Mahelona kupuna’s helpers hail from Okinawa, Idaho

WAILUA — Brian Yamamoto, an instructor at the Kaua‘i Community College, said the Okinawa students have a word for what they did Monday.

“It’s called ‘yui ma aru,’” Yamamoto, one of the coordinators for exchange student programs at KCC, said. “Translated, it means ‘cooperation,’ but beyond that term, it means to give back to the community, or to give back to the world around.”

Students from the Okinawa Prefectural College of Nursing joined staff members and leaders from the Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital in hosting the hospital’s long-term care patients to a day at Lydgate Park.

The group was not hampered by the brisk easterlies that enhanced the high tide and waves that broke over the rock breakwater separating the tidal pool from the ocean.

Those winds also brought in man-of-war jellyfish which prompted water safety officers to post advisory signs at the water’s edge, but that could not stop the entourage from enjoying its day at the beach.

“We’ve had a really busy month for the seniors,” said Josie Pablo, the recreational director for the Mahelona long-term care unit. “We had the lu‘au, a bon dance, this beach outing, and we’re still going to the farm fair.”

About a dozen Okinawa students who arrived Sunday joined the group as part of their two-week study tour at KCC.

“Next week, the students are going on a tour to the Westside, to the Kaua‘i Veterans Memorial Hospital and then up to the Waimea Canyon and Koke‘e,” said Tracy Hirano, who had on a KCC shirt for the occasion.

Char Ono, the director of the KCC Nursing program, was not used to being stuck under the shade of a sea grape tree.

Nursing a knee that was recently operated on, Ono said the program has grown to where KCC will be sending some nursing students for a week’s stay in Okinawa in March 2009.

“We’re excited about that,” Ono said. “We don’t know how many students are going yet, but we’re working on their applications now.”

The students have been helping and working with Mahelona Hospital staff at the beach day for at least five years, Yamamoto said.

He couldn’t recall the first trip the students made to Kaua‘i, but said the college will be celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, and the beach outing experience fits right in with their ‘yui ma aru’ outlook on life.

For Monday’s trip, Elaine Morita, another of the Mahelona staff, said they were able to get 43 patients to the day-long beach outing, and with the help of the students and staff, at least 15 patients were able to enjoy the Lydgate Park tidal pool.

Chad Majors of Boise, Idaho, was fascinated with the activity taking place on the beach.

“I have never seen anything like this,” Majors said. “Who can I ask if I can help?”

On his final day of a trip celebrating his 10th anniversary, Majors was eagerly accepted into the volunteer corps by Pablo as the undulating shore break threatened to upend the special floaters used by the group.

“He spent two or three years in Japan,” said Tyla Majors. That helped him converse with the Okinawa students. “I think he might have spent time in Okinawa. That sounds familiar.”

When the beach outing program was started more than 10 years ago, Pablo relied on the hospital staff and a handful of Boy Scouts from Troop 83 to assist the seniors.

At that time, they could accomodate about a dozen seniors, but through the years, Pablo has been able to recruit help from groups like the KCC Nursing Club and the Okinawan students as well as The Kaua‘i Bus which supplements the hospital’s single bus and caravan of personal vehicles to transport not only patients, but the special equipment needed to make the beach outing possible.

Pablo could not be certain, but felt that Mahelona Hospital is probably the only facility in the state that allows its long-term residents an opportunity to enjoy the beach: a facet of local lifestyle many take for granted.

“This has got to be the most fun day of the year,” said Public Guardian Candy McCaslin who dropped in on the event to see her clients.

“I have about a dozen clients at Mahelona, and when you see them having fun enjoying the beach, it’s got to be one of the best days I’ve seen.”

McCaslin said she has about 26 clients who are disabled and elderly on the island.

“These are people who have no family, or anyone who is responsible for them, and the state has taken responsibility for them,” she said. “There are about a dozen at Mahelona.”

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@kauaipubco.com

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