By McLean Eames, Experiential Education Supervisor
Recently, a group of the young adult students traveled 60 miles South, over the Kilauea volcano, to the district of Ka’u to join the community and help with a big service project at Punalu’u Beach.
Punalu’u means “diving spring” in Hawaiian, and the place gets its name from the large amount of fresh water that comes out of the mountains and flows out of springs above and below sea level. The beach is well known for its black sand (the result of lava flowing directly into the ocean), and the large number of Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles or “Honu” that gather there. The local legends say that Punalu’u is a safe place for keiki (children) to swim because a magical little girl–Kauwila, who can take the shape of a honu–protects the keiki that swim there, and rescues them if they are in need.
On several occasions throughout the year, the community organization O Ka’u Kakou (OKK) “We are Ka’u”, organize a clearing of the trash and invasive water lilies that take over the pond ecosystem. After the group registered they jumped right into the pond and started working! The group had a fun surprise when they saw the adolescent students from Pacific Quest show up! There were lots of familiar faces and many staff volunteered their time, including the off shift Supervisors and Executive Director Mike McKinney and his family who were up to their waists in water lilies!
After clearing out almost all of the lilies from the pond (the OKK members said the group set an all-time record!), students stopped work for the day, and were invited to join in the community lunch. The students had their choice of hot dogs, chili, rice, and fresh fruit. The group rested on the beach before a couple of students decided to take a quick dip in the ocean to wash some of the pond muck off. Folks were spotting more honu swimming nearby and the students noticed that the water was a bit colder here because of the fresh water coming out of the springs.
After swimming, the group decided to take a short hike south along the coast. Along the way, students saw salt cracks where ocean spray had sat and evaporated many times, leaving a depression in the rock full of natural sea salt! Everyone stopped under a tree to view an ancient petroglyph–a “konane” board carved directly into the rock. The group imagined what it would have been like hundreds of years ago to be sitting under that very tree playing a game of konane (an ancient Hawaiian game much like Chinese checkers).
The final destinations on the hike were two “Heiaus” (ancient sacred sites) situated on top of a hill overlooking the bay. Once there, the group shared their thoughts on spirituality, and the importance of honoring your own beliefs as well as the beliefs of others. The students also learned about how these sacred places are still honored by the fisherman and other members of the community to this day.
After a full day at Punalu’u, the group drove back to Reeds Bay–exhausted but fulfilled at having been able to help out so much. Some of the students were overheard saying that this was their favorite outing yet, and it was because they had the chance to volunteer as part of their local community.