Hawaiian culture is absolutely fascinating. One of my favorite things about it is that it revolves around a deep respect for and connection with the aina (land). This belief is prevalent across all indigenous cultures of the world and although most of these people have been robbed of their heritage, the concept is still sacred to them to this day. ‘O ka ha o ka ‘aina ke ola o ka po’e translates to “the breath of the land is the life of the people”. This simply means that when you take care of the land, the land takes care of you. Sustainability.
Giving back to the aina is important, especially for me, since this aina has been so good to me. Moving to Hawaii 14 months ago has been the best thing for me and my spirit, and allowed me to truly thrive in ways I never imagined were possible. I attribute this to the mana (power) that exists here, which is known to be healing for all who encounter it.
So I was definitely excited when a friend invited me to experience a lᾱ hana (work day). For Hawaiians, this is not only an opportunity to help out the community, but it “strengthens the connection between people and land”. I was completely honored to partake and this ended up being one of the greatest experiences I’ve had here in Hawaii to date.
Ho’oulu ‘Aina (to grow the land, to grow because of the land) is a section of 100 acres in Kalihi Valley, just outside of Honolulu, which has been sustainably developed and cared for as a part of Kokua Kalihi Valley, a program that is “dedicated to cultural education and community transformation… based on the value that the health of the land and the health of people are one”. Basically, it involves a huge organic farm and there is much volunteer work done, under the principle that “as we work we listen to the land and let it guide us.”
Every third Saturday of the month, they open their doors to anyone interested in “Community Day”. People of all ages and backgrounds join with intentions to give back to the aina, nothing more. When you arrive, you sign in and then everyone stands in a huge circle and holds hands. There were about 150 of us today, and we said a prayer for the land, then begun work. You can choose the fields, the garden, or the kitchen. In any of these areas, you are instructed how to do what needs to be done and you learn a ton along the way.
My friend and I elected to work the kitchen with about eight other women and a few keiki (kids). Here, we cut and prepped a huge amount of fruits and veggies for the large feast that the entire group is rewarded with after 3-4 hours of work is done. I chopped cucumbers, herbs, and oranges; shredded papaya, peeled ginger, and then worked in an assembly line to make delicious spring rolls. Along the way, every single person helped to clean up, wash dishes, and assist in anything that was needed. There was so much harmony in that kitchen among us. Although it was a lot of work, we had a lot of fun! My favorite thing I did was pick fresh lemon balm from the garden. I have never really gardened, so picking herbs was really interesting and I learned a lot. I then washed and chopped it all up, and it was added to the fruit salad. Very cool and eye opening to be a part of it from the ground to the consumption.
What I appreciated most was how friendly and happy the staff was. They are clearly incredibly passionate about what they do and made the experience so enjoyable. Along the way, they would remind us to be gentle and speak kindly while handling the food, since they believe food is a living thing and energy is transmitted from the person who picks and prepares it, to the one who eats it. I can definitely agree with this philosophy.
Also, at the end, everyone gathers in another circle, joins hands, and shares what they are grateful for. We prayed and chanted in Hawaiian, and then got to eat the delicious food we just made. They even lay out a ton of veggies they just gathered so the volunteers can take some home if they’d like. I left with a big bag of kale, lettuce, turmeric, and ginger – all organic and super fresh. Yum!
This was a experience I will never forget and one I hope to repeat regularly each month. So often I enjoy all the island of Oahu has to offer, so it’s nice to also offer my help in return. I left there feeling so genuinely GOOD about the work I just did. There is no greater feeling that giving your time, which is your most precious asset, to help. This truly encompasses what aloha is all about.
To learn more about Ho’oulu Aina, check out their website.