Written By Makana Wilhelm – Education and Outreach Coordinator
Aloha nui e ka mea heluhelu,
With schools closing down in March because of COVID-19, we wanted to find ways to continue connecting with our students while they were stuck at home. In our Kupuohi program, many of the schools visit 4 times during the year with the final quarter being the culminating lesson where students get a chance to kuʻi the kalo they have been caring for all year long. It is the most exciting of the 4 visits and the one returning students look forward to the most. You can imagine their disappointment when all of the schools had to cancel their final visit for the year. In total, 19 school visits were canceled due to COVID. Because we have worked hard to build these connections with the students and their families, we chose to find creative ways to continue connecting with our students and teachers in the Kupuohi program. We quickly shifted our focus to create virtual learning opportunities through live feeds with our staff so keiki could talk to familiar faces on the farm. Several tutorial videos were created by staff demonstrating the various tasks around kalo cultivation. A fun virtual farm tour was produced that the keiki really enjoyed with their ʻohana. All of these helped us to strengthen the relationship already established throughout the year and also make the best of a tragic situation.
Aside from school groups being canceled, it was pretty much business as usual for our staff and interns. Deemed an essential service during the COVID crisis, Hoʻokuaʻāina continued to work hard to supply our community with kalo. Without our normal school and community group visits, we have had an opportunity to really reflect on how essential growing kalo is. The demand for kalo has doubled in the past 3 months which has been record breaking for us, so much so that we had to stop taking individual orders for a few weeks in order for the patches to catch up. After each bountiful harvest, we have had more than enough huli (kalo cuttings for replanting) to share with farmers, keiki, and ʻohana who are eager to plant kalo in their backyards.
One of the incredible outcomes of the crisis was that we were able to donate over one thousand pounds of kalo (thanks to the Consuelo Foundation and the Omidyar Foundation) directly to the students and families of Mālama Honua PCS and Blanche Pope Elementary. Along with the cooked kalo, we provided families with huli (kalo cuttings for planting) and an observation journal created by our team called “Kilo with Kapalili” for keiki to track the growth of their kalo and to build a relationship with their environment through kilo (scientific observation). In the month of May, we gave away over 3,000 huli to families from every moku (district) on Oʻahu. The response and gratitude we experienced from the recipients was overwhelming. We witnessed how empowering it is for kānaka to be able to plant and eat kalo straight from their own garden which has been truly inspiring for our Hoʻokuaʻāina ʻohana.
As for what’s next, we are still unsure what programs will look like with the ongoing pandemic. However, we are committed to continuing our attempt to connect virtually through video content, lessons, activities, and opportunities for students and the community to engage with the work here at Kapalai.
In the month of June, we started to be more intentional about the implementation and usage of Hawaiian language into our everyday work life. Being a culture and ʻāina based organization, we recognize that it is important that we continue to utilize the words and phrases that our kūpuna once used to connect to their ʻāina on a daily basis. Through the Hawaiian language, we are able to deepen our understanding of Hāloa and broaden our perspective as people of Hawaiʻi. We have started with simple words that people can remember for everyday tasks and tools such as:
- Pākeke – bucket
- Kopalā – shovel
- Kanu – to plant
- Huki – to pull, harvest
- Waele – to weed
- Nāhelehele – weeds
- ʻŌhule – bald (because our managers feel that it is imperative we all know how to describe Uncle Deanʻs bald head in Hawaiian when he walks by)
In addition, we have started a weekly workshop series called Papa Hāloa, led by Kumu Kaipoʻi Kelling, where moʻolelo is shared to further our understanding about kalo drawing from the pool of rich resources we have from scholars and kupuna.
We wish to create a safe and inclusive space to continue to practice the language of this land and grow together as a community of kuaʻāina. We look forward to including the larger community once this season of COVID-19 has settled a bit.