Manaʻo Mai Molokaʻi: ʻŌiwi Share Challenges Facing Their Island


Despite its location at the center of the major Hawaiian islands, Molokaʻi has managed to retain a more traditionally Hawaiian subsistance lifestyle than Oʻahu 25 miles to the northwest, and Maui just eight miles southeast. Often overlooked today, in the old days, Molokaʻi was known as a place of great mana and referred to as “Molokaʻi Pule Oʻo – Molokaʻi [of the] Potent Prayers.”

Native Hawaiians comprise the majority on the island of Molokaʻi – about 62% of the island’s 7,400 people. Molokai’s relatively small size and predominantly Hawaiian population size has, in many ways, allowed it to preserve and perpetuate traditional ʻike, culture, values and lifestyles. However, its residents face challenges like everyone else; for example, on Molokaʻi prices are high and incomes are low. Four ʻŌiwi share manaʻo about the challenges facing ʻohana on Molokaʻi.

Photo: Leilani Chow

Leilani Chow, coordinator, Molokaʻi Clean Energy Hui, Kaunakakai

Molokaʻi’s young people face hard decisions about their future because of limited employment opportunities. A challenge for our young people is how to use their education and skills to aloha ʻāina and turn their passion into a career.

I attended a project-based middle and high school focused on science, technology, and society issue investigations. I learned to create and implement action plans and that aloha ʻāina is the heart and soul of my Hawaiian culture. I realized that I could give back to the community in big or small ways from tending a loʻi or picking up beach trash, to teaching energy conservation.

Education was my foundation and aloha ʻāina was my inspiration.

I joined “Sust ʻāina ble” Molokaʻi, and over the last decade we’ve replaced 1,200 major appliances, conducted hundreds of energy audits, and installed 40,000 LED bulbs. Energy conservation offsets our monthly electric bills – Molokaʻi’s rates are the highest in the country. Energy education is working. Molokaʻi residents now have the lowest electrical consumption in Hawaiʻi.

I’m motivated to ensure my children have a future on Molokaʻi. “Sust ʻāina ble” Molokaʻi has expanded to investigate renewable energy, and I was hired to coordinate a community-led group to make Molokaʻi a renewable energy community. I continue to aloha ʻāina every day by helping to reduce Molokaʻi’s fossil fuel footprint.

Photo: Jason Gamiao

Jason Gamiao, fire engineer, Molokaʻi Fire Department, Kaunakakai

An important issue for Molokaʻi is that our Hawaiian children need to be exposed to real-world economics, from elementary to college, to prepare them for the future.

I was born on Oʻahu, completed college at 22-years-old, and I moved to Molokaʻi with nothing. I wanted to care for the kuleana lands where my mother was raised. I learned by trial and error how to survive economically living a subsistence lifestyle.

Our youth need to understand basic economics. At one time there were programs such as Junior Achievement, where adult-mentored student groups learned the process of making and marketing a product. Although some children are exposed to this process, most are not.

All students need to understand what an economy is, the economic factors affecting businesses, and how businesses function – including entrepreneurship. An essential concept is that being successful takes work.

The world is changing at a rapid pace. Some students may go to college, others may learn a trade, and many will have to create their own jobs. With Molokaʻi’s high cost of living, it is not unusual for individuals to have full-time employment and a side business.

On my farm, I have started teaching my daughter and her friends about economics and most importantly, the value of hard work in making a business successful.

Photo: Mahina Kamakana

Mahina Kamakana Juario, counselor, Molokaʻi High School, Hoʻolehua

I have taught students for 30 years, and my wish is that every high school student should participate in community service or an internship opportunity before graduation.

Through community service, students learn hands-on skills and knowledge that increases the relevance of academics. It provides them with opportunities for meaningful involvement with their community, and personal and interpersonal development. It helps build their leadership, team, communication and organizational skills, develops their sense of social responsibility, and provides an opportunity to apply what they learn in school in the real world.

For students, community service is often something they only do if they are required. However, while students learn “hard skills” in the classroom, “soft skills” are best learned by working with people in new situations.

Community service is also a resume builder. In addition, there is a bottom-line benefit. If students apply for scholarships to offset post-secondary education costs, their resume must include community service.

On Molokaʻi there are many community service opportunities – such as volunteering with food banks, food drives, beach and highway cleanups, tutoring, and conservation work with the Molokaʻi Land Trust. And internships are available at organizations such as “Sust ʻāina ble” Molokaʻi, Molokaʻi Dispatch, Kupu, Puʻu O Hoku Ranch.

Students who participate in community service or internships learn real-world work skills. It is a win-win situation for the organization and student.

Photo: Sherman Napolean

Sherman Napolean, Lohea Audio, Hoʻolehua

Molokaʻi residents face a high cost of living. Having a small population and just a handful of businesses means no economy of scale.

I have rooftop PV, but the cost of living is high on Molokaʻi. It is driven by higher costs for fuel, electricity, water, shipping, food – the list is endless.

I have a heart for farming and ranching, but the cost of living affects its profitability. Ranchers and farmers sell off-island to get a better price, which is offset by shipping costs. However, off-island vendors want consistent product quantities.

The average Molokaʻi farm is under 5 acres, so consistent product supply is a challenge. Farmers could pool crops, but it takes coordination. Molokaʻi’s higher production costs make our local products less competitive. Another avenue is value-added products, but it takes start-up funds and business skills.

Few young people want to farm because the profession is adversity-prone – subject to droughts, weeds, pests, low prices, and the cost of equipment and production. A tractor can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

A new farming model where farmers share equipment and tasks, as is done in grain farming, could reduce overhead. A coordinated effort is needed to reduce Molokaʻi’s cost of living.

For now, we budget and survive.