Always a Voice for Students

Imua ʻIolani

Always a Voice for Students

Imua ʻIolani

Always a Voice for Students

Imua ʻIolani

‘Iolani Performing Arts Encourages Hope in Lahaina

Members of ‘Iolani’s Wahine Hula, Hawaiian Ensemble and Community and Civic Engagement Staff gather for a picture following the Hispanic Resource Fair.

The Lahaina wildfires of August 2023 ravaged Maui, inflicting a devastating aftermath on countless lives. As the fires were extinguished the Lahaina Disaster Recovery Center emerged as a beacon of hope for the community. In the aftermath of the tragic Lahaina wildfires in August of 2023, ‘Iolani staff, Hawaiian Ensemble and Wahine Hula students embarked on a mission to provide comfort and aid to the victims of the Lahaina wildfire. 

The involvement of Iolani’s own Community and Civic Engagement Office (CCE) in Lahiana’s recovery efforts has been profound. Working closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) and their recently established Lahaina Disaster Recovery Center (DRC), they have extended crucial aid and support to the Hispanic community.  At the DRC’s latest event, the Hispanic Resource Fair, they addressed and recognized challenges faced by this community, most especially pertaining to their difficulty in navigating insurance claims and overcoming language barriers. 

At the root of their efforts lies a holistic approach, be it mental well-being or community engagement. Instead of primarily offering insurance support, the DCR provided emotional assistance through counselors and therapists, acknowledging the trauma experienced. Simultaneously, ‘Iolani’s CCE office staff, with the helping hand of the school, introduced a “keiki corner” and uplifting entertainment, in order to not only shield children from the distress, but providing hope and relieving the stress of the victims. This thoughtful inclusion of child-friendly activities provides much needed aid for families. Accordingly, the DCR’s initiatives were tailored to recognize adversity within the community, and respond by embracing organizations and interventions geared towards benefiting the general population.

Aunty Lehua, the Wahine Kumu Hula at ‘Iolani, embodies the healing spirit of culture. Her heartfelt account of the involvement of ‘Iolani Wahine Hula and Hawaiian Ensemble at the Lahaina Disaster Recovery Center’s Hispanic Resource Fair, where the depiction of Hawaiian and Spanish culture fusion was shown. Their engagement wasn’t limited to age or gender, it was a collective effort by singers, musicians, dancers and people who are proficient in the Spanish language. Through collaboration, they facilitated activities that provided emotional support for both the adults and children. Auntie Lehua shares that, “Although it took a lot of energy, it was in a sense, uplifting. Physically it was hard, but mentally and spiritually it was gratifying.” The amazing opportunity of partaking in the fair helped to instill the value of giving back, influencing and emphasizing the significant impact of cultural expression in healing and connecting communities. 

Azera Manewa ’24, a member of ‘Iolani’s Wahine Hula course, shares a touching experience while at the Lahaina DCR. Amidst the chaos of tragedy, she was approached by a woman, “She stopped me in the bathroom and she asked me how I smiled the whole time. And she said that a lot of the people told her that their smiles made them happy and helped them forget everything that was going on.” Azera’s firm commitment to maintaining a smile during the hula performance, sparked hope and love among the audience. Azera shares in deep gratitude, “It’s incredible how a simple dance or song can create such connections. These moments will stay with me; it’s like we shared a piece of our hearts.” The connections formed on account of cultural inclusivity, paints a vivid illustration of the emotional impact such cultural expressions have on the wildfire victims. 

Brooke Nakama ’25, a junior in ‘Iolani’s Hawaiian Ensemble, navigated through particular uncertainties and discovered memorable connections at the Lahaina DCR. Auntie Lehua emphasized the collective effort noting, “It was a growing moment for our students, allowing them to provide emotional support for adults and children through singing, dancing, and professing in the Spanish language.” A growing moment it surely was, Brooke’s heartfelt and poignant interactions with the children began with initial anxieties. She says, “Some of the kids asked if we would come back and it kinda broke my heart to tell them that I didn’t know if we would.” Yet, in retribution, Brooke recalls with gratitude a gesture of kindness— an adornment of a rosary around her neck by two sisters, followed by the plea “please don’t forget us.” Brooke’s narrative encapsulates the power of simple connection, which was undoubtedly forged during ‘Iolani’s outreach efforts at the Lahaina DRC.

With a philosophy centered around the “One Team” spirit, ‘Iolani seeks to extend their engagement beyond Lahiana’s DCR Hispanic Resource Fair. The impact of ‘Iolani’s Wahine Hula and Hawaiian Ensemble performances reverberated emotionally among those who gathered. The heartfelt gestures shared further empathizes Auntie Lehua’s wise words, “Human connection is an unrecognized, unmeasurable gift that leaves a lasting imprint of understanding and compassion within people. And when culture is embedded in education, it is meaningful, and lights a purpose within the students’ learning.” The installment of community connection is a testament to the human capacity for compassion and the ability of small acts of kindness to illuminate even the darkest of times. ‘Iolani’s community engagement shows the potential of cultural exchange as a spark to community resilience amidst times of adversity. Furthermore, replicating similar culture inclusive activities and opportunities is the key to healing a community, which the Community and Civic Engagement Office at ‘Iolani strives to offer.

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About the Contributor
Taybr A., Staff
Hi, my name is Taybr Alexio, I am a junior and have been a part of Imua’s staff for two years. I initially joined Imua because I enjoy writing and news reporting. My hobbies include soccer, hiking, and traveling!

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