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Beyond Perception - Experiences and Reflections from Volunteering in Hawai’i as a Ukrainian

“Idyllic paradise, a place untouched by the modern development, a true haven of tranquility. A community where people embraced a simple way of life, residing in charming huts nestled somewhere on the beach, fishing in crystal-clear waters, celebrating the gifts of the ocean and white sandy beaches. Hawaii is definitely an ideal vacation destination, a blissful haven in America”

This is a very specific image I had of Hawaii when I first set foot here originally coming all the way from Ukraine. Little did I know that my perception was a marketing illusion crafted by the tourism industry all around the world.

What unfolded before me was something far more profound and complex. Hawaii revealed itself as an independent kingdom, whose government was unjustly abolished, and whose native population was deceived into accepting a fate they never desired. This awakening, however, propelled me on a path of discovery, fueling my determination to delve beneath the surface and uncover the true essence of this remarkable place. The land that I once perceived as merely a vacation getaway became a battleground for cultural preservation, a place where ancient wisdom and contemporary fight for sovereignty interconnect. I wanted to discover and understand Hawaiian values, history, and culture that existed long before the waves of tourism crashed upon these shores. As a Ukrainian fighting for my country’s existence and independence from Russia, my journey in Hawai'i unfolded as a profound parallel. Witnessing Hawai'i's struggle for sovereignty, I found the interconnectedness of our experiences. Through this shared path of resilience, I discovered that our stories intertwine, offering a renewed perspective on the strength and endurance of our nations during times of turmoil.

Ukrainian community in Hawaii protesting against the war in Ukraine, Russia is a terrorist state, war protests in Hawaii in front of the state capitol

Join me on a transformative journey through the Haumana blog series, where I unveil the inspiring moments and profound personal transformations that unfolded as I embraced a sense of purpose that extended far beyond my own aspirations through volunteering. I will explore how through these experiences, I gained a profound understanding of the injustices suffered by the resilient Hawaiian people, their ongoing battle for sovereignty, and the striking parallels it holds with my own struggle as a Ukrainian, fighting for the freedom and peaceful existence of my country in today's world.

All of the ike I gained in the last 5 years of living here will be combined in three different pillars:

Ho'okele ‘Āina Ho’okele Wai Loko i’a

aerial view of Oahu island at sunset, Diamond Head Volcano with Waikiki beach aerial view at sunset

Ho'okele ‘Āina (the sacred art of navigating the land) has fueled my passion for stewardship and sustainability here on O’ahu. Every day I witness the tireless efforts of local activists and organizations striving to preserve the unique ecosystems and cultural heritage of the islands. Witnessing the ongoing fight of Hawaiians for their sovereignty and justice, I cannot help but draw a parallel to my own journey of seeking independence for Ukraine from the Russian invasion and all of the environmental, infrastructure and humanitarian damage that it brought to my country. Through this shared struggle, I have come to understand the profound importance of defending our nation's sovereignty for the people and preservation of our cultural identity. I stand alongside my fellow Ukrainians, fighting tirelessly to reclaim our autonomy and safeguard the rich tapestry of our heritage and culture, just like Hawaiians have been doing for hundreds of years.

Ho’okele Wai (the practice of caring for water) has deepened my understanding of the vital role that water plays in all aspects of life, both in Hawaii and the world. In the last couple of years, I have actively engaged in initiatives to combat plastic pollution and reduce single-use waste that plagues the beautiful shores of these islands. With each piece of plastic or marine debris I collect, I am reminded of the urgent need to protect our waterways, not only for the sake of the local communities but also as a global responsibility. My Ukrainian perspective adds a unique layer of depth to this endeavor. Having recently experienced the destructive impact of floods caused by Russia, I comprehend the significance of water as a source of life and the devastating consequences when it is weaponized against a nation. By channeling the spirit of this practice, I am committed to raising awareness, advocating for change, and instilling a sense of responsibility in others to join the fight against plastic pollution and preserve our precious water resources.

Polynesian outrigger canoe female team is competing in the OHCRA regatta, Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association competition

My journey in Hawai'i has also led me to the ancient fishponds of Loko i’a that served as vital sources of food in ancient Hawaii, symbolizing the deep connection between the Hawaiian people and their natural surroundings. By working alongside local fishpond restoration projects, I learned that Hawaii has become increasingly reliant on food and fish imports, leading to a concerning imbalance in local food sources. Statistics reveal that approximately 90% of food consumed in Hawaii is imported, including a significant portion of fish products. This heavy reliance on imports not only poses potential risks to food security but also undermines the preservation of traditional practices such as Loko I'a. Recognizing the importance of restoring and strengthening local food systems has become a pressing priority to safeguard Hawaii's cultural heritage and promote sustainable, self-sufficient communities.

My destiny had a different plan in store when I arrived to Oahu without any prior intentions back in 2019. Little did I know that this seemingly unplanned visit would unfold into a remarkable five-year journey of self-discovery on this sacred land. I was welcomed to delve into the heart and soul of the Hawaiian land and witnessing the spirit, resilience, and wisdom of the Hawaiian people. I have come to realize that Hawaii is not just a vacation paradise but a battleground for cultural preservation and the fight for sovereignty. I want to share my story by taking you on a journey of Haumana and its blog series of Ho'okele ‘Āina, Ho’okele Wai and Loko i’a.

E komo mai!



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