By MidWeek Staff Share Del.icio.us
Growing up just minutes from Kailua Beach, Brad Wong developed a passion for the ocean that would shape his career.
From a young age, Wong spent as much time as possible in the water, whether it be hanging out at the beach or paddling for both Kailua Canoe Club and later Kamehameha Schools, from which he graduated in 2003.
“I always liked being in the ocean,”
Wong says. “I got my degree in marine biology because I knew that I would like what I do, and it just blossomed from there.”
As a marine conservation fellow with the Nature Conservancy’s Hawaii chapter, Wong has truly found his labor of love. One of his projects has literally taken root, providing the Windward community of Heeia with a lo’i in a project called Mahuahua ‘Ai o Hoi. The project involves clearing the land just mauka of the long bridge along Kamehameha Highway of invasive plants and cultivating a taro patch and eventually creating a poi factory and community center.
Wong started working on the project, which was initiated by the nonprofit group Kako’o ‘Oiwi, in early 2009, often spending his days “digging by myself.”
Over the years, he estimates putting in thousands of hours developing the lo’i, including having his hand in every aspect of the project from digging to working with kupuna to incorporating authentic native Hawaiian cultural practices and designing specifications for the kalo patch.
“When we started, it was just a patch of grass,” Wong recalls. “They’ve taken it above and beyond what I expected. Every time they make poi (usually once a month), it’s so good. It’s growing steadily, and it’s awesome to watch that.”
Wong also volunteers his time coaching for both Kailua Canoe Club and Kalaheo High School, and has involved kids from both in the restoration project. He also helped Kalaheo earn a $5,000 grant from the Castle Foundation for canoe repair and maintenance.
Mahuahua ‘Ai o Hoi holds community workdays every second Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to noon. Volunteers are encouraged to bring water, shoes, sunscreen and dirty clothes, as Wong encourages those interested to “come down and play in the mud.”
For more information and directions to the site, visit Kakoooiwi.org.
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