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Youth and adults learn together in the Huinawai Project

Immersed in a different world, free of cell phones, Internet, and distractions, 26 youth and 15 adult mentors camped out, worked side by side in the loi, or taro patch, cooked food harvested from the land, brainstormed fresh ideas to promote teen health, and shared the lessons that Waipio Valley teaches.

Hosted by Hamakua Youth Foundation, with support of North Hawaii Drug-Free Coalition and Five Mountains Hawaii, the Huinawai Youth and Mentor Enrichment Camp was so-named for “a pond or pool created by the intersection of different streams.” By bringing together youth from different groups and different parts of the island to plunge into a collective pool of knowledge, the Huinawai Project provided a diverse yet inclusive experience co-created by participants.

The journey started and ended with Hawaiian chants and protocols, asking permission to enter the valley, and—as with a canoe voyage—leaving any negativity behind. Afterwards, the group shared their new learning with the community, in the tradition of hoike, with a community gathering and lunch at the Lookout. Ideas generated by the youth leaders will be forwarded to mentors and adult policy makers for consideration, including Mayor Billy Kenoi, who sent a representative to the hoike presentation.

“It was very experiential,” said adult mentor Jude McAnesey of Waimea.

Kuulei and Ben Badua hosted the Huinawai group at their land called “Kuulei’s Haven.” Mahealani Maikui, executive director of Hamakua Youth Foundation, acted as the cultural ambassador to Waipio Valley. She and husband Carl Sims organized the activities and taught participants chants, how to pick luau leaf for laulau, and corms for pai ai (cooked taro) and poi. University of Hawaii Manoa Hawaiian language student, Jacob Elarco, told traditional stories and helped with the chants.

“It was great to see everybody come and bond together,” said Sims. “The kids grew very close in a short time.”

“The vision for this event was to create a safe container for teens and their mentors to deepen the connections with the land, host culture and each other. … ,” said Robin Mullin, executive director of Five Mountains Hawaii.

The idea of gathering different youth groups from around the island to network and contribute to solutions began last July when a youth advisory council exploratory meeting was held in North Kohala as part of the Models Not Bottles project, in partnership with the County of Hawaii’s Office of the Mayor.

“The teens wanted more time together and fun experiences to learn, so this year we tried a three-day camp format. We saw the teens naturally share leadership, and they are already asking to do it again,” said Mullin.

The North Hawaii Drug-Free Coalition, a project of Five Mountains Hawaii, is a regional volunteer organization committed to developing strong, sustaining relationships for Healthy Communities Choosing to Live Drug Free. For more information, visit www.fivemountains.org/nhdfc.