Holy Ma’o!

I had had such a great experience volunteering at He’eia Fishpond for Ma’o Organic Farm that I was eager to get involved again and learn more about what they do. Wei told me about Give Day on the farm and invited me to come out and volunteer. I had never driven to the west side of the island. I’d heard alot of things about the issues at Waianae Beach and I was very curious to see what it was like. Before Give Day I hadn’t had any reason to venture over to that side.

It took an hour to drive there. Easily the furthest and longest I’d ever driven on the island. A few minutes from the Farm, I kept thinking of the word festive. I could imagine that I was driving to a family friend’s house for dinner and this was a neighborhood I might have, in another life, grown up in.

I like Waianae. It feels like people really live there–maybe that generations have lived there. It’s distinctly more ‘real’ than any other part of Oahu that I’ve experienced.

If I heard a chorus driving through Waianae, Ma’o was the melody. There were over a hundred volunteers that day from eight different countries. We were welcomed warmly and although I came alone, I didn’t feel it.

They let us get our hands dirty. Some of us weeding the sprawling beds, some clearing rocks from new fields, and so on. The manual labor was very satisfying but the greatest part of the day for me was hearing from their youth staff and learning about their programs.

A large portion of the Ma’o staff is made up of interns. To be an intern one has to be between 17 and 24 years old, a Waianae resident, and Native Hawaiian. Interns put in 20 hour work weeks and in exchange their tuition at a local college is covered and they’re provided a decent sized stipend. Our tour guide said that for many of the interns, they were the first in their family to attend college.

There’s a big emphasis on empowering youth and making them a part of every aspect of running the farm. Part of Give Day was put aside for different groups of students to share the projects they have chosen to implement as part of a larger program. For example: campaigning against land fills in Waianae or helping schools to grow their own organic community gardens.

Most of what I’m sharing is just skimming the surface of what I learned that day. It feels as if they are bursting with new ideas and trying to make each of them a reality

I’ve spent my whole adult life helping to build communities. What Gary and Kukui do over at Ma’o is hugely inspiring to me. Not only is their approach smart, it is characterized by an almost tangible zeal. I love the farm. I’m so pleased to have been part of it even for a day.


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