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Learning Journey: Hokule`a Crew Inspires Students

The first time Molokai’s Captain Melvin “Mel” Paoa touched the Hokule`a — a replica of the traditional Hawaiian double-hulled seafaring canoe — in 1977, he said he held on tight and never let go—no matter the odds.

As a diabetic, Paoa was told to discontinue sailing on Hokule`a for health reasons, but he didn’t take no for an answer. In 1985, he set sail on his longest voyage yet for 12,000 miles from Hawaii to Tahiti to French Polynesia and finally the Cook Islands. He told Molokai Middle School (MMS) students, education leaders and community members at an education event last Friday to never give up.

“I didn’t take [doctors’ advice]…I decided to go on this journey no matter what,” Paoa said during MMS’s first annual Leadership Day event. “Don’t let anybody discourage you or say, ‘no you can’t go or do that.’ This could be anything in your life. You have to challenge yourself.”

As the vessel and its crew prepares to embark on a three-year Worldwide Voyage departing Hawaii next month, crewmembers and educators shared the voyage with students and community members. Hokule`a’s journey will span 47,000 miles, 47 ports, 26 crew changes and at least 25 countries. According to Bruce Blankenfeld, Hokule`a navigator and keynote speaker at the event, the mission of the voyage is to navigate toward a healthy and sustainable future for the Hawaiian Islands and the earth.

“We’re going to visit conservation areas and world heritage sites to celebrate and highlight the importance of those places to all of us in the world,” Blankenfeld said. “The fact is that every third breath we all take daily is a gift from the ocean. It’s not only about healing the land; it’s about how the earth is a gift to everybody.”

About 135 attendees gathered inside the school cafeteria Friday evening to learn the vessel’s history and essence of traditional Polynesian voyaging. Ono dinner plates were served while O Hina I Ka Malama Middle School students performed mele and the girls danced hula to honor the crewmembers.

Earlier in the afternoon, MMS students rotated through four, 45-minute long, workshops led by Molokai crewmembers, Hawaiian Studies teacher Mike Kahale, and slam poet and activist Hano Naehu. The crewmembers included Penny Martin, Kauwila Hanchett and her husband Kahualaulani Mick, Mahina Hou Ross and Kawika Crivello. The workshops highlighted the preparation, challenges, and opportunities crewmembers faced and overcame for voyaging.

Leadership Day focused on Hokule`a’s ability to help students navigate toward a positive future and lifelong journey of success, said Lyn Bonk, MMS After-School Coordinator.

Eighth grader Anuhea Davis-Mendija echoed Paoa’s message, saying she learned not to let obstacles deter her from reaching her goals.

“Don’t let fear stop you. Don’t be afraid to fail,” she said. “Our canoe is our island.  If we have problems, you go up to them and make things pono.  Don’t give up!”

The Worldwide Voyage is also offering students an opportunity to follow its travels from their classrooms, incorporating lessons on Hawaiian culture, navigation, geography and science.

Blankenfeld said the voyage will not only spread a message of caring for the environment but will inspire younger generations to take get involved.

“I want the children to appreciate the relevance of culture knowledge and education,” Blankenfeld said. “Hokule`a is looking long and far down the road at the generations to come who will continue what’s been built so far and take it to the next level.”

A workshop lesson on words in action called “Rise And Grind” taught Tekoa Torres-Umi, a seventh grader, to work hard and never say ‘no’ to your dreams, he said.

“The first level to success is to put your mind to it and put your time in it,” Torres-Umi said. “To be successful, you need to work hard for your dream to come to life.  Whatever you fear, it’s not impossible, whatever you want you can get it if you trust in yourself and don’t get to the part to give up.”

Bonk said crewmembers “brought insight and personal investments to the endeavor of developing Molokai youth and schools for the future.” She added that the Leadership Day event is the beginning of an annual educational voyage at Molokai Middle School and that the mission of Hokule`a — to aloha `aina — is embedded in each of us.

“Maybe one day the students will hear the words of inspiration from those who spoke today and be motivated to accomplish their future goals,” said Crivello, a Molokai crewmember and organizer of the event. “[Or] even become a part of the future generation of [Hokule`a’s] voyage.”

Hokule`a will depart Hilo for Tahiti on May 24, weather permitting.


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