Ka Wai Ola

Photo: Sylvia Hussey
Aloha mai kākou,

I grew up in the sugar plantation town of Kohala where my dad worked as an auto mechanic on the plantation to provide for my mom and our family of six children. As a young girl I remember when the plantation workers went on strike and suddenly everything changed. My mom, a housewife and stay-at-home mom, had to help make ends meet without my dad’s plantation paycheck. Our entire multi-ethnic community was similarly affected: Hawaiians, Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos, Portuguese and Puerto Ricans. What stands out in my mind about that time was the incredible resilience of our community.

We raised taro and harvested bananas and papayas around the loʻi. We grew squash, eggplant, string beans and sweet potatoes in our gardens and tended fruit trees – ulu, avocado and oranges. We raised cows, pigs and chickens for household use, and dad fished to supplement what we raised. We would make deliveries to family and friends and share what we had; a hand of bananas, a couple papayas, squash and a few ʻōpelu or a slab of aku. Despite the lack of income no one in our ʻohana, or in our community, went without; no one starved. We took care of our own. That is a lesson I have carried with me since, and it is the way I view our work and kuleana here at OHA.

Resilience has become increasingly important as we navigate and endure the disruptions of COVID-19, which, according to most health experts, have only just begun. For some, greater resilience is required than for others. Poor health, the loss of income, houselessness or ʻeha in the ʻohana has made this experience especially difficult for some in our lāhui. This is where that lesson of taking care of our own – ʻohana and community – comes into play.

OHA has worked these past few months to determine the best ways to leverage our resources and advocate for our beneficiaries and lāhui. Some of that work was shared in last month’s issue of Ka Wai Ola. More recently, our Board of Trustees approved an additional $3 million to address the needs of our beneficiaries during this pandemic, most of which will be used to provide emergency financial assistance for mortgage, rent or utilities relief. The rest of the money will be used to promote community-based food security across the pae ʻāina by supporting Native Hawaiian farmers, fishermen, ranchers, hunters and others practicing subsistence living.

It is not by coincidence that we are here together, in this moment and in this time. It is not by coincidence that we have inherited the collective ʻike and noʻeau of our kūpuna – resilience, ingenuity, practicality, compassion, empathy, faith, hope, charity, aloha – to take care of our own ʻohana and communities. And when we cannot do anything more in this physical world about our circumstances, we have our faith and prayers.

“He poʻi na kai uli, kai koʻo, ʻaʻohe hina pūkoʻa. Though the sea be deep and rough, the coral rock remains standing.”

Sylvia M. Hussey, Ed.D.
Ka Pouhana/Chief Executive Officer