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Kalaupapa Welcomes Summer Interns


Photo courtesy of Miki`ala Pescaia.

Summer vacation brings images of students lounging on the beach, grabbing cold ice cream and catching up with friends. But a few Molokai students are using their summer to gain valuable career experiences and a greater understanding of the significance of Kalaupapa and its unique cultural resources.

Kalaupapa National Park Service’s (KNPS) Cultural Resource Management Division is hosting six summer interns, three working in partnership with Alu Like, Inc. Summer Youth Employment program and three as volunteers. The interns are assisting the Kalaupapa National Historical Park with a variety of projects from raking leaves and beautifying the settlement to cleaning up patient resident homes and creating informative Facebook posts. All the while, they are learning the many career opportunities KNPS and Kalaupapa have to offer.

“If we help make [the internship experience] relevant and it’s more meaningful and they know what they’re going to do with it, then they’re more likely to engage and be active learners,” said Miki`ala Pescaia, KNPS employee and intern supervisor. “Kalaupapa is a perfect setting for that to occur.”

The interns are working as interpretive educational aids and have learned the history of Kalaupapa and been able to engage with the patient residents. There are currently eight full-time patient residents in Kalaupapa. The opportunity to interact with patients is the most valuable and unique experience of the internship, Pescaia said.


Photo courtesy of Miki`ala Pescaia.

From assisting with the Lei Haliʻa cemetery beautification project and visiting archeological sites, to performing fieldwork, organizing museum and photography collections, and restoring historical buildings, the interns are learning about the Hawaiian culture that existed before the Kalaupapa settlement. They’re also learning what life was like across the 150-year span that Hansen’s disease patients were exiled to the peninsula and have been living in Kalaupapa.

“It’s an opportunity that you just can’t pass up because it’s so rare,” said intern `Apelila Ritte-Camara-Tangonan. “It’s an opportunity that not everybody gets to have, being able to speak and get to know all of the patients and hear their stories in this amazing area.”

Ritte-Camara-Tangonan will be heading to Hilo in the fall to attend the University of Hawaii-Hilo to study environmental science and endangered wildlife research. She said she plans to return to Molokai after graduation to find work.

“I have this profound love for Molokai and it drives me to make everywhere better,” Ritte-Camara-Tangonan said. “I’m always going to contribute to my community and share my research findings, my career and what I’ve learned to give back to the community and teach them something knew.”

There are great career opportunities in Kalaupapa, and the summer internship is exposing local youth to different career fields that are culturally relevant to Hawaiians, Pescaia said. These jobs include being a park ranger, archeologist, ecologist or historian, to name a few.

Intern Kukahi Meyers, a senior at Kamehameha Schools on Oahu, said the internship has sparked his interest in engineering.

“This was my first time going down to Kalaupapa and since I’ve been down there with this program, I want to continue helping the settlement,” Meyers said. “This internship has showed me that I want to be an engineer and figure out how I can use this experience to make things easier for the Hawaiian people.”

As far as job responsibilities, Meyers said he’s “done it all” while in Kalaupapa but most enjoys “helping the patient residents and malama aina” as part of the internship.

“To be in the patient’s presence and have them share their stories first hand is great,” Meyers said.

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Photo courtesy of Miki`ala Pescaia.

This is the first year of the internship program but KNPS internship organizers want it to become annual. Pescaia decided to start the summer internship after the youth expressed interest in continuing to learn about Kalaupapa and exploring career opportunities in the settlement. The program was open to Molokai residents in their senior year of high school and recent graduates.

KNPS realizes the great benefits in having local people work in Kalaupapa, Pescaia said.

“It’s a super transitional time [for Kalaupapa] and if we don’t engage the next generation to care and to know and feel and to understand…if that little connection is lost, the trajectory is going to change,” she said. “…I hope we can increase the number of qualified applicants from Molokai to fill positions at all levels in the National Park. It starts by getting our youth engaged, then inspired to pursue degrees that enrich Kalaupapa.”

The five-week internship ended on July 11, but three interns will continue learning on an excursion to the Cook Islands from July 21 to August 11. During the cultural exchange, the interns will transfer cultural knowledge, such as fishing practices, food preparation, music, dance and mo`olelo to Cook Island students. The goal is to better connect youth in the Cook Islands to their own culture, which is being lost from generation to generation, Pescaia said. Learning how Molokai has resisted tourism and manages natural resources to be sustainable will also be discussed.

“The interns are getting a firsthand lesson in humanities, compassion and healing…,” Pescaia said. “I hope they come away with this sense that they know Kalaupapa a little better. This is just the start of many great opportunities to come.”


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