By Nate Gyotoku, President and Executive Director

The JCCH is privileged to partner with the U.S.-Japan Council's (USJC) TOMODACHI Initiative program and Odyssey Nature Japan for a new program called the TOMODACHI Kibou for Maui program. The program is open to high school juniors and seniors impacted by the August 8, 2023, Maui wildfires. These students participated in a knowledge exchange with people in the Tohoku region of Japan who were survivors of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011. The program is the brainchild of USJC Board Member Yoh Kawanami and Miku Narisawa, co-founder of Odyssey Nature Japan. Miku is a survivor of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami and participated in the TOMODACHI Rainbow for Japan Kids program that brought young survivors from the Tohoku disaster to Hawaii to find hope and rejuvenation. Yoh contacted me and the JCCH to recruit, train, and provide student support for the trip and beyond.

When we evaluated candidates for the program, we wanted to hear about their community service and extra-curricular activities. We were less focused on academics and more interested in the type of person they were overall. We asked ourselves: Will they want to give back to the community after the trip?

With Goto Suisan oyster farms

The trip was brief, but it shaped their thinking for a lifetime. In the long term, while we hope these kids want to stay on Maui to give back to their communities, we hope they contribute to the world from a place of ALOHA. Interacting with the Japanese survivors helps them see a future for themselves despite the devastation. These kids witnessed resilience firsthand; they saw rebuilt towns with thriving communities. They returned to Maui with renewed hope and drive to do something for their hometown.

Hope is seeing a future beyond the devastation in front of you, one that carries on the soul of a place in reimagined forms. Seeing the eleven students grow during our trip gave us hope for a brighter future for Lahaina and Hawaiʻi. The soul of Lahaina is unscathed within these kids.

We tell the kids that our door is always open; this is just the beginning. We offer mentoring, support, and encouragement as they contemplate their futures and the opportunity they have to contribute and lead. These high school kids are at a crucial time in their development, and they need all of us to believe in the endless positive possibilities ahead and that they can be an active part of their community's future.

Learning more about Sato-Umi (mountain & ocean) concepts in Ishinomaki, Miyagi, Japan

Some people have already left Maui for the continent because they lost hope. We are helping to shift that mindset, one student at a time, one ‘ohana at a time.

We thank the U.S.-Japan Council and Odyssey Nature Japan for trusting the JCCH as a capable partner. We thank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Charles and Mitch Ota Foundation, the Freeman Foundation, ALOHA Collection, Global Wi-fi, Kyo-ya Hotels & Resorts, Olukai, Proforma Favorable Impressions, Sig Zane Designs, and Uniqlo USA for their support of the team. We also thank the many donors who contributed to the project.

We’ll be recruiting for the next cohort of students very soon, and more information can be found on the JCCH website.