[courtesy photo]

Honolulu, HI -- The discovery of ancient loi terraces, hidden in donated acres of Kalihi Valley, birthed a cultural service-learning project focused on restoration and reconnection by a group whose primary focus is health care. Kōkua Kalihi Valley, a community health center founded in 1972, takes a traditional view of connecting people to the land to address health needs in the community with their project, Ho‘oulu ‘Aina.

The continuation of this project, due to partial-funding through the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority’s (HTA) Living Hawaiian Culture Program, educate the local and visiting community on cultural practices of sustainability of health and tradition through caring for the land and its resources.

Ms. Kehau Meyer, Community Development Specialist at the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA), participated in a recent Kōkua Kalihi Valley volunteer work day, where a large group of international students, participating in an exclusive private school summer leadership program, took an alternative look at health care needs in world communities. Ka‘ohua Lucas, Ho‘oulu ‘Aina Program Coordinator, and her staff lead the students to three loi that had been overgrown with native and non-native vegetation, and began a day of vigorous clearing to revive the soil.

“It’s refreshing to learn more about and experience my Hawaiian culture in a unique way”, Meyer commented. “Each terrace had about 20 students and three staff members weeding, raking, or transporting banana trees through assembly lines. On each terrace you could hear stories told about ancient practice in that area, traditional medicinal plants nearby, and folklore of Kalihi Valley. It was rewarding to see these students, who otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity, get their hands dirty, work together despite language barriers, and learn about the Hawaiian culture at the same time.”

According to Ka‘ohua Lucas, work day experiences vary from group to group, but the goal remains constant. Ho‘oulu ‘Aina aims to return the land to its growing potential and restore the existing terraced rock walls in hopes of perpetuating the agricultural past of this area. While volunteers help with the clearing and cultivating, wall restoration is completed by master wall builders who have been asked to train six alaka‘i (apprentices) to pass on the native skill set. Through this work, the group hopes to provide awareness of traditional Hawaiian healing methods and connect people to the land through the farming of native medicinal plants and food resources, like popolo berry, banana and kalo. By the end of the project period, the Ho‘oulu ‘Aina Project looks forward to resident and visitor’s increased capacity to continue native practices through hands-on learning, in turn, perpetuating health and cultural awareness.

The project will develop leadership skills of six alaka‘i with native practices including laau lapaau (medicinal plant usage) and pa pohaku (rock wall) building. The project is funded by Hawaii Tourism Authority through the Living Hawaiian Culture Program, which aims to help programs spread cultural practice and historical knowledge across the State.

To learn more about this project and how you can volunteer, please visit their website, www.hoouluaina.org.


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