Keoni Souza: Trustee At-Large

I don’t have the words to express how saddened and heartbroken I am for our people on Maui in the wake of the destructive wildfires on Aug. 8, 2023. We all grieve the loss of our historic, beautiful Lahaina, we grieve for our loved ones whose lives were lost. My heart is with our Maui family and friends and everyone who has been impacted by this unimaginable disaster.

On Aug. 15, 2023, my staff and I were able to visit Lahaina to meet with our beneficiaries and also visit various donation “hubs” where receiving and distribution were taking place. We were overcome with emotion seeing the destruction firsthand, which was absolutely devastating. It brings some comfort, however, to see the lāhui come together to help in this time of need.

Trustee Souza with Captain Ikaika Blackburn
Trustee Souza with Captain Ikaika Blackburn of the Nāpili Fire Station at the Nāpili Market HUB for fire survivors. Photo: Richelle Kim

While there, we were able to make connections, review distribution efforts, and also meet with homesteaders leading the grassroots efforts. We made sure to be respectful of the ‘āina and respectful of those in mourning. We learned that the coordination efforts are changing daily as centers are being moved, hubs are consolidating, and groups are migrating – however, the people on the ground like Captain Ikaika Blackburn of Nāpili Fire House, Uncle Archie Kalepa at Leialiʻi, Shan Tsutsui of Mahi Pono and Kainoa Horcajo from Maui Rapid Response, have been amazing. Selfless acts by these community leaders have kept the community going.

In the next few weeks, months, and even years we will continue to assess the needs of our people, collaborate with other agencies, and allocate funding for emergency relief. By the time of this publishing, the Board will have met and discussed an Action Item for Emergency Disaster Relief. I believe the Board will make the best decisions, to support Maui’s recovery efforts to the fullest extent, as we are bound by the law.

In my individual capacity I will continue to kōkua Lahaina, to help support as many families as I can. I will be available to our people who are hurting both physically and emotionally. My staff and I are available if anyone is in need. You can call, email, or come down to our OHA offices on any island. What affects one island affects all the lāhui.

In the most trying times, I always think of the mele, The Promise of God’s Love, by Johnny Lum Ho:

Take one day at a time
Leave your troubles at his feet
Yes, he cares for you
Open up your heart and see

Ua lanakila no mākou
Ma ke koko o Iesu
Ua lanakila no mākou
Ua paʻa kona aloha

We remain victorious
Through the blood of Jesus Christ
We remain more than conquerors
Through his promise and his love

We will get through this together, we are #LahainaStrong.