The Sound of Aloha
Ukulele company continues quiet dream of teaching kids how to make and play instruments.
By Jennifer Smith
Beautiful music echoed through the walls of Kaunakakai School’s cafeteria last week, as employees of the KoAloha Ukulele company taught the third grade class how to make the traditional instrument.
“The ukulele provides a lot of joy, it serves as a catalyst for providing good times by bringing people together,” KoAloha Vice President Alan Okami said. The Honolulu based ukulele company and the Molokai Youth Center (MYC) have partnered together for the past four years to bring Kaunakakai families together.
“Our dream was that every kid within a six-year period would have their own ukulele,” MYC Program Assistant Joshua Adachi said. Having worked with five groups of Kaunakakai students in four years, the dream is about to become a reality.
Okami and his KoAloha gang, who sport blue and bleach blonde colored hair, are treated like rock stars by students at Kaunakakai School. Making up playful names like “Uncle Tsunami” and “Uncle Banana” the kids bonded over the three day workshop. Parents and family members were also encouraged to join in on the fun and help the students build their ukes.
Okami said the program “encapsulates the essence of what we do throughout the year.” This is the first year the internationally known ukulele company has allowed media exposure to the program. He declined previous interviews because, “we didn’t want the motives to be questioned, because it is so special to us.”
However, few could question the motivations of a company that expends nearly $12,000 of self-subsidized funds to participate in an annual program on the Friendly Isle. “We put our money where our mouth is,” Okami said.
“This is our way to say to this island-thank you for representing Hawaii,” Okami said, explaining how he feels the program is an exchange. “If anything, we walk away with more.”
“Molokai people represent old time Hawaii; this is a flashback to when people were more genuine and open,” Okami said in an emotional mahalo to the third-graders and family members who participated in the three day workshop. “This place reminds us where our roots are.”
The students provided a big mahalo back to the KoAloha men who volunteered their time to teach the workshop. Putting their new ukuleles to use, the third-graders strummed along as they sang Molokai nui a Hina.
Although next year is the last year for the ukulele program at Kaunakakai School, Okami sees the event as the seed for future programs. He has a vision of potentially starting a 501(c)3 nonprofit and expanding to support similar programs statewide.
“We’ve worked hard on this, we’ve invested a lot of ourselves and our heart,” Okami said. Younger brother Paul Okami added, “as long as we are welcome we will try to be here.”
Mahalo to General Manager of Hotel Molokai Michael Drew for helping to accommodate the KoAloha employees.