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Partners Gather, Celebrate Progress of Kaʻū Dream Project

October 28, 2021, 7:44 AM HST
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Partners involved in the community revitalization known as Kaʻū Dream gathered for the first time this week to celebrate their progress in making this project a reality.

Kaʻū Dream is a community resiliency model – developed by and for the community – that aims to build a vibrant, thriving and sustainable Kaʻū through education and economic development, officials stated. On Tuesday, Oct. 26, students, teachers, community volunteers, business leaders, lawmakers and global partners involved in the project got a first-hand look at the progress of pilot programs, which include the creation of a school farm at Kaʻū High & Pahala Elementary School.

Principal Sharon Beck said 10 months ago, the area where the school farm now sits was just overgrown grass.

“Itʻs been amazing to see it transform into a functional, educational farm with the help of the Ka’ū Dream project,” Beck said.

First Lady Dawn Amano Ige, who is the chair of the Kaʻū Dream Advisory Board, was among the several partners who gathered this week.

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“Kaʻū is a strong community, and through this program, community members are further strengthening its economy, transforming its local assets, and improving the quality of life for its residents in a sustainable, long-term way,” Ige. “The community is creating an exciting and hopeful path forward, one that is inspiring the entire state of Hawaiʻi.”

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The first steps toward revitalizing Kaʻū happened over a year ago when Duane Kurisu, chairman of Hawaiʻi Executive Collaborative (HEC), met with teachers at Kaʻū High and asked what they would need to build a more resilient community.

That was the beginning of Phase I. From those discussions, the school farm was born.

Photo credit: Hawaii Executive Collaborative

Ultimately, officials say the program aims to nurture a culture of socially responsible entrepreneurism, serving not only Kaʻū, but also the rest of Hawaiʻi and Asia Pacific. This community-led initiative will be a model for revitalization of rural communities nationwide.

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“We have already started connecting Kaʻū students with global organizations, including MyFarm Japan which is reviving abandoned farmland and developing future ag-tech entrepreneurs,” Kurisu said. “When we met with students, teachers and community leaders in Kaʻū, they shared with us a bold vision. Together, I believe we can make their dream a reality and, in turn, inspire other communities to use this as a model for their own community revitalization plans.”

The initiative will consist of four phases:

  • Phase I is creating accessible learning and education spaces for the entire community, such as enabling high school students and adults the opportunity to earn credits towards an associate degree from Hawaiʻi Community College.
  • Phase II is creating opportunities and infrastructure that will keep young talent in Kaʻū by working with businesses to create broader economic opportunities and integrating arts and music into the community.
  • Phase III is developing global agriculture partnerships to create jobs and investment in the local workforce.
  • Phase IV will focus on building the infrastructure necessary for a resilient community, such as reliable high-speed internet service.

Phases I, II, and III are already being implemented concurrently while plans for Phase IV are in development.

“There’s been a lot of momentum (even though the pandemic) and we’re excited to see the progress with each of the phases,” officials stated.

The Kaʻū Dream project is driven by people who live in the area.

“Too often, Kaʻū has seen well-intentioned outsiders trying to help, but the efforts have fallen short,” said ʻĀina Akamu, teacher and community leader who is working to transform Kaʻū High & Pahala Elementary School into an educational hub for the entire community. “We are excited to have partners who listen to what we want for our community are and are willing to provide assistance to get us there.”

The initiative has already attracted partners including aio Foundation, Strada Education Network, Freeman Foundation, MyFarm Japan, Claremont McKenna’s Global Learning Lab, InterGlobe India, Hawaiʻi Community College, County of Hawaiʻi, KTA Superstores, ACE Hardware and a number of small businesses in the region.

“They have come together with community leaders to launch an effort they hope will improve educational outcomes, spur economic development, strengthen community engagement, and serve as a model for building resilient learning communities in other areas,” officials stated.

The Kaʻū District is one of the most remote areas in the state with a median household income 43% lower than that of the rest of the state. While economic challenges in Kaʻū are great, officials say the community is rich in natural resources, dedicated people and a deep sense of responsibility to take care of one another.

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