Puʻu Lei o Liliʻu: Aunties’ Hui


Photo: Sonny Ferreira

By Sonny Ferreira

“Through the collective, kamaliʻi and ʻohana will thrive.” – Richard Likeke Paglinawan

Native Hawaiian (NH) kamaliʻi are disproportionately represented in the Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice Systems. They are also overrepresented in terms of chronic absenteeism from public schools. However, we know that our kamaliʻi have the inherent mana and potential to thrive – they just need support from caring community members.

Liliʻuokalani Trust’s strategic plan embraces the vision of Nā Kamalei Lupalupa or Thriving Hawaiian Children. The aim is to change the life trajectories of systems-involved kamaliʻi and set them on a path toward thriving. This vision is best accomplished through collective community efforts.

Puʻu Lei o Liliʻu (PLOL), a new LT program, works with the Aunties’ Hui, a group formed by representatives from LT, Adult Friends for Youth, Hale Kipa, the Judiciary, the Department of Health Child and Adolescent Mental Health Division, and the Leeward District Department of Education. Together, PLOL and the Hui are working to address the needs of systems-involved kama- liʻi and provide a hoʻokahua and healing connection for them.

Grounded in culture and supportive relationships, PLOL helps 13-18-year-old keiki who are transitioning out of the Juvenile Justice System, involved with the Child Welfare System, and/or who are struggling academically. With support, they discover their cultural heritage and gain feelings of confidence, worthiness, and comfort that provides a strong foundation for a positive future.

The PLOL pilot is on Oʻahu and focuses on:

  1. Aloha Nui Loa, Queen’s Culture: Cultural and spiritual reaffirmation of identity.
  2. Education: Building pathways for post-high school educational/vocational opportunities through social-emotional and cultural learning.
  3. Employment: Introduction to employment skills (e.g., interviewing, attire), and career possibilities (e.g., site visits).

In each component, shared moʻolelo are the medicine for kamaliʻi to know their past, be present, and plan for their futures.

PLOL recently completed the first step in its pilot program. Kamaliʻi revealed that through Hawaiian ways of knowing, being, and doing they felt a sense of puʻuhonua (e.g., physical and emotional safety), connection to their cultural identity, and confidence.

“It was the people who made you feel not a nuisance to be there; they wanted us to see a better future [for ourselves],” one youth shared.

This program is opening new doors for kamaliʻi to connect with peers and adult supporters in authentic, meaningful ways. This collective work comes alongside other existing community resources to help our kamaliʻi heal and obtain the skills they need to thrive.

Sonny Ferreira is a direct service specialist at Liliʻuokalani Trust. She embraces a Native Hawaiian value-based approach to connect with young people so they feel valued, secure, and confident.