As part of BYU–Hawaii’s Ho’omana Day, students divided into their respective clubs and took part in service projects around the North Shore. An event held once a semester, and organized by the Service Center, Ho’omana Day allowed a group of students to be caretakers for the land that gives them life and enjoyment.
Among the locations that benefited from the Ho’omana day of service were the botanical gardens of Waimea Valley, home to 1,875 acres of protected land, according to their website. When entering the valley, the students, clad in their bright red Service Center vests, performed the “Hiki Mai” chant, as a way of honoring the land.
Ian, one of the workers at Waimea, commented on how entering the valley without a chant “was like busting down the front door. Chants are done out of respect, but they’re also a way to pass down knowledge between the generations.”
After performing the chant, the student volunteers were instructed by Melani Spielman, a volunteer coordinator at Waimea Valley. Under the humid warmth of the morning’s sun, Spielman told volunteers, “Even with just the 300 acres leading up the road to the waterfall, we only have seven botanical staff, so groups like yours are absolutely essential to what we do here.
“You are able to connect with the land in a deeper way. While you work here today, we want you to learn something about the land.”
Armed with gloves, rakes and gleaming garden shears, the students set off to work along the paved road leading to the falls. They also removed weeds and other invasive species from the rare native Hawaiian flora.
While the volunteers reached their hands into the earth, Samuel Ching, a junior from Hong Kong majoring in painting, remarked, “Ho’omana Day gives us the opportunity to have a unique cultural experience. The ancients took care of the land and treated it with respect, as they would their family.
“We study here,” Ching continued, “So it is our responsibility to take care of our land, which is our new home after moving here to college.”
Tita Mongan, a senior from Indonesia majoring in communications, concurred, “Ho’omana Day is our opportunity to give and is more than just service. I really like how (Spielman) pointed out when we do service for the land, it is more than service. It is my way to show gratitude as I live here and go to school in this area.
“As a foreign student, for me to live in someone else’s land and be able to enjoy and use their land, it is a very special privilege. I feel this day is the time to give back. I’m not just here for granted. To students, I would suggest they come join at the next Ho’omana Day, and learn the different ways to serve.”
One by one, weeds were torn out of the moist, fertile soil creating piles of severed green stems on the sides of the road. Beams of warm light filtered through the overarching branches of the trees lining the path, offering shade to the working students who were bending over to rid the area of invasive plants.
Sweating from the exertion, Sam Tobon, a senior from Colombia majoring in business management, added, “Ho’omana Day means coming together as a university and doing service for the thing which gives us life. I’ve been here for 2 years, so I’ve had the opportunity several times to do these service projects. It gets me out of Laie, and into the larger world.
“As far as taking care of the land, it’s so important for a BYUH student to learn the principle. We need to respect the land. The ancient Hawaiians would have respected it. It’s also Heavenly Father’s creation, so why not take the effort to respect it?”
Tobon added, “When we did the chant, it started to rain, and the instructor said when you respect the land, it answers back. And that rain during our chant was a sign of the land, and nature returning our greeting.”
As the work wore on, and the students, still sweating from the heat and exhaustion, moved down the road, Spielman added how students attending BYUH, and anyone who called the area their home should respect the land because “it’s the only reason why any of us are here.
“We all need the land to survive, and this place is particularly special, because in Hawaii, the connection with the land is so deep, and it’s such an important part of the culture. It’s a pretty important thing for a culture to recognize what they have and what’s precious to them.”
Spielman elaborated how anyone who lived anywhere and used the place’s natural resources owed their life in part to the land. “You have an effect on that land, and to feel you are disconnected from it is pretty closed-minded. If you’re coming to a place to learn, part of that is being open to learning how the place can affect you. To become a better citizen of the world, you can learn more about how to take care of where you live.”
After about 1 hour and 40 minutes of working, the students had collected piles of weeds and other invasive plant species. With smiles on their sweaty faces, they thanked Spielman and the Waimea staff for the opportunity to serve in the valley.
Alyssa Allen, a member of the Service Center, said the community surrounding BYUH gave the school so much service and love, and it was only fitting the students give back a little. Allen, a senior from Colorado majoring in math, said, “These types of projects bring the school and community together, and there’s really no other project than service that can bring the two together.”
She then gestured towards a female student who was sharing information about BYUH and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with a man in a bushy white beard, red tank top, and a hat with “Santa Claus” emblazoned across the front. “It’s a great missionary opportunity as well,” Allen continued, “And we plan these projects for several months before they even happen, but the community is so welcoming, we always have a chance to help out.”