Haumāna volunteer with Hawaiʻi Land Trust

Faces, old and new, help out at Waiheʻe Refuge


Photo by Kira Gomez

Senior Tahan Valdez gives safety directions and reads out the history of the beach at Waihe’e Refuge as KSM volunteers prepare for a day of community service, Saturday, January 22.

Kamehameha Maui students volunteered with Hawaiʻi Land Trust to clean a beach and wauke patch at Waiheʻe Refuge, Saturday morning. Students put in community service hours while also living mālama ‘āina.

This opportunity was not just a time for them to get their hands dirty. They also learned about the history of the area and how to care for wauke and strip its bark, which is used in kapa-making.

Denby Freeland, the educator at Waiheʻe Refuge and kapa artist, led the group and explained the three reasons why Hawaiʻi Land Trust purchased the site in 2004.

“One is ecological restoration to restore the site, the second is cultural preservation to help preserve what’s left of the Kapoho village and fishpond that’s here, and the third is education,” she said.

A graduate of Punahou School, Denby received her master’s degree from Heritage College in Washington, and since then she has been using her talents in art and education to promote environmental awareness and stewardship.

Volunteers were shown the wetland and beach and learned a bit about the history of Waiheʻe Coastal Dunes and Wetland Refuge before starting their work day with an oli aloha.

When it was time to work, Freeland split them into two groups: one went to the beach to clean it up, while the other headed back to the wauke patch to weed and do maintenance.

Senior Tahan Valdez didn’t have much experience with this type of volunteering, but she came out for a special reason.

“I live pretty close by, and this area means a lot to me, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to come out and help my community,” she said.

While some volunteers, like Valdez, were first-timers, the refuge also saw returning faces, like Aubrey Ahana and her ʻohana.

“I’ve been to the Waihe’e Refuge a couple of times, and I am aware of how much trash can pile up and come in through the currents, so I wanted to come out and make it a bit cleaner,” she said.

Ahana was glad that the KSM PTSO put together this opportunity, and she was excited to see other haumāna take part in and appreciate something she has been doing for a while.

“I know some of them havenʻt been here before, and so them being given the opportunity to come and help out and see another part of Maui is always nice,” she said.

Freeland spoke about how she wants anyone who comes out to have a positive experience, but she said that haumāna donʻt need to go to the refuge to help out in their community. She said that if there is something you enjoy doing and a place you enjoy going to in your community, then you should take care of it, and you should want to take care of it. Whether it’s a beach you go to or trail you like to hike on, weeding and picking up trash is something people can do anytime and anywhere.

“Sometimes, people donʻt get that exposure unless they come here with a volunteer group or through school, so if we are able to start that mindset, thatʻs great, and if we are able to just support that mindset for people who already have it, thatʻs really good too,” she said.