Service Learning – Connecting the Past and the Future in Hawaii
Today’s guest blog comes to us from Jon Brito and is part of AmeriCorps Alums’ REALTalk series on race, equity, and AmeriCorps alumni as leaders. Born and raised on the island of Moloka’i, Jon served with the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps (Summer 2012 and 2013) as a team leader. He also continued his conservation and restoration AmeriCorps service with Ka Honua Momona during the 2012-2013 year. Jon is now a student at the University of Hawaii Maui College.
Born and raised on the island of Molokai, I have the honor and privilege to have my moʻokūʻauhau trace back to the ancients of the past. Having served a variety of AmeriCorps terms, I am currently back in school pursuing an Electronic and Computer Engineering degree with a side study in GIS technology at the University of Hawaii Maui College.
I believe utilizing technology will give us a better grasp of where conservation and restoration is needed with precision to better address any issues. I also believe getting a little dirty and sweaty in the field is food for the soul! This is my experience as an Americorps recipient and service learner.
In the Hawaiian Language there is an ‘olelo noe’au, or wise saying, that goes “ma ka hana ka ‘ike, ma ka ‘ike ka mana” which translates to “it is in the doing that one learns.” This is a life thought that I have heard countless times growing up, yet it is only in my adulthood that I have really come closer to understanding. It is a mantra that I have learned and relearned time and time again over the course of various AmeriCorps opportunities.
In the summer of 2012, I desperately needed a life change from the monotony of university life in California and looked to return to my home island of Moloka’i. I had left the island life with prospects of advancing myself in the social ladder by moving away, however I found myself still missing something. I decided to move home and got the chance to be a team leader for Kupu Hawaii’s Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps where I led a team of four high school graduates to various worksites throughout Moloka’i and the state of Hawaii. I had so much fun that the following summer I led a second team!
As a team leader it was my duty to motivate and facilitate my team safely through various service learning experience. We definitely worked in the extreme environments from the constant rain of the Kamakou Preserve Rainforest to the sun burnt desert of the island Kaho’olawe.
The majority of my job was keeping these young adults interested in the work that we were doing. To me it was not only showing them the benefit the work had on the ‘aina or land, but also on themselves. We were all learning more about ourselves, each other, and our culture.
Our ancestors had walked and swam these areas, taking care of and nurturing them. Something I tried to get across was that this duty to continue caring for the land and sea came in part as an inheritance from the ancients before us. But, as future ancestors, this duty was also inspired by our need to pass down something worthy to the next generation. A lot of work has been put into the conservation of our natural resources, and it is something that needs to continue to be done.
I also served an AmeriCorps term as a year-long intern for the 2012-2013 year at the non-profit Ka Honua Momona. Ka Honua Momona is tasked with restoring two 500 year-old, thirty acre fishponds from pre-contact Hawaii to operating condition. Being part of the intern team I was charged with removing invasive non-native and maintenance of the pond walls . The work was dirty and wet, yet extremely fulfilling. To be apart of such a magnificent movement of Hawaiians getting out and working to to restore pono to our land and sea is truly a humbling opportunity.
If my AmeriCorps opportunity could be summed up into one word it would be this: more. Even after my time as a Corps member ended, I still wanted more. To continue to contribute and partake in the restoration and conservation of our valuable natural resources is still something that I do every chance I get. I have changed my uniform from the weekday adventurer to the weekend volunteer. While it is not a full time occupation for me (yet), at my core, I will always have that drive and need for more volunteerism and positive contribution to my people, the land, the sea, and to the world. Mahalo nui.