Culture, climate change converge at KS Kapālama during UN Ambassador visit

Nov. 13, 2023

Kamehameha Schools Kapālama recently hosted a meeting on the global climate crisis that included a highly esteemed guest, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Thomas-Greenfield listened intently and shared manaʻo on Nov. 7 during the inaugural meeting of the Hawaiʻi SDG (Sustainability Development Goals) Youth Council.

The SDG hui is comprised of 11 KS Kapālama freshmen and is meant to provide the U.S. Ambassador with youth-focused ideas and actions to respond to the global climate crisis. As the first of its kind in the nation, input from youth inheriting this crisis wasn’t a priority until now. These haumāna discovered their passion for kaiāulu through the Kaʻāmauloa Pathway, a kula waena program that teaches sustainability and land stewardship. Through ʻāina-based learning, they also learned diplomacy techniques to fuel their civic-minded leadership.

Earlier this year, the council traveled to the United Nations headquarters in New York for a summit on the UN SDGs. During a panel discussion, the haumāna emphasized the importance of finding solutions rooted in ‘ike kupuna and ‘aloha ‘āina. Their goal is to create partnerships with Indigenous leaders and communities to create actionable fixes to global issues.

At their kick-off meeting at Kapālama, notable attendees included Hawaiʻi Governor Josh Green, senior US government staff, Kamehameha Schools leaders and executives from Hawaiʻi Green Growth.

The agenda included remarks from distinguished guests as well as a closed meeting for the council to discuss their experiences thus far. The gathering commenced with opening protocol by Ikaika Bantolina and welcoming words from Kula Gaughen-Haili, poʻo kula of KS Kapālama Kula Waena.

“Hawai’i is bringing to the world a culture of sustainability and systems thinking that could be a model for others to implement the SDGs in their own communities, so that the world can change for the better,” Gaughen-Haili said.

Dr. Taran Chun, KS Kapālama’s poʻo kula, highlighted the significance of holding such a momentous meeting in Hale Mana.

“It reminds us that there is a lot of strength and mana in ancestral wisdom and practices,” Chun said, “Hawaiʻi is one of the most isolated parts of the entire Honua and yet for thousands and thousands of years, our people have learned how to not just survive, but thrive.”

Gov. Josh Green thanked the Ambassador for her visit and announced the state’s second Voluntary Local Review, a progress report by sub-governments on their accomplishment of the SDGs. The first one was published with a foreword written in English and ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi by the youth council.

“We're grateful to know that leadership from across the globe takes the time to listen to us here,” Gov. Green said.

Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield stressed the importance of youth engagement and applauded the highschoolers for their enthusiasm. Their panel in New York showed her the urgency young people have in addressing world issues like climate change, poverty and gender equality.

“You are not our future. You are our present,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “You are doing what you need to do now, not later.”

The hui settled into an almost-hour long discussion around the inequities they observe in their community, particularly focusing on disparities in educational opportunities. Comparing their own experiences at a private school to those of their peers in public school, they proposed conducting community surveys for teachers and students to candidly share their needs. The council also suggested creating a dashboard of resources and one member even recommended bringing their courses like the Kaʻāmauloa Pathway to other institutions.

“The opportunities that we have now should not be kept in Kamehameha,” Kinohi Souki KSK’27 urged. “They should be in places like Campbell and Kaimuki because that's where a lot of these bright minds are overlooked.”

Camryn Alomar shares her manaʻo at the Hawaii SDG Youth Council's inaugural meeting.

Since the September summit, Camryn Alomar KSK’27 felt her confidence grow. At first, she was nervous to be around all these nation leaders and hesitated to speak up in a room full of adults. But upon their return, she has gotten more comfortable in speaking up about her values and viewpoints as a kānaka ʻōiwi.

“I am so much more confident in being Hawaiian and knowing that we do have a unique perspective that we can share with others,” Alomar said.

After listening to all their insights, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield recognized and praised Alomar for reminding her of the powerful role Hawaiʻi can play in implementing change as a model for sustainability.

“You reminded me that just because you’re an island does not mean you're fragile,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “You completely switched my thinking on that and as I go to other Pacific countries, that’s the approach I will take to them.”

The haumāna were empowered by the delegate’s visit. They saw firsthand the importance of collaboration and how their beliefs can be broadened to a global scale. Everyone left the meeting feeling motivated to take action, an ideal way to begin their tenure. Alomar noted that it is experiences like this that keep her motivated to achieve the SDGs in Hawaiʻi.

“I've grown so much through participating and sharing my ideas and actions that I'd want to take on the council,” Alomar said. “I feel like that’s something I wouldn't have had if I hadn't gotten this great education and opportunities.”