Cultural activities help solve community challenges

KALIHIWAI — “There are so many positives,” said Dave Boynton, one of the Malama Kalihiwai leaders .

About three dozen students, teachers, and parents from neighboring Kilauea and Hanalei schools converged at the beach-front Akana boathouse along the Kalihiwai River for a day of education and fun.

“It is place-based. It’s hands-on. And, it’s filled with science content that covers many of the (educational) standards,” Boynton said of the Malama Kalihiwai program.

Additionally, as the group of students escaped the rapidly-warming morning air, Boynton noted the arrival of community residents who gathered with the children to “talk story, teach them old skills like net-throwing, and just be a part of the program.”

The melding of the young, eager-to-learn minds, with the experience and willingness to teach of the elders, provided a warm experience in the Kalihiwai air that was punctuated with the rumble of the gentle shore break, and spiced to perfection with the trickle of runoff that fueled the lush green of the oceanfront property.

Earlier in the morning, the students were split into three groups that covered different arenas. Mauli Cook, the director of the Malama Kalihiwai program, explained that one group worked with the coastal area, another weeded in a garden planted with native plantings, and the third worked with kumu U’i Ito in planting kalo and sweet potato.

The planting, said Boynton, is an example of science, as it covers a myriad of areas, from the cycle of life to health and nutrition.

Students were rotated through the different areas at 20-minute intervals for two hours before settling in for a snack break. This was followed by games on the beach and, following the lunch break, Boynton said the groups would spend longer times at specific areas.

Boynton, who was in charge of the coastal group, noted that this is the third year for the program that involves beautifying the beach-front, preventing erosion, and re-introducing native, shoreline plants.

“The students who were planting ti leaf supplemented plantings that were done by students before them,” Boynton said.

While giving a brief overview on a walking tour, Boynton introduced the students to the concept of plant survival, noting the return of the beach morning glory, which serves as a host for the kanaoa, a native, parasitic plant treasured for its lei-making and medicinal properties.

Boynton noted that, despite the shortness of the tour, there are science concepts being taught and applied, as he pointed out the root systems of the invasive crab grass, or the hundreds of flowers that grow on a seed stalk of the tough, invasive weed.

“To them (the students), it could be only pulling grass, but there are a lot of standard-based concepts involved,” Boynton said.

Cook said the driving force behind the project is the late, Johnny “Boy” Akana, a lifelong resident of Kalihiwai whose family has lived in the valley for generations.

He inherited the role of konohiki fisherman from his grandfather and father, and fulfilled his kuleana with deep respect for his kupuna and profound aloha for the land and sea, Cook said.

“He held the vision for this project and has been the greatest inspiration for everything that has been accomplished,” Cook said. “His spirit surrounds Kalihiwai, and is a great blessing to all those who love this place.”

Cook noted that some of the challenges of the area include drug use, illegal driving and parking on the beach, littering, and noise pollution, but that the program and its human presence have already shown positive results, with the beach plantings, and the hands-on tours of the students in the area.

“They’ll grow up one day, and when they’re here to surf, or to enjoy the beach, they’ll remember,” Cook said, reinforcing some of the project goals by reminding students to pack up their ‘opala (trash) following the morning snack.

Cook said the students, upon their arrival, were involved in opening protocol, which involved mele and chants, prior to entering the work areas.

While involved in their rotating areas of activity, it was evident that concepts of malama ‘aina (caring for the land) were at work, as students were immersed in hands-on activities involving gardening, ethnobotany, and alien-plant eradication.

Other areas of the Malama Kalihiwai program involve the ocean, where students become involved in pole fishing, crabbing, and exploration, where they learn fish-identification, fish-cleaning, and traditional cooking methods.

Sue Boynton, also on hand to help the students, announced that leaders of the Kilauea Point Natural History Association will help fund this project with a $6,000 check.

Kilauea Point Natural History Association is a nonprofit organization whose volunteers operate the book store at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. Profits from the store go to help fund many environmental projects, Sue Boynton pointed out.

Malama Kalihiwai leaders also get support from officials with the Hawai’i Community Foundation — Mo Bettah Grant, Na Lei Aloha, John Ferry, Jill and Andy Smith, and Kauai Mountain Tours.

Among the many volunteers and supporters of the program are Stuart and Micah Hollinger of Kupono Landscaping, Steve Locey Landscaping, Bobby Farias, Bob Poli, Russell Kam, Presley and Colleen Wann, Bino Fitzgerald and ‘ohana, Bill Chase of On Center Construction, The Waipa Foundation, Sybil Nishioka of Sybee Designs, the Boyntons, David Estrella ‘ohana, Kala Hoe, Adam Asquith, and the many friends of Kalihiwai, Cook explained.

Schools participating in the program include Kilauea School, with teachers Naomi Yokotake and Lydia Osakoda; Hanalei School, headed by Karla Rowan; Kanuikapono public charter school, with Ipo Torio, Kamahalo Kauhane and ‘ohana; Ke Kula Kaiapuni o Kapa’a, with teachers Kaleimakamae Ka’auwai, Alohilani Rogers, and Leimomi Cummings; Kula Elementary School teachers, headed by Paul Clark; and the Smith ‘ohana (home-schooled students).

“We have been enjoying some wonderful cultural experiences down here,” Cook said.

“I often think that this program could be a good model for other communities who face the same kinds of challenges we do.”

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