Kamehameha Schools Maui kindergarten kumu Cathy Honda KSK ’82 receives a handmade lei from fourth-grade haumāna Buddy Nobriga during morning piko on the Māhele Lalo campus.
Kamehameha Schools Maui kindergarten kumu Cathy Honda KSK’82 has spent 26 years welcoming haumāna back to school and in her classroom with hugs and aloha.
On Monday (Sept. 25), it was her haumāna along with the entire māhele lalo campus who welcomed kumu Honda back to school with hugs and aloha, as well as handmade lei from every class. The longtime educator returned to campus after her family lost their West Maui home in the wildfires.
“It feels like I’m back at graduation,” she said as she knelt to receive lei from each class during morning piko.
While kumu Honda enjoyed seeing her haumāna and fellow teachers on campus for the first time in nearly two months, it has been a difficult and emotional journey for her family. She had only spent one day with her students before school was closed due to the wildfires.
“We only live four miles away from where the fire first started, but we didn’t have electricity, so we had no idea how bad things were,” she said.
Honda, her husband, Vance, and son, Bailey, evacuated from their home around 9 p.m. the night of the Aug. 8 wildfires. She said she had just gone to the bedroom to sleep when police drove through the neighborhood alerting them to evacuate.
“You could see the red glow getting closer,” she said. “We’re still thinking in our mind that we’ll get some things, and we’ll be fine and come back. We had no idea it was that close.”
Honda’s ʻohana were only able to take some clothes, a box of important papers and her school bag, when they fled to the Lahaina Civic Center. She said her daughter, Holly Honda KSM ’18, could not reach her until the next morning and helped direct the family to food distribution hubs and resource centers.
With minimal cell reception and communication, the Honda ‘ohana still held hope that their home was standing. The family walked their neighborhood a couple days later with the National Guard but left heartbroken.
The Honda ‘ohana return to their West Maui home following the Aug. 8 wildfires.
“Two days after the fire is when we went there and realized it was gone,” Honda said. “It’s the only house that our three kids know. Of course, you always think about what you should have grabbed at a moment’s notice. My youngest daughter (Mandy Honda KSM ’21) is on the mainland serving a church mission and we didn’t grab any of her things. Her school laptop and cell phone are also gone.”
As kumu Honda looked for resources and housing, which they received from her husband’s boss in Kā‘anapali, KS Maui faculty and staff collected donations and supplies. Within a week, kumu Edwin Otani packed up his SUV with donations and hauled it across a convoy into West Maui.
“I’ve known her for over 25 years,” Otani said. “The first challenge was that Cathy is such a nice person and more concerned about others. I didn’t realize she didn’t have any clothes, so I asked her what size shoes do you wear? I joked and told her you might as well get the right one instead of making us guess. Eventually, she was good about it, but it was hard for her to accept help.”
Kumu Edwin Otani (right) delivers clothes and supplies donated by KS Maui teachers and families to kumu Honda and her husband, Vance, a week after the Aug. 8 wildfires.
Honda said she was surprised to see Otani’s car full from top to bottom with donations.
“We had everything,” she said. “If we moved to an empty house, we would’ve had everything we needed. We want to express our heartfelt appreciation for all of the love, generous support and prayers from everyone. We have been deeply touched by the kindness shown to our family.”
Kumu Kapika Sanchez KSK ’99, who serves as an educational assistant for kindergarten and has supported Honda for the past decade, said the entire campus worried about their beloved kumu who started teaching at the school when it first opened in 1996. Kumu Kapika said the teachers even left “her” parking stall open while she was out.
“It was hard for a bit because we didn’t know how she was doing and she’s been a part of our ‘ohana for so long,” Kapika said. “The kids are really good and we prayed for her every day before we go to lunch. We’re really glad to have her back and we’re here for her for anything she needs.”
The loss of a family home was familiar to kumu Ku‘uleialoha Alcomindras-Palakiko KSK ‘94. Ku‘ulei lost her Kaua‘ula Valley home in the 2018 wildfires and her mother Feablei Sequeira Alcomindras KSK ʻ65 and sister Koleka Alcomindras lost their childhood home in the August fires.
From right: kumu Ku‘uleialoha Alcomindras-Palakiko KSK ‘94 is housing her mother Feablei Sequeira Alcomindras KSK ʻ65 and sister Koleka Alcomindras, who lost their childhood home in the Aug. 8 wildfires.
“I’m reliving all of it,” she said. “The hurt, the anguish, the confusion. The questions of ‘Why me and why us?’ But it’s just at a deeper level because everyone is dealing with it.”
Like Honda, kumu Ku‘ulei recalled police alerting her family during the 2018 fires to evacuate their home as the flames approached their property. She and her three young children, including a newborn, fled their home while her husband stayed to try and fight the fire. Their home would eventually be destroyed along with all their belongings.
“I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy, but then it happens to my entire community?” she said. “When we were affected, we had a community to help us. Our friends had homes where we could stay, but now where does the community go when you cannot go to aunty or uncle to sleep over at their house?”
Kumu Ku‘ulei said her mother and sister are staying with her family for the time being. She said she has seven immediate families and four or five cousins’ families that have been displaced and are living in various places across the island.
Ku‘ulei recognized her fellow kumu and Kamehameha Schools for supporting her 'ohana as well as many others impacted by the wildfires. She said the school serves as a safe space and an extension of her own family, adding that there is a deep connection for those from West Maui.
“Lahaina roots run deep,” she said. “When we see each other, we have our hug time because we all used to be together. Here at the school, we don’t need to say anything...We just have a different connection now and I can say that I know what you feel and are going through.”
When asked about how she plans to move forward with this school year, Ku‘ulei referenced the school’s vision and identity: ku‘upau.
“If there’s ever a time to exhibit ku‘upau, it is now,” she said. “Despite losing my house five years ago, despite my mom and sister losing their house and all of my friends and family losing their homes, I have to model that to my students. It’s like we always say, it’s a lāhui thing.”
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