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Supporting the Island’s Caretakers

From the Middle School to the Molokai Land Trust, local organizations and nonprofits work year-around to ensure the success of the island’s youth, environment, community and culture. Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) offers financial backing and other supporting resources to many of these groups, and when trustees got a chance to hear from local leaders two weeks ago, they found that their investments have paid off. At a community forum, the OHA board of trustees listened for nearly four hours as community members shared the successes they’ve enjoyed, as well as the struggles they face.

Environmental Efforts
I Aloha Molokai (IAM) president Kanoho Helm discussed the progress the organization has made since its establishment four years ago to oppose wind turbines and the undersea cable on the island. OHA’s funding has supported the growth of IAM’s annual Energy Festival.

“I Aloha Molokai has come a long way since we painted signs for the side of the road or said some things a little louder than we should have…” said Helm. He shared the group’s efforts toward emergency preparation and Molokai’s self-sufficiency, and he showed a new film produced by IAM to educate viewers and politicians statewide about Molokai’s lifestyle and cultural and environmental values.

Ed Misaki is director of The Nature Conservancy (TNC)’s Molokai program, which manages Kamakou Preserve. Established 30 years ago, Kamakou is the organization’s first preserve in Hawaii, as well as the state’s first conservation easement. Misaki educated OHA trustees and attendees about preventing invasive species through early detection. Along with the Molokai Invasive Species Committee, TNC works to control species such as Clydemia, a highly invasive plant spread by birds and hikers. Found throughout Molokai, especially in valleys along the north shore, each Clydemia plant can produce thousands of fruit, which each contains thousands of seeds, according to Misaki.

Other species that haven’t yet taken hold on Molokai, like the coqui frog, are prevented through vigilant monitoring. Misaki also shared TNC’s success in restoring native plant species to at least nine acres in Mo`omomi by removing large areas of kiawe trees, allowing the natives to regrow on their own.

The Molokai Land Trust manages the 1,718-acre Mokio preserve on the island’s west end– the second largest land trust in the state — as well as the 196-acre Kawaikapu preserve on the east. Executive Director Butch Haase said both areas represent natural as well as cultural preservation, and the organization is working with local schools to involve students in the preserves’ management and restoration. Haase also told OHA trustees that their $100,000 investment in 2007 has been quadrupled.

Mac Poepoe updated trustees on his efforts to preserve ocean resources on the island’s north shore through education and keeping careful records of annual catches. He is seeking state designation as a community based subsistence fishing management area for a large portion of Molokai’s north shore.

“Mo`omomi used to be known to have a lot of lobster… but we are losing all that blessing the way we are conducting ourselves now,” said Poepoe, noting poor management practices and over-fishing common today.

Youth and Education
Three years ago, Molokai Middle School ranked among the lowest student performance on test scores in the state, said Principal Gary Davidson.

“As of the end of this year, we’re in the top five,” he said. “All I’ve done is turn [things] back to our youth. Our heart is in the right place… and our kids are great.” OHA recognized the school last year for their achievement as the most improved public school in the state, and Davidson thanked trustees for “believing in us when others didn’t.”

Lydia Trinidad, principal of Kualapu`u Public Charter School, shared frustrations with the school’s Hawaiian immersion program and the challenges immersion programs around the state face because of standardized testing. She said many parents have requested an exemption from the test for their children, and she has participated in Department of Education discussions about how to better handle Hawaiian education.

Mikiala Pescaia requested OHA’s support of Molokai’s annual Makahiki event, which draws youth and adults from around the state to celebrate Hawaiian culture and friendly athletic competition. Penny Martin also asked for trustees’ support of Earth Day and said this year, organizers brought back a special event for keiki the day before the main festivities.

Health and Housing
Molokai mothers-to-be will have better prenatal care thanks to a $133,000 OHA grant, said Punahele Alcon, manager of the Women’s Health Center at Molokai General Hospital. A new birthing program will help prevent premature and low birth weight babies by enrolling expectant mothers in a system that rewards them with points for making healthy choices during pregnancy. The points can then be traded in for baby care items when they deliver. Alcon said care of a premature baby costs the medical system an average of $49,000, while a healthy, full term baby averages about $4,500.

Molokai Habitat for Humanity is another recent recipient of OHA funding. Executive Director Zhantell Dudoit told trustees their $290,000 grant will provide homes for 15 Native Hawaiian families and has already offered a 26.4 percent return on investment in just six months.

“[A combination of] rising costs of construction and low wages… are keeping Native Hawaiians from housing,” Dudoit said. She added the funding will help these residents become successful homeowners who might not otherwise have a roof over their heads.

Community and Culture
Karen Kamalu Poepoe is the Molokai representative to the statewide Aha Moku council, which held its first meeting in April. The group of representatives from each island was established by the state as a body of Native Hawaiians leaders who can work together and act as liaisons to their respective communities. On a local level, Poepoe said the Molokai Aha Kiole is ahead of the statewide curve and has already met several challenging situations. It is working to establish protocol to guide future interactions with visitors and address Molokai issues such as resource management.

On the east end, a group called Kupuna O Molokai Against Drugs have been raising awareness of drug abuse and the need for increased drug control on the island. OHA Molokai trustee Colette Machado said a survey shows that 19 percent of high school students say they have access to drugs, and nine percent are current users.

“We have so many children in our community who need help,” said kupuna Judy Caparida. “I cry for all our broken homes, I cry for our children.”

Brent Nakihei is a former user who served time and is now a certified drug abuse counselor obtaining his Master’s degree.

“I stand here to give hope,” he said. “We’re not exempt from the problem of drugs here — 16-year-old high school females are smoking crystal meth. But that can change.”

Kupuna O Molokai Against Drugs are advocating for better enforcement by police on Molokai and the establishment of a dedicated vice officer position on the island.

The Kalama`ula Homestead Association is working to improve Kioea Park, and president Gayla Ann Haliniak-Lloyd said renovations to the restrooms and facilities are on target to begin this August.

Meanwhile, community members like Bobby Alcain continue to work under the radar to maintain and improve many areas on Molokai often taken for granted. Every month for the past 15 years, Alcain has taken care of the sacred kukui grove of Lanikaula on the east end. By clearing invasive species and replanting keiki trees, Alcain and a small group of dedicated volunteers have worked to preserve the grove, which he said dates back to the 13th century. He said their efforts — along with some help from Pu`u O Hoku Ranch staff — would continue no matter what, but he asked OHA trustees to support the grove maintenance however they could.


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