(Ewa Beach, HI) – Students at Keon’eula Elementary School in Ewa Beach were greeted on the first day of school with the picturesque sight of a native Hawaiian garden, thanks to the more than 50 volunteers from Hawaiian Electric Company, students and teachers from the school, and Ewa community members who spent a Saturday morning working together to create the inspired outdoor learning space.
“When school officials told us about their vision for this garden as a place where students can learn about native Hawaiian plants and agricultural practices, we knew this was a project that mirrored our own commitment to environmental stewardship,” said Kathleen Freitas, an administrator in Hawaiian Electric’s Education & Consumer Affairs Division, which organized the workday. “We called on our ‘people power’ – volunteers within the company – and sought our community partners including Hui Ku Maoli Ola, Haseko Hawaii and Leeward Community College, to help with the resources and expertise.”
Armed with a garden design created by the native plant nursery Hui Ku Maoli Ola, volunteers gathered under overcast skies and occasional splashes of cooling rain to haul gravel and soil, spread mulch and weed mat, and dig their shovels and hands into the rich soil to plant rows of taro and sweet potato, and more than 20 different native flora donated by Hawaiian Electric.
In one corner, coastal plants such as Naupaka and Ewa hinahina will grow, while across the walkway, another garden plot is now home to lowland plants including Naio and Ilima. In the center plot, plants known for their medicinal properties such as Ko, Awa, Ki, Ko’o Ko’o lau and Olena, will teach students about the traditional medicines of the early Hawaiians. Endangered plants, such as Na’u and Oha’i will one day thrive, while another plot will bloom with the bright colors of the Ohia, Alahe’e, Maia Pilo and Hibiscus. The once barren land has been turned into a lush garden aptly named “Ka Uluwehi o Ka Na’auao” or a place “where beautiful plants thrive.”
Ewa Beach resident Gilbert Coloma, an apprentice control mechanic with the traveling crew at Hawaiian Electric’s Honolulu Power Plant, volunteered for the garden planting along with his two daughters Isabel and Sophia, who both attend Keone’ula Elementary. “The workday has special meaning for us because we live in the community and it’s our way to give back,” he said.
“I was just so impressed by the willingness of the Hawaiian Electric employees and their families, and all the volunteers to work hard and make our dream garden a reality,” said Alexandra Obra, vice principal of Keone’ula Elementary. “I still can’t believe it’s completed, and we’ve already received so many positive comments about the garden!”