Molokai Youth Get Their Hands Dirty

Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps bridges the gap between conservation projects and island youth.

The young conservationists of the Molokai Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps (left to right from top): Nainoa Pedro, Jon Brito, Elroy Reyes, Nelson Rapanot, Paulette Tamashiro-Pelekane, Ka`ohele Ritte-Camara, Ashley Tangonan, Riare Perreira, Nicole Tachibana and John-Russel Phifer.

By Zalina Alvi

Deep in the bushes of Halawa Valley, a handful of young men and women are covered in mud, trying to restore a taro patch to its former vitality. They are pulling up weeds, learning about conservation work, and laughing and enjoying themselves as they do it.

“We get to learn all kinds of ways to keep the environment healthy, and to preserve for our future generations (…) The knowledge will pass on to us, so we can pass it on,” said participant Riare “Queenie” Perreira.

In fact, for the past six weeks, the eager youth of the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps have been traveling across Molokai, Oahu, and Kaho`olawe, working with various conservation projects as part of a summer program.

In exchange for once-in-a-lifetime experiences, skills in leadership and team-building, and a chance to play a role in maintaining the precious resources of our isles, they have been traveling from one location to the next and working non-stop.

“The program gives them the opportunity to do conservation work, get their foot in the door, to see what it’s like, and to build up their skills,” said Nicole Tachibana, a program leader on Molokai.

After team training on Oahu, the group moved on to the Keawanui Fishpond on the east side of Molokai. They spent a week moving rocks to help with restoration, building an ahu, and removing invasive species from the area, all the while learning about the importance of fishponds to our culture and our kuleana to preserve them.

The next week found the team in Kaho`olawe, where they helped to create a trail around the outside of the entire island in preparation for the annual Makahiki festival season, which is a four-month period beginning in late October or early November.

The rest of the six-week program included work with Kahonua Momona at the Ali`i Fishpond, removal of strawberry, guava and clidemia plants with The Nature Conservancy, and helping with the Molokai subcommittee of the Maui Invasive Species Committee.

All the young men and women working with the Corps on Molokai, most of whom were still in high school or had just graduated, felt that learning about their island and how to manage and preserve its resources were their main reasons for participating.

“I joined the program to preserve our nature and plants, and to learn about our island,” said Lynsey Dudoit-Alapai.

After each of these experiences, the participants, between the ages of 15 and 35, are expected to write journal entries about the importance of the work they are doing at each site, for which they are paid $1,000 at the end of the summer program.

This year, the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps sponsored 15 teams of youth statewide, which included close to 150 members. The program provides assistance on six different islands in Hawaii including Kaho`olawe, and is sponsored in large part by the Department of Land Natural Resources and Kamehameha Schools. The summer program is part of Kupu, which supports other programs such as a year-round internship, community assistance program, and the Hana Hou internship program.

Participants must apply online at by March of each year for the summer program, and those accepted will have all their accommodation and travel expenses covered by the program.


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