By Travis Slagle, Horticulture Therapy Director
To love the land is the oldest and most essential way of life in Hawaii. The people who care deeply for the land know what it means to be “pono” (to have integrity); they respect the ancestors by continuing their work, by planting the seeds, cultivating the “kalo” (taro), and restoring the rock walls that once supported the most sustainable agricultural society in the history of human civilization. For young people and families who come to Pacific Quest seeking personal growth, learning to love the land and learning to love yourself go hand in hand. In fact, the expression “Aloha Aina” implies that the love for the land and the love for life are one and the same. Students at Pacific Quest are immersed in the land, they learn first hand that love takes consistent work, and love requires “kuleana” (responsibility). For those who love the land, these individuals don’t just wait to be given responsibility, they seek out responsibility as an expression of self-worth and gratitude.
The values that sustain the Hawaiian culture and the story of the “aina” provide an important anchor for the PQ experience. Unlike any other outdoor therapeutic program, Pacific Quest students have an opportunity to create a reciprocal relationship with nature by cultivating the food they eat, and learning first-hand the importance of “Malama Pono” (to care deeply). This kind of care goes beyond self-gratification, and contradicts the rugged individualism that permeates western society. Essentially, anyone who seeks to practice “Aloha Aina” learns the simplest and most critical aspect of sustainability, which is to give before taking.
Rather than hiking and surviving in a traditional wilderness program, students at PQ interact in a community that internalizes the concepts of sustainability by applying them to the process of emotional and psychosocial development. This is the cornerstone of the Sustainable Growth™ treatment model, offering young people the skills and unconditional support to express a profound sense of care in a way that not only builds confidence, but also sustains a healthier more purposeful way of life.