Relief and Rebuilding in a Global Community

Founded by a former Whitefish resident, The Blue Atlas Project helps provide sustainable food systems and aid to disaster-stricken areas

By Tristan Scott
Photos courtesy of The Blue Atlas Project.

Five years ago, when Kali Kirkendall launched her nonprofit organization The Blue Atlas Project, her aim was to sustainably support skilled artisans and small businesses from across the globe by creating a system to pay them fair wages and showcase their wares to a worldwide audience.

At the time, Kirkendall, a globetrotting former Whitefish resident, was living in Nepal as the country reeled from the devastating 2015 earthquake that killed nearly 9,000 people and injured or displaced tens of thousands more. Seeking a way to meet both the immediate needs of disaster-stricken areas through humanitarian aid and promote sustainable economic growth, Kirkendall joined forces with other humanitarian organizers and volunteers to raise money for a sustainable, disaster-resistant school in Sindhupalchowk, Nepal.

Kirkendall created a crowd-funding site to raise money for the school and community structure and, with a small army of volunteers, completed the new school in three months.

Thus began the evolution of The Blue Atlas Project, from a socially responsible, fair-trade global marketplace into its current iteration as an organization that provides infrastructure for critical food systems in disaster-stricken areas.

“I still believe that it is in times of disaster when anyone needs a helping hand, however, I have found myself over the past couple of years filled with thoughts of sustainable economic growth to be able to aid a region, not just when disaster strikes, but in gaining independence to be able to self-develop,” according to Kirkendall.

That vision was recently born out in her efforts to assist residents of the Great Abaco Islands, which in September 2019 was rocked by Hurricane Dorian, the most powerful tropical cyclone to hit the Bahamas on record. Located less than 100 miles off the coast of Florida, the Abaco Islands was home to about 14,000 inhabitants prior to the storm, which displaced 11,500 people.

Today, more than 15 months later, the Abaco Islands is still rebuilding, with help from The Blue Atlas Project, which has been ferrying supplies from mainland Florida to the island by sailboat, and is building the island’s first Food Equity and Sustainability Training Center (FEAST). The system uses hydroponic and aquaponic growing systems to grow marketable food and provide education to locals.

As with many island nations, the Abaco struggles with food independence due to a dearth of land and nutrition-rich soil to farm, so Kirkendall and her team are engineering a spatially efficient growing site that is sustainable, both in its environmental footprint and the ability of local farmers to continue its operation in the future.

“Relief is necessary, but the rebuilding process is just as important to help a population get back on their feet and provide for themselves,” Kirkendall said.

“This community of helpers is one of the most inspiring stories I have seen,” she continued. “As an organization we focus on the rebuilding phase of relief work. Our mission is to provide infrastructure for food systems in disaster-stricken areas.”

To support The Blue Atlas Project and its relief work on the Abaco Islands, donate through the website or by texting AIDABACO to 44-321. All donations will receive a tax-deductible receipt.

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