughts sadly give way to a memory of fear and helplessness. My oldest son was two years old at the time and we were living in North Kihei. The burning of sugarcane had filled our apartment with smoke, in the middle of the night! My son, who had no other health issues EVER, woke me up gasping for air. The sound of a toddler fighting to breathe is something I will never forget, as hard as I try. We rushed into our car and took him to the ER. He was pale, wheezing, with tears streaming down his face, his eyes large with fear. Thankfully, at the ER we were taken immediately where they gave our son oxygen and steroids (the only medicine he has ever had to be given) to open up his lungs. It took several days for him to recover, his voice was hoarse and he had a terrible cough.

This experience taught me an important lesson: breathing in smoke from sugarcane burning is really bad, particularly for our Keiki. I made a promise to my family that I would do whatever I could to protect them from this type of pollution. I stayed up late to research. I read about Maui’s Sugarcane history and farming practices, and learned about how pesticides are used on the sugarcane. I learned how the World Health Organization has a lot of evidence linking breathing in smoke/soot/ash to cancer and respiratory diseases, the dangers of breathing in the fugitive dust, and all the particulate matter when cane is burned…and how many other countries don’t burn sugarcane or are planning to ban sugarcane burning and harvest it manually instead.

It didn’t take a scientist to tell me something I already knew…when my kids breathe in the smoke, their eyes water, their noses run, they cough, they are sluggish and they have sore throats. I get headaches, feel sick and have a sore throat. And we are MILES away from most burn sites. I wrote letters, made phone calls, and used the latest empowering tool called the CLEANAIRMAUI app to voice my concerns for my children.

You can easily download the app to your phone or ipad and DOCUMENT when you are experiencing ash, soot, smoke, and dust in your home or community. The data is forwarded to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the state Department of Health’s Clean Air Branch and the Maui Mayor’s office. The app allows people to post reports anonymously (should they wish). Users can also use the app to look at similar reports filed around the island. I am hopeful that since thousands of reports have already been filed using the CLEANAIRMAUI app with important data such as dates/times/locations/photos that this will help us achieve cleaner air for our Keiki. In my mind, it doesn’t make sense that a for profit company with huge resources, equipment and brain power is allowed to continue decade after decade to compromise our health in this matter, particularly our KEIKI, instead of using alternative more environmentally appropriate methods. I teach my children to be mindful of others, to be kind and considerate of others, and to do no harm to others. This is the same that I ask of myself and of our government and corporations. Breathing is one of our most basic fundamental human rights.

Clean Air for Keiki – Everyone deserves the chance for a healthy ride on life’s breath!

Image Credit: Paul Bacon Jr

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Deb Mader has cared deeply for the ocean, living things, and environmental issues since childhood. She is a mother to 2 little ones, with a third on the way, a licensed massage therapist (in HI), and runs sports programs for keiki including keiki soccer.