As I walked up the dirt path towards the Cultural Learning Center, I could smell burnt charcoal in the air. Where koa haole once existed, only black sticks remained. The firefighters of Station #26 in Waianae were directing the Air 1 helicopter to drop buckets of water on the nearby Waianae Kai Forest Reserve where so many of our rare native Hawaiian plants were at risk. It was June 6, one day after Waianae Valleys worst fire in recent memory. And, unlike previous fires, this one destroyed our beloved Hale Naauao. Constructed in the 1980s, the hale was the center of all educational activities at the Cultural Learning Center at Kaala, a place where thousands of visitors were welcomed each year. It was gone, burned by hot embers carried on winds blowing from Lualualei.
The fire also destroyed the Centers water system which had served as the auwai for all our loi kalo. Fire too reached some of the loi and gardens tended by Waianae families on the southeastern end of the Center.
Thankfully, Honolulu firefighters saved many important Center sites and structures including: the m?la wauke, kitchen, Kaala K?puka, bathrooms, and tool shed. And, because some of the loi kalo held standing water, Air 1 was able to use them to pick up and drop water on burning areas surrounding the Center. Mahalo nui to all the firefighters who fought the fire and saved our Center!
I want to assure everyone that Kaala Farm remains strong and resilient. Water has been restored to the loi, and we are looking at ways of making the new water pipes more fire resistant.
Since hearing of the damage to our Hale Naauao, scores of Kaala ohana have called our office asking how they can help. Two of these are former Kaala executives, Andrew Aoki and Kina Mahi, who we have asked to help lead the effort to bring Kaala through this experience stronger than before. Together, we will raise funds needed for our rebuilding efforts, create temporary accommodations so our programs can continue, design and rebuild the hale, plant native species, coordinate volunteer efforts, and grow our KFI ohana as we build toward the future. It will take many hands to accomplish our goals. If you would like to donate, contribute materials, volunteer, or have a group that would like to get involved, please contact our office at 696-4954.
Kaala Farm exists due, in large part, to the generosity of individuals like you. We hope to see you again in the Valley so together we can live the spirit of the Ölelo noeau, E hana mua ? paa ke kahua, ma mua o ke ao ana i? hai (work first to make firm the foundation before teaching others). Mahalo.
Benton Kealii Pang
June 13, 2012