Kanoe Ho and Luci Higa in front of the new Honda CR-V presented to Ho from the Ryan Higa Foundation.
Kamehameha Schools seeks to develop leaders who act locally and globally to make a difference in their communities. Graduates like Kanoe Ho, exemplify that vision, leading with the values that were ingrained in her as a student.
The Ryan Higa Foundation had chosen Kanoe Ho as the first recipient of the foundation’s “Best Day Ever” award. A 2009 graduate of Kamehameha Schools Hawaiʻi, Ho had spent the past two years serving as a volunteer in the Peace Corps.
In making the announcement, the foundation wanted to surprise Ho with the award, and a brand new car, at a presentation she was giving to current KSH students about her experiences beyond graduation, embracing the value of kahiau (giving without expecting anything in return), which was the theme for the presentation.
KS Hawaiʻi High School poʻo kumu Dr. Lehua Veincent welcomed an audience of students and kumu who had decided to spend their lunch break listening to Ho’s story. Also among the audience were some of Ho’s family members and friends. Veincent mentioned how much of an auspicious honor it is to have alumni return to campus to connect back to students, a reminder to alums that they always have a home to come back to at KS Hawaiʻi. After sharing a little about Ho’s journey, he turned it over to her to share more about the impact KS had had on her and what she’s done and plans to do in the future.
Ho shared how it wasn’t till after she had left KS Hawai‘i that she realized how the values being taught to her were something unique and that not everyone had.
"I realize that my time here did make an impact on me and taught me a lot of things that I've taken with me throughout the years," Ho shared with the audience.
She talked about the emphasis on Hawaiian culture and values and how that helped her develop the strong roots and foundation that allowed her to grow into the world.
“You learn so much about who you are and our traditions and our ancestors and you develop this identity that you can take with you everywhere you go,” said Ho.
“To have an identity, a true identity, that is rooted and knowing you can come back here, it really makes a difference.”
She talked about a respect for diversity and different languages that were developed over her time at KS. She underscored the values--aloha, ʻimi naʻauao, mālama--that were ingrained in her that really had an impact on what she wanted to do with Peace Corps and beyond.
“I really do take these values into all of the things that I do,” said Ho. “I wanted to take the compassion and the love I learned about here and take care of other people that really need it.”
She also reflected on KS’ emphasis on service learning for inspiring her and developing her passion for community service.
After graduating from Gonzaga University in 2013, Ho made the decision to join the Peace Corps, accepting an assignment in Africa. Ho gave an overview of the Peace Corps, what was expected of her as a volunteer and how she was able to serve. She talked about her experiences over the 27 month-long service project she was assigned to in Tanzania. She shared the challenges of the language barrier for students in Tanzania and how transitioning from primary to secondary school can be difficult for them having to learn English and the subject material at the same time.
She worked in the healthcare area and saw firsthand how health effects are compounded by the lack of clean water. She talked about projects to try and educate of the negative impacts of sugary beverages that the locals consume primarily because they know it’s clean water. She helped to address issues around malaria and talked about HIV/AIDS and girl’s empowerment and how they can avoid contracting the disease.
Over her time she was able to write a grant for a community kitchen and water intake tank. She also described her work to help develop an economic sector through agriculture, cultivating honey and avocados.
She talked about living in the village she was assigned and the many different experiences that forced her out of a comfort zone and where she needed to adapt to the conditions.
She talked about the importance of support and that perseverance you need to keep going when times get hard. She shared an experience where after a tragic bus incident injured her and took the life of one of her friends, it would have been easy to give up and come back home. But the support of her family and their encouragement kept her going.
She answered questions from students about the experience, hoping to inspire one to reach out of their own comfort zones to travel abroad and experience something new as well.
After her presentation, Veincent thanked Ho and introduced some special guests in the audience. Luci Higa, Ryan's mom, talked about the Ryan Higa Foundation and what they hope to accomplish in recognizing the good works of individuals in the community.
Waiting on a strategically placed screen, connected via Skype, was Ryan Higa, the Hilo-born YouTube sensation who’s comedic videos have earned him billions of views.
Higa admitted that he and his mom had been following Ho’s story for a while. After learning about Ho's efforts over the past two years, he decided she'd be the perfect first recipient from the Ryan Higa Foundation.
“I've always wanted to do something positive and give back once I was able to do so and there are so many great causes in the world, I couldn't figure out what I wanted to do,” shared Higa. “After donating money to charities, it didn't feel personal, I didn't feel like it was doing anything, I couldn't see where the monies were going.”
“When I was realistic about it. This foundation, I knew, wasn't going to be gigantic. It wasn't going to to have the funds to change thousands of lives. So rather than try and help a thousand people a little bit, I thought it'd be a lot more effective to help out and target individuals who were doing good things. Not just because they deserve it, but to help expose what that person was doing. To hopefully inspire other people.
“That's what this Foundation is all about. Celebrating people who do good, positive things in the world without expecting anything in return.”
Higa then asked Ho about her future, to which she mentioned how she was planning on moving to Atlanta the following week to get acclimated with the area, find a job and get settled. With plans to make the move already set, Ho just planned on making due while in Atlanta utilizing public transportation wherever she could.
Recognizing a need and planning it out with Ho’s mom Brenda to find out exactly which car and color she wanted, Higa was able to make arrangements and get her the car where she could drive it before it was shipped over to Atlanta. Big Island Honda delivered the brand new Honda CR-V to the campus, parked right outside where Ho was giving her presentation.
The surprise worked. Ho thought she was just coming to talk to a few students and do a short 15 minute presentation, and was completely surprised and overwhelmed by the moment.
“I want to say how grateful I am, this will make a huge difference,” said Ho to Higa in a video message.
In Atlanta, Ho is currently applying to graduate school with hopes of attending Emory University with a concentration in Global Public Health. She also plans to get a certificate in maternal and child health. She hopes to work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or CARE, a Leading Humanitarian Organization Fighting Global Poverty.
Ho credits one of her former teachers, Laura Tavares, for helping her with getting into Gonzaga and continuing to support her, editing her graduate school admissions essay.
Through the path she has chosen and the way she’s walked it, she’s making her family, many others in the KSH ʻohana and people throughout her community proud.
Ho has demonstrated how she is a very worthy recipient of this “best day ever.”
You learn so much about who you are and our traditions and our ancestors and you develop this identity that you can take with you everywhere you go.
Kanoe Ho, KS Hawaiʻi 2009 alum on the impact KS Hawaiʻi's focus on Hawaiian culture had on her.