Miche Ann Walsh was with her San Diego teammates at her completing weekend of Landmark Education Team, Management and Leadership Program (TMLP). It was April of 2010 and news about the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico was spreading throughout the world. It was the largest marine oil spill in history and an unprecedented ecological disaster, so Miche took a stand.
“I got, in that moment, that my life was to be used for a greater thing, I realized I had to do something about it, because it was bigger than me…I saw that I was really going to be a contribution and it was worth packing things up, leaving my home, calling everybody, creating teams, and bringing into play all of my commitments towards a healthy planet. I knew that no matter where people stand they could make a difference”.
Miche took her car and set on her way across the US, leaving completely behind her, life as she had known it. She was on her way to setting up TEAM Gulf. She had been on a similar road in the past, just one year before the spill. In 2009, when starting her TMLP Program, Miche set up a “game” called GP2 Project, aimed “To clean up the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ and to create a healthy and vibrant Ocean and Planet right now”. It became a multi-million dollar project, and under her leadership global green expeditions were placed together to start tackling the problem. When the oil spill happened, Project GP2 already had a life of its own that, of course, continues today. That experience allowed her to go and create a difference for the Gulf. With the support of her TMLP teammate Mark, they created the project Team Gulf. This time, this project and nonprofit organization is dedicated to empowering leaders and fostering teamwork in the cleanup of the Gulf oil spill. And with it, they created a game making available a new consciousness for awakened leadership causing responsibility and action.
Miche says “If you simply keep in action you can make a difference, we just have to give up that it is too big to do anything about it”. Listening to Miche, the word team acquires a new and broader dominion. With Team Gulf in mind, she left San Diego by herself, alone in her car, after her marriage had just ended. “I drove across 4 states and ended in New Orleans. There I began to meet people. I had met a woman from Colorado on line, who wanted to help. She flew to the Gulf of Mexico. I told everybody why I was there, I even started donating T-shirts I had, and a park ranger let me stay with him for six weeks to start working”.
Miche embodies the definition of ‘team’ – teams get created around her. She intensively used social networks like Facebook and Stay Classy Fundraising Network, and was using these networking tools to be continuously updating all her friends and persons in her community that were supporting her in this endeavor. She looked for and found support for places to stay, food, donations, wetsuits, even treatment for the teams she created to be cured and detoxed due to chemical exposure.
“With the park ranger, we wanted to collaborate to find the solution to clean up the Gulf, so we started to put people in teams. Within three months we had created 42 different teams of people from all types of backgrounds and expertise working together: artists, photographers, biologists, life wild rescuers, reporters, and people simply wanting to make a difference”.
How does one cope with such a commitment everyday? Well, Miche knew she could make a difference. “I know what I have to give up ongoingly…it was too big to give up all at once. I have to keep giving up my fear, the resignation (mine and others), our sense of thinking we are powerless… generations of fishermen, oil workers…I just had to keep trusting and taking action. I also had to deal with reality, deal with people’s fears and keep standing for something to be possible.”
On September 19, 2010 the well was officially sealed. One week before, Miche was at a gas station and a man walked up to her. He introduced himself as the person supplying the equipment to BP for capping the oil spill. Miche had a conversation with him and could see that his commitment was to stop the spill as soon as possible, so she just listened to him and asked him what he saw was working and not working. She was in the conversation. He saw through the conversation that he needed more people working together for a common solution.
Of course there are still unmeasurable actions to take place in order to restore the Gulf’s health. But, as Miche says, “Team Gulf managed to be a major resource for people and volunteers to come from places far away such as Colorado, New Zealand, San Diego, Chicago, Madison, and Austin, Texas, to get on ground zero to see for themselves what can be learned from disasters that threaten our water and coastlines. Together, people from all over the country and the globe made a difference whether that be from rescuing an oiled crab, abandoned & malnourished cats and dogs (from gulf families that couldn’t afford to care for their animals anymore), creatively seeking out partnerships to do testing 40 miles away from the Deepwater Horizon, producing a documentary, wading chest high in the Gulf of Mexico oiled waters to monitor exposure of oil on birds, to supporting the first testing of a bio-friendly oil cleaning solution”. The goals that Team Gulf achieved made people know they could make a difference. Miche, as a TMLP graduate was looking to empower leadership and she enrolled more than 1,000 people into participating.
Today, the Garbage Patch Project at the Pacific is an ongoing and growing endeavor with its source in California. In Louisiana, the park ranger is still running the Gulf restoration network. Miche Ann has created teams on both shores of the U.S. to work for the health of the oceans. She is now back in California, though in L.A. living a new life. She found the love of her life in Louisiana, her soul mate as she puts it. “By doing what I was meant to do, giving my word and honoring that word, I ended up following my heart and finding my partner.” They are now creating a life together and Miche is looking for new opportunities. She is taking on dealing with the condition of her finances and is considering becoming an optometrist. No one in her family has ever gone to college and she would love to be the first. Miche is currently focusing on getting financially stable, dealing with healthcare, planning her pension, and saving.
A super woman? No, definitely not. Miche is a woman living the truth of who she is. Yes. And who she is, is the possibility of leadership ensuring a healthy planet. She might be an optometrist, purchase the groceries, go to the cinema, and build her loving relationship, while the Garbage Patch at the Pacific and the Oil Spill at the Gulf continue to be dealt with. And, for sure, the next time there is an environmental disaster, you will find Miche Ann Walsh making a difference, creating teams and showing others that they are much more powerful than they ever thought possible.
Written by Paola Bortoluz. Edited by Shash Broxson.