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KS Maui senior and alakaʻi Keakealani Cashman talks story with music kumu Kawika Boro. Cashman is part of KSM's Nā Wāhine ʻAhumanu leadership program.

From Giving to Growing: A KS Maui senior's evolution into an ʻōiwi leader

Oct. 30, 2023

Keakealani Cashman doesn’t only learn by doing, she learns by serving.

The Kamehameha Schools Maui senior has a packed schedule. In addition to her studies and preparations for college, there’s varsity tennis, hula, and activities at school and church. But she always makes time to give back, including through an innovative Kamehameha Schools leadership program.

It’s called Nā Wāhine ʻAhumanu and it was established at Kamehameha Schools Maui in 2021 by campus leaders to mentor, inspire and challenge the next generation of ʻōiwi wāhine leaders. Future wāhine leaders like Cashman say the program has helped her see the power of positive action.

Cashman explains that Nā Wāhine ʻAhumanu means the women who wear the cloak of ʻAhumanu—underscoring participants’ roles as student leaders and their duty to seek out ways to better the campus and community. “As we carry the cloak of Kaʻahumanu, we not only try to improve our lāhui, but work on different important skills that will help us become better leaders for our lāhui,” Cashman says.

Cashman entered Kamehameha Schools Maui in sixth grade and admits everything seemed a little daunting at first. But then she started to get involved, and that participation—making connections with her peers and mentors—helped her feel right at home almost immediately.

“I found my place here at KS Maui very quickly,” she says.

She also found a purpose—with service.

In one pivotal moment, she remembers attending the Wahine Forum in Honolulu as a freshman with other students. The annual conference showcases wāhine leaders and seeks to empower young women to see themselves as leaders, too. Once home, Cashman and her friends reflected on the importance of developing leadership skills and jumped at the chance to work with mentors to launch Nā Wahine ʻAhumanu, designed to create a dedicated program and space to help young leaders thrive.

One example of that work came in 2022 with Nā Wāhine ʻAhumanu’s Poi for the Pēpē, a hui under Kamehameha Schools’ Poi for the People that seeks to provide freshly prepared bags of poi to children.

Cashman explains that in 2022, the leadership group chose aloha ʻāina as its theme and wanted to pursue projects that would celebrate sustainability while also improving community members’ lives.

“We chose Poi for the Pēpē because we wanted to learn how to prepare kalo, which was a staple food of our kūpuna,” Cashman says. “We also noticed it is not common for families to have poi in their homes. We wanted to prepare poi for a younger generation to take home to their families.”

So, the wāhine leaders took to the commercial kitchen at their Maui campus and got to work, peeling kalo, slicing and dicing it, using machinery to pound it, and provisioning it into one-pound bags. Not too much later, the hui’s participants got the chance to distribute the poi right into preschoolers’ hands.

For Cashman, the smiles said it all.

“I was so grateful for the opportunity to serve and am so grateful Nā Wāhine ʻAhumanu,” she says. “There, I know my voice is heard and I feel the support of the people around me. We can celebrate our successes and the good things about the community and work with other wāhine leaders to better our community and our lāhui. My confidence in my skills grew tremendously in this program.”

Reflecting on the program, Cashman says it allowed her to discover so much about herself, including how much she can contribute and the great things that can happen when people work together.

As Cashman prepares for her final year at Kamehameha Schools Maui, she’s sad to be closing one chapter even as she’s excited about starting a new one. “I’ve made lifelong friendships here, not only with those I go to school with but also with people from other parts of the world because I was able to travel and interact with people from other cultures as part of my educational journey,” she said.

At Kamehameha Schools, she says, she was given the tools to improve her skills and the freedom to pursue her academic passions. “I got to participate in so many things that I really love to do. All those activities and experiences not only sharpened my skills, they also gave me self-confidence,” she says.

Cashman says Kamehameha Schools helps students become leaders.

“Here we gain the skills and tools,” she adds, “to become the next generation that our lāhui needs.”

Editor’s note: Weeks after interviewing Keakealani Cashman for this story, we learned her ʻohana home was lost in the Aug. 8 Lahaina wildfires. Her entire ʻohana was able to escape unharmed. Cashman has expressed sincere gratitude to the lāhui and the KS ʻohana for their support through donations and pule. She says the outpouring of support has made a huge difference.

Keakalani Cashman with Nā Wāhine ‘Ahumanu while attending the 2023 NAIS Student Diversity Leadership Conference in Austin Texas. Bottom row from left: Keakealani Cashman KSM’24, Isabella Ayau KSM’23, Aloha Paredes KSM’23, Journey Hett KSM’25, and Kyani Bateman KSM’23. Top row from left: Poʻo Kula Dr. Scott Parker, Hope Poʻo Kula Kelly Dukelow, Head of Summer and Extended Learning Jay-R Kaawa, Seniro Design Specialist Henohea Kāne and Mauliola Gonsalves KSM’16.

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