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Lipoa Kahaleuahi: Striving to Preserve the Stories and Images of Hawai’i

Lipoa Kahaleuahi: Striving to Preserve the Stories and Images of Hawai’i

Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs.

Hi, Spiffy here with the scoop on the entrepreneurial leaders of Planet Earth. I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Lipoa Kahaleuahi, the executive director of Ma Ka Hana Ka ʻIke Building Program. Let’s learn how Lipoa is making a positive impact in the world.

Spiffy: Thanks for joining me, Lipoa! Tell me, what challenge are you addressing through Ma Ka Hana Ka ʻIke Building Program?

Lipoa: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! Hāna is among Hawai'i's most remote and underserved regions; the nearest urban facilities are a four hour round trip drive. The community comprises 394 households, and the U.S. Census reported that over 71% of residents are Native Hawaiian. Hāna's remoteness and lack of economic opportunity have resulted in an overall poverty rate of 22%, with the rate falling upwards of 42% for Native Hawaiians.

Spiffy: What motivates you to do it?

Lipoa: The health of Native Hawaiians is inextricably tied to cultural identity. Access to traditional foods, land, language, and cultural practices are strong determinants of health and well-being for Native Hawaiians. My why and what keeps me going is a future in which the indigenous people of Hawaiʻi are thriving and the stories and images told of Hawaiʻi are coming from an indigenous place.

Spiffy: What is the impact of your work?

Lipoa: We serve the small, remote community of Hāna, Maui (population 2,291), a district spanning 35.5 miles from Ke‘anae to Kaupō. Each year our organization serves no less than 600 participants and beneficiaries across East Maui, 74% of whom are Native Hawaiian, including the 384 K-12 students of Hāna School, 78% of whom are Native Hawaiian. Our primary service population is students in grades K-12 and recent graduates of Hāna. Through their applied learning in agriculture, building, and culinary, these youth serve our community, especially our kūpuna (our 65+ grandparent generation). While East Maui is our priority, we aim to be an example for communities everywhere.

Spiffy: Tell me about a recent organization milestone or initiative. What impact does it make on your community?

Lipoa: For the first time in our organization's 23-year lifespan, our team reached our annual fundraising goals by mid-fiscal year. This milestone achievement allows us to plan more long-term while ensuring financial security to continue our programming and employment uninterrupted.

Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?

Lipoa: Hāna is a microcosm of the world. Where there are challenges very similar to other regions, there is also immense beauty. Our isolation also provides the retention of Hawaiian heritage. With two Hawaiian language schools and a population that is over 70% Native Hawaiian, our community remains a refuge of traditional lifestyles and cultural values. Our Native Hawaiian youth are exposed to a multitude of protective factors, including cultural affiliation, a tight, values-based community, support from immediate and extended ‘ohana (family), connection to subsistence skills (e.g., farming, hunting, fishing), and ancestral connections to place.

Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Lipoa—it’s been an honor!

Lipoa Kahaleuahi is a descendant of Hāna, a Ma Ka Hana Ka ‘Ike and Hāna School graduate, and a Gates Scholarship recipient. She first served Ma Ka Hana Ka ʻIke as an outreach coordinator, project manager, and deputy director before being voted executive director in July 2019. Lipoa is a surfer, hula dancer, and active member of the Hāna community. (First published on the Ladderworks website on March 27, 2024.)

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Ladderworks LLC.

© 2023 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Shikha Tandon. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.