Kū i ka Mana


Photo: Nicole Leake

By Nicole Leake, Grade 12 Ke Ana La‘ahana Public Charter School

Like the one from whom he received what he learned. Said of a child who behaves like those who reared him. – ʻŌlelo Noʻeau

My mom and my two younger brothers took turns hugging me. It was May 17, 2018, at Mactan Cebu International Airport in the Philippines. I said my final farewell before boarding my flight with my father to my final destination of Hilo, Hawaiʻi, with the understanding that I would not return until I completed college.

To this day, I have not returned to the Philippines to see my family, even though my heart aches to see them. With the passing of my dad last year, a return to Cebu would possibly mean that I would have to stay in the Philippines and not fulfill my dream of earning a college degree.

Flying out of Cebu, I will never forget the aerial view of my small province – its many rusty rooftops with holes and windowless homes; floating appliances and other household debris in the nearby rivers and ocean. It was a huge contrast to the view as I flew into Hilo and its tidy neighborhood homes, gardens, and garbage-less waterways.

Three months later I flew to Seattle to meet my American father’s family. The view from above was also distinct: skyscrapers, long floating bridges and snow on Mt. Rainier. Those times that I traveled by airplane left an impression on me. Ever since, I have wanted to be a pilot.

Growing up in the Philippines, I thought it was impossible for women to be pilots because women there have limited career choices. However, I have learned that here “the sky’s the limit” when it comes to women pursuing non-traditional careers and my decision to become a pilot has not waned.

Being a pilot not only allows you to learn the skill of flying, but also to visit new places and meet new people. As a young woman of Filipino and Caucasian descent educated at a Hawaiian culture-based high school, I feel thankful for the opportunity to have been able to live among people of mixed races.

It has broadened my understanding of humanity, given me a sense of belonging in both my Filipino and Hawaiian community, and a realization that although cultures can be so distinctly different, there is always a common ground when we can share a meal, trade stories, and work together. I think being a pilot will provide those same opportunities and more.

At Ke Ana Laʻahana Public Charter School, I selected hula and kai (ocean) classes as electives. In hula, I learned hula kahiko, and the moʻolelo (stories) of our environment. In kai, I learned about traditional Hawaiian methods and western science used to restore Honokea Loko at Waiuli, one of the many ancient fishponds along Hilo’s Keaukaha coastline. We restored damaged rock walls, built a mākāhā (sluice gate), tested water quality, and cultivated native plants. These classes gave me a sense of stewardship. Although I’m not from here, I have developed a kuleana to my community.

As a senior, my college journey is near. I have been preparing by attending the Running Start Program at Hawaiʻi Community College. As an English-as-a-second-language student my freshman year it was challenging, but with the support of my teachers, I have successfully completed college-level classes. Early college has prepared me for the rigors of college and becoming a pilot. In the U.S., 93% of pilots are male and white. I hope to help fill the void of women pilots someday.