Could you talk a bit about your project?
Our team comes out of Waimānalo, Hawaii, located on the eastern side of Oahu. We use aquaponics technology to encourage communities and families to grow their own food, working primarily with Native Hawaiian families.
Could you speak to the community aspect of it, so both your community partner and the way you’re engaging the community?
The MALAMA Aquaponics Project actually started back in 2009. One of our team members, Auntie Ilima Ho-Lastimosa, is a community leader in Waimānalo and has been doing community aquaponics education for over 10 years now. She saw the need and the interest for the community to grow their own food. Colonization impacted Native rights that people have lost in Hawaii, which fragmented and disconnected Native Hawaiians from their own traditional food systems, and being able to grow their own food and having access to land. She saw this disconnect and how it contributed to high rates of obesity and cardiovascular diseases among Native Hawaiians. I got connected with Auntie Ilima through my graduate research assistantship. I just kind of followed her around, and I was one of her fans.
Can you speak more to your conception of health?
This is something I learned from Auntie Ilima, which is to look at health in a very holistic way. This is aligned with the Native Hawaiian perspective of health where health is not just physical. It’s not just being disease-free. It’s spiritual. It’s also social, relational. It’s about reconnecting to Native Hawaiian values and traditions and reminding participants, this is how Native Hawaiians live.
What we find is that a lot of the elderly participants who are a part of this program, they say, “Oh yes. This is how we grew up too. This is what I learned from my grandmother, my grandfather,” and they’ll share their knowledge too.
A lot of people sometimes will get emotional talking about the trauma that has impacted Native Hawaiian communities where they’ve been disconnected and cut off from their traditions because their rights to these traditions have been lost. Our work is about reconnecting people and transforming the way we think about health, the way we think about eating, the way we think about food.
What is something that I haven’t addressed?
Relationships are important to get meaningful work done. If there is an issue or a problem to address, we first need to look at the community and see what they’re doing. That’s something I learned from the Waimānalo community and from Auntie Ilima. First come in and listen and learn, build those relationships, build the trust, and then you can implement something together.
I didn’t know ten years ago that I would be doing this with Auntie Ilima. I didn’t come into the relationship expecting that this would be my dissertation. I just came into it thinking, “This is cool. I just want to be a part of it and help out however I can.” A lot of these things kind of happened organically, so leaving that room and space for relationships and opportunities to unfold organically is important. That’s another lesson I learned.
What do you tell your students when they realize–after coming into the community and listening–that they’re not needed?
All these lessons that I’m learning, I share them with my students. It’s not to say that there’s no need for you at all, but just being part of the community and washing some dishes and doing manual labor is sometimes what communities need or are accepting of. There are spaces where only Native Hawaiians should be, and just knowing what those spaces are and not entering it and being very careful and cautious is also very important too.
Jane Chung-Do is an IRL fellow from Cohort 2018-2021 of Interdisciplinary Research Leaders (IRL). To learn more about Jane and Team Waimānalo, Hawaii, read about their research project: MALAMA: Rebuilding Indigenous Food Systems in Rural Native Hawaiian Communities through Backyard Aquaponics.
Interviews conducted, transcribed and condensed by Maria Bertrand, MPH ‘21. Jane Chung-Do reviewed and approved this blog.
The views represented in this post are those of the authors, not of Interdisciplinary Research Leaders or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.