The Hawaii Service Program in 2021 showcased how a predicament can sometimes bring good fortune. Rustic faced a logistical challenge in running the trip this summer since a boom in tourism led to limited transportation options. It was handled by hiring local drivers to take students through the itinerary. Program Leader Alex Sanchez says that ended up being a huge plus.
“I have to give a shout out to drivers like Alaina Fuata who went above and beyond what she needed to do,” Sanchez said. “The local knowledge she shared provided so much context and gave much more gravity to what we were doing.”
Among the things the drivers did were teaching students place names and greetings in the native Hawaiian language, including how to pronounce them. This included more challenging names like the ancient cinder cone Pu’u Wa’awa’a to a simple Aloha.
For the familiar greeting, the students learned that “Aloha” is a combination of “Alo” for spirit or presence and “Ha” for breath, so the word means much more than hello. Aloha is a way of sending positive energy – a breath of life.
In addition, the drivers introduced students to local beliefs and customs. When the students visited Volcanoes National Park, the driver did an oli chant for the students in honor of Pele, who is the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes and fire.
This added to the standard Rustic practice of having students interact with local residents for their service projects, which focus on the land or Āina in Hawaii.
Environmental Service Projects on Big Island
The students do several service projects during the Hawaii program. This summer one of them was completed in a remote valley where tourists don’t normally tread. Rustic student Alexandra Juster says this project was among her favorite moments during the program.
“The most rewarding service I experienced was at Waipi’o Valley. We cleared a space of invasive weeds and spent all day working on the same area, so the immediate gratification was amazing,” Juster said.
Getting to this location was not necessarily easy. Sanchez says the program includes a few strenuous hikes to enable the students to experience the most beautiful and offbeat places in the state.
Waipi’o Valley is sometimes called the Valley of Kings since many rulers used to live there. A tsunami in 1946 drove most residents from the area. However, since no one died during that tsunami or serious flooding in 1979, it is seen as a place of refuge and is considered sacred.
Those who remain generally are taro root farmers or fishermen. They live a simple life in a stunning location. Rustic students worked with the Hawaiian nonprofit organization Pōhāhā I Ka Lani, which is rooted in Waipiʻo Valley to revitalize indigenous Kanaka Maoli cultural knowledge and land stewardship.
“Waipi’o Valley is my favorite part of the entire trip,” Sanchez said. “It’s gorgeous – one of most beautiful places I’ve ever been – and a sacred, holy place.”
Students learned about permaculture farming during the program and also did projects with Luka Kanaka’ole of the Edith Kanakaʻole Foundation. They worked on a fish pond and rock walls, and some students assisted in an effort to create a fire break.
Fish ponds are important to local Hawaiians since they trap smaller fish that are brought in by the ocean. Those fish grow in the pond until they are ready for consumption.
Fish are among the commonly consumed foods in Hawaii. Students also get to try other local foods including Hawaiian Lau Lau Pork and Hawaiian Haupia, which is a dessert made with coconut milk.
Beauty and Adventure
Throughout the program, students took in their share of stunning scenery and adventure activities. One of the highlights of the program is a hike down into the Kilauea Iki Crater, along the steam vents and through the Thurston Lava Tube in Volcanoes National Park.
The students also spent time at a variety of beaches, including traditional golden sand beaches, Big Island’s black sand Punaluʻu Beach, and the unique and secluded Papakōlea Beach that’s known for its unique green sand.
The students also zip lined over a valley, did a reef snorkel tour out on the beautiful Kealakekua Bay Marine Life Conservation District, hit the waves during surf lessons at Kahalu’u Beach, and spent time viewing sea turtles.
“My favorite activities on the trip were going zip-lining 250 ft above a valley and walking to Papakōlea Beach, which has incredibly big waves and crystal clear blue water,” Juster said.
The students also had time for shopping at a farmers market and local stores and hanging out together and bonding. Sanchez says it is amazing how some students became so in sync with each other during the trip that they were able to have an honest discussion about their first impressions of each other.
Sanchez says it also was wonderful seeing a few students overcome anxiety they had about the program.
“One student was struggling in the beginning with anxiety from being away from home. He was thinking of going home, but he stuck it out rather than leaving,” Sanchez said. “I ended up getting a photo of him zip-lining. He made a complete 180 in how he was feeling and made some great friendships.”
More Hawaii adventures and chances to make new friends are on the plate for 2022. This was our most popular program last year, so expect it to fill quickly again this year! View our program page to reserve a spot.