Caring for Kūpuna and Caregivers in Hāna

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By Lipoa Kahaleuahi

Mālama i Nā Hulu Kūpuna (MINHK) is grassroots community-based initiative of Ma Ka Hana Ka ʻIke that provides services to mālama Hāna’s cherished kūpuna and their caregivers, one of 50 new grants funded by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to benefit the Native Hawaiian community.

Our approach is patterned after traditional social structures, which ensured each age group had a meaningful role in society. Having reached their spiritual prime, kūpuna were highly sought after as teachers, mentors, sages and storytellers – and their elevated role in society ensured they were well cared for. In their physical prime, young adults played a vital role as caretakers of their community, accomplishing critical tasks with agility, strength, stamina and skill. Our project seeks to reestablish these intricate, traditional and vital intergenerational connections.

Mālama i Nā Hulu Kūpuna has also served as a catalyst to activate our youth’s capacity to meet the needs of Hāna’s low-income kūpuna and their caregivers by offering services that: 1) ensure our elders have safe and accessible homes; 2) provide superior nutrition with home deliveries of local and traditional foods; and, 3) foster physical activity and social engagement through meaningful ‘āina and culture-based activities.

We enrolled, and provided intake, screening and home risk assessments for 136 Native Hawaiian kūpuna and 98 Native Hawaiian caregivers. To deliver our services, we engaged 125 Native Hawaiian community participants across our three programs: Building, Mahele Farm, and Mālama Hāloa.

Our Building Program engaged 58 Native Hawaiian youth in building-related educational opportunities, providing construction and home modification services for enrolled kūpuna. These projects helped provide safety, increased mobility and general improvements that uplifted our kūpuna and helped bring joy into their home environments. We also built an entirely new home for one of our kūpuna in need. Altogether we completed a total of 21 home modification projects during the two-year period.

At Mahele Farm we engaged 24 Native Hawaiian kūpuna in farm work activities and all enrolled kūpuna were provided with fresh produce and paʻi ʻai, poi, or cooked kalo. We also made and distributed 18 papa kuʻi ʻai for kūpuna and another 12 for caregivers to use at home.

Our project was designed to support, uplift, educate, engage and inspire Native Hawaiians and we accomplish this in our homes, schools and lush ancestral landscapes – and our annual surveys and interviews with kūpuna affirm that enjoyed our programs!

From building better homes and caring for cultural crops to returning youth to their rightful role as caretakers in our community and harvesting, preparing and distributing organic foods and meals – this project created wraparound services that met kūpuna needs at the right place in the right time and in the right way.

We believe that our project’s balanced approach in providing wrap-around services to Native Hawaiian kūpuna and caregivers has increased the collective wellbeing of our community. While this metric is best captured in the smiles of the people we have served, or through the quiet “mahalos” whispered at the beach at Kapueokahi, in the aisles of Hasegawa Store or in the pews of our local churches, we recognize there is a greater sense of community as a result of our programs.

Because of our long-term investment, grassroots design and community-based approach, our programs are changing the structure of our community. We are a Native Hawaiian-led and operated organization – more than 75% of our current staff and apprentices are Native Hawaiian. This demographic is one of the primary reasons we are able to design and implement custom programming with a “homemade” feel. Indeed, many of our programs and projects have come to fruition because our staff have identified real-world needs developing in their homes and in their neighborhoods.


Lipoa Kahaleuahi is the executive director of Ma Ka Hana Ka ʻIke.