Work Together Toward a Common Goal

By Ethan Souza

        There have been many great moments during the course of my two years working for the Kupu/AmeriCorps Conservation Leadership Development Program, but being part of a service trip to Kaho’olawe this past October felt very special.

Ethan Souza

Growing up in Hawai’i, I had always loved spending time outdoors. I had always hoped to one day go to Kaho’olawe, and when I found out there was a chance to go with Kupu, saying I was stoked is an understatement. Unfortunately, the week we were scheduled to go ended up being the same week that Hurricane Lane sidled on through the Islands. I was worried that this would mean a total cancellation, but an email from our hosts, Protect Kaho’olawe Ohana (PKO), reassured me that we’d reschedule for a later date. However, when that later date arrived, the waters were still looking rough, and whether or not the trip would happen was up in the air.

Ultimately, the decision was made that the Kupu group would fly to Maui, and then head to Kaho’olawe as water conditions allowed. While the weather had seemed stacked against the trip up to that point, we ended up getting very lucky. The water calmed enough for us to boat to Kaho’olawe the morning after we arrived on Maui, before promptly becoming too hazardous for the rest of the trip until the day we departed. The fact that the sea settled long enough for us to arrive and depart safely seemed special enough. But it was the time between arrival and departure that made this service trip unforgettable.

After we were all on island, PKO welcomed us with traditional protocol, all enjoyed in silent observation of the place around us. Once this was done, we set up camp, got changed, and proceeded to spend the next few days working our butts off.

My time on Kaho’olawe was some of the hardest and most rewarding work I’ve done in my life. We rose before the sun, woken by the sound of a conch shell, and then sweated, weed-whacked, and moved rocks as we all worked on the Ala Loa, a trail that will one day go all the way around Kaho’olawe and be used for cultural practice during Makahiki Season, the annual celebration of the Hawaiian Fertility God Lono.

It’s difficult to succinctly explain what the experience was like, but it’s amazing how close you can get with a group of people in the space of only a few days. It’s amazing what can be accomplished when a group of people with the same perseverance, sincerity, and intention all work together toward a common goal. There are too many stories to tell. There were rock parties that brought the whole group together to move and work as a single unit, and reflections shared in a circle at the end of the day. There was delicious food ready whenever we were hungry, and long, laughter-filled nights around a kawa bowl. There was music, questions, stories, and a shared sense of purpose that permeated the entire group. There was never a time, during the entire trip, when you wouldn’t have been able to see someone smiling when you looked around. Work was play, and we laughed through hot days of placing stones along the Ala Loa’s boundaries, and the seemingly impossible became easy as we worked together to move large rocks to the places they wanted to go.  On the last day, the entire group swam out into the sea and moved with the waves.

I am a fairly outgoing and extroverted person, but when we got into Kahului Airport after boating back from Kaho’olawe, I almost felt like I had a brief moment of anxiety. The lights were too bright, there was so much movement and noise, people milled about, and everything seemed to be everywhere. We had been on Kaho’olawe for less than a week, but it seemed strange to come back to the day-to-day world. It made me grateful for quiet nights under the stars, and days looking out over the sea, and it made me want to help care for the places that bring us out of our day-to-day motions and into ourselves.

I am grateful to Kupu for making this trip possible, and to the team of new conservationists I got to work with. I am grateful to the amazing people in PKO who hosted us and who work to malama a truly special place. I am grateful to Kanaloa Kaho’olawe for the experience I had there.
Born and raised on Big Island, Ethan Souza enjoys diving, hiking, and just being outdoors. His love of nature influenced him to study Marine Science at University of Hawai’i at Hilo. After graduating, he joined Kupu’s Conservation Leadership Development Program. After two years in the program, he now works at the Kohala Watershed Partnership.

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