A Life-Changing Experience
April 29, 2017
Kerri Inglis, a history professor at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, first came to Kalaupapa National Historical Park on a service trip with the Sierra Club in the summer of 2000. Seventeen years later, she is still returning, this time with history students in her Disease and Medicine in Hawaii class on a service-learning trip. For the students, it is an adventurous history lesson.
“It is an honor to bring students to Kalaupapa,” says Kerri. Descending the steep mountain cliffs by a winding 1,800-foot trail to Kalaupapa, she explains, “We always make it a point to hike into the settlement, as if passing through a portal into an earlier time, preparing ourselves long before our arrival and using oli (chant) to focus our thoughts and intentions while there. The hike can sometimes be arduous, but like a rite of passage, the students arrive with a new appreciation for the opportunity to be there.”
Coming to Kalaupapa allows the students to step out of the archival records and into the place where the history they learned about in the classroom comes alive. Kalaupapa provides a unique opportunity for them to visit a historic community and participate in service-learning experiences. By working with different park divisions, the students learn about the various kinds of career opportunities available in the park service, like cultural resources management, natural resources and historic preservation. At the same time, the experience “encourages the students to mālama the `āina [care for the land] and experience connections to this incredible wahi pana [storied place].” Approximately 96-97 percent of the people exiled to Kalaupapa were Native Hawaiians. It is no surprise that many of Kerri’s students “discover they have ancestral connections to Kalaupapa and the history of leprosy in the islands, deepening their experience even further.”
As a professor, Kerri is inspired by the students. “Every year students tell me how their trip to Kalaupapa has changed their lives, giving them a deeper understanding of community, a renewed respect for mo`olelo (history, stories) and their kūpuna (elders), and new insights into who they are and their kuleana (responsibility) as members of their own community. One student commented, “It couldn’t have been a better week. It was a walking history lesson, but I also feel I was able to connect with the place and community.” Another student wrote, “This is a very humbling trip and [I] recommend [it] to those who are ready to take on this kuleana.” The lessons are endless.”
Speaking of the overall experience, Kerri describes Kalaupapa as “a living classroom that provides multiple layers of experience and knowledge for my students. No matter what we have planned for and experienced together on our trips, it is always amazing, the students always come away with much more, often intangible lessons, and that is beyond rewarding.”
How to Participate
Who can be a volunteer? Anyone can apply to our Volunteers-in-Parks program, either individually or as a group of 12 or less. Individual opportunities are limited and dependent on departmental needs. Our volunteers represent service-oriented groups of students (age 16 or older), church groups, nonprofits, Hawaiian organizations, civic clubs and seniors. Or, you can get your own group together of friends, workmates or family.
What kind of work do volunteers do? The service learning is dependent on the needs of the park at the time. The work could include cleaning historic buildings or helping the museum curator with archival and curatorial work. Much of it is outdoor work — the removal of invasive species, clearing and maintaining sites, such the historic cemeteries, or a birthing stone, heiau (religious site) or holua slide (sled course). Or the experience could include an environmental lesson — a beach clean-up and learning about our recycling program, due to the fact that we no longer have a landfill in this small and remote community. Trash is flown out weekly, and any recyclable plastic, bottles, cans, old appliances and cars are stored until the annual barge arrives each summer. There are also opportunities to work in the native plant nursery — weeding, repotting plants or outplanting native trees on the landscape. By working the land, volunteers make an even deeper connection to Kalaupapa as a special and sacred place.
Sign me up! To apply, visit www.nps.gov/kala/getinvolved/volunteer.htm and download the volunteer application form. Completed applications should be emailed to Volunteers-In-Parks Coordinator Mikiala Pescaia at Mikiala_Pescaia@nps.gov.