Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Sierra Chizuko Ondo. I was originally born and raised on O‘ahu, an alumna of Henry J. Kaiser High. I come from a multitude of backgrounds: Japanese, Hungarian, Scottish, Irish, French, German and Cherokee Native American. I went to college to study conservation and the environment. I graduated from UNC with a BA in environmental and sustainability studies and from CSU with a MSc in conservation leadership through learning. When I was 22, I moved to Maui. I have fallen in love with Maui’s vast assemblages of country-land and wet forests, so instead of going back to O‘ahu, I decided to stay.
My life has been intertwined with nature since childhood. Most of my interests have leaned toward environmentally-friendly alternatives, sustainable development, and native plants and gardening. I got involved professionally with conservation because I would see so much degradation and so much trash around our islands, and hear about all the environmental mishaps around the world. I’ve always believed that environmental and conservation concerns were correct, and that as we learned more about the threats, people would realize that what they held dear was at risk. I find that the world is a miraculous place, and growing up in Hawai‘i has only deepened my love for this planet.
Why is joining the JCI VISTA Fellows program important for you and your future?
I joined the JCI VISTA Fellows program because as a local from O‘ahu, I wanted to get involved more with the community in Maui. I had no real connections coming to this island and believed that being a part of this program would allow me to connect with an array of people across multiple scales. I want to be able to look back and be proud about the program and time spent. This program addresses a lot of critical issues here in Hawai‘i—food insecurity, sustainable development, education, etc.—that I believe would be the right direction for me to work toward.
What kind of work do you hope to do after the program wraps up?
I hope to work for the UH System. I’ve always been an advocate for higher education and would love to work for UH to ensure that sustainability courses and efforts are still taking place to fully educate students, faculty and staff. I’d also love to be a part of the campus garden—or any garden for that matter. Food is life! And learning how to plant and grow has been such an amazing experience and heartwarming adventure.
If you could change anything about our world, what would you change and why?
There are so many things I’d change about this world. Definitely forgiveness on all student loans. What a blessing that would be! But the one thing that I’d love to see is more translators, more communicators, just more people who can show others that we are all caught in the same net—people who can show that what they care about is what we all really care about. When we take the time to learn about other cultures, or take the time to listen to people, we open an opportunity to understand them and have a greater chance to fight for and with them. The same applies to the environment. If we take the time to acknowledge it and learn from it, we’d have a better chance of protecting it.