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Jul 02, 2012

Program Strives to Instill Environmental Stewardship


By Carolyn Lucas-Zenk


An anchialine pond at Queen Liliʻuokalani Children’s Center seemed to wake up once the mud and alien vegetation was removed.

Opaeula appeared quickly like fleas in the once-overgrown watering hole, surrounded by a coastal lava field and connected to the ocean by underground cracks. The appearance of the tiny red shrimp was more than a welcome sight; it was a chance to take satisfaction from the ongoing restoration project.

The shrimps’ appearance sparked an investigation, which led to a discussion Tuesday about interconnectedness between Mike Ikeda, the center’s community building facilitator, and his enthusiastic helpers — members of Na Kahumoku, an environmental and cultural youth leadership program in Kailua-Kona.

In determining the reasons behind the abundance of opaeula, Ikeda “consulted nature.” He recalled the recent passing of the summer solstice and how, at this time of year, the sea is abundant, especially with pelagic fish. He explained how this was traditionally when Hawaiians were allowed to fish for opelu, an important food and bait fish found close to shore.

Those in this ahupuaa would catch opelu from canoes, chumming the ocean with mud and opaeula from the anchialine pond. Anchialine ponds are naturally occurring, brackish-water collections near the shoreline.

The residents recognized the importance of koa (fish houses), where fish were known to aggregate. By keeping the opelu happy in their koa, Hawaiians knew they would benefit from the bigger fish — ahi, ono and marlin — whose presence increased during the summer and fed on the opelu, Ikeda said.

By relying on and sharing this intimate knowledge of these resources, as well as providing an opportunity for hands-on community service, Ikeda was helping bring more knowledge, experience and commitment to protecting Hawaii’s environment. His lesson was one of many that have inspired those in Na Kahumoku.

“Sometimes you don’t really know what to protect, why it’s important and what’s happening until you open your eyes, listen and get involved. Na Kahumoku lets kids work with others, make new friends, get their hands dirty and become more involved in the community,” said 13-year-old Isabella Palakiko. “It helps more than just the kids in the program. It shows what can happen when you get involved, and sometimes it gets others to do the same. I joined because I wanted to help the environment. I stayed because I like the changes I see.”

Based at Kealakehe Intermediate School, Na Kahumoku is offered as an elective course and after-school program emphasizing nature-connected learning and weekly field trips to various sites. After the school year ends, the program also runs for three weeks during the summer. It’s a collaborative program between Friends of the Future, Hawaii Department of Education and community groups that host the 20 students, Director Douglass Bartlett said.

A 45-year therapist and former Kealakehe High School counselor, Bartlett founded the program in 2007 to promote aloha for each other, their island home and Mother Earth. It has helped students better understand environmental issues, develop leadership characteristics and strengthen cultural identity, Bartlett said.

Its motto is “Ike Honua, Hana Aina,” or “Eyes on the planet, nourish the land.”

The goal is to develop strong leaders by instilling altruism, responsibility, 

service to others and critical thinking. Na Kahumoku leaders also hope to create a sustainable model program that can be replicated at schools statewide. Its leaders also hope to make Na Kahumoku a 100 percent youth-led program to help improve the environment by addressing issues such as global warming and species extinction, Bartlett said.

The program recently received a $2,500 North Face Explore Fund grant to help inspire and enable the next generation of explorers, as well as reconnect them to nature. It also received the second allocation of $110,000 from its Hauoli Mau Loa Foundation grant, totaling $330,000 spread out over three years. This grant helps pay for Na Kahumoku’s three-person staff and programs that develop life skills and instill environmental stewardship, Bartlett said.

Na Kahumoku’s annual operating budget is approximately $140,000, of which about 60 percent goes to the salaries of Bartlett, a leadership coach and an assistant leadership coach; 7 percent goes to Friends of the Future, its fiscal sponsor, for managing finances; and the remaining 33 percent pays for operating expenses, such as gas, food, trips, T-shirts and camp-outs.

The program receives a subcontract from the DOE, and Kealakehe Intermediate provides numerous in-kind contributions, including the building in which it operates. Kealakehe High students serve as volunteer mentors, Bartlett said.

Kealakehe High senior Michael Tossmann, 17, “couldn’t stand being in a classroom” and never really liked school until he got involved with Na Kahumoku. Being a role model to younger children and having the chance “to do something with purpose outdoors” gave Tossmann “more balance” in his life and more initiative to pursue a better path. He said the program also helped him see his potential, overcome his hangup with public speaking, develop a stronger character and understand the value of doing service in one’s backyard.

For more information, call Bartlett at 938-2115 or visit nakahumoku.com.

Source: West Hawaii Today

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