Teaching the Children: A Hawaiian Tradition

Posted at 9:12 am November 20, 2003 by Alan Lieberman

 Alan Lieberman with kids at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center

If you plan for a year, plant kalo.

If you plan for ten years, plant koa.

If you plan for 100 years, teach the children.

Hawaiian Proverb

Such sentiments are found in many cultures, and in many languages, but they all speak to the same hope: if you want to make the world a better place for all, begin by teaching your children well.

In 1998 the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program, recognizing that the true value of our efforts might lie in the educational opportunity it afforded the children of Hawaii, formed a partnership with the Keakealani Outdoor Education Center (KOEC). The KOEC is a unique environmental education program sponsored by the Hawaii Department of Education. It hosts every sixth-grade student on the Big Island of Hawaii for a three day/two night stay in the remote rain forests near the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Sixth-graders look forward to this adventure where they hike the Park, learn about Hawaii’s natural history, and visit the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center. Here they see what is being done to recover the endangered avifauna of their Hawaii. The children are amazed to hear how the world is watching their tiny island home and how Hawaii presents a natural laboratory for the world to see. They better understand the process of speciation, adaptation, and extinction. Their eyes are opened to the world of conservation.

Since 1998, over 10,000 children have visited the facilities, seeing bird species they may have only heard about from their elders. They see first hand the dedication and effort being applied to saving the last of the last and discover that they will play a part in planning the future health of their island home, and how each small step toward recovery of their island’s health plays a part in the quality of life for the entire world. After a visit to the breeding centers, the children are filled with the pride of knowing that where they live is different than anywhere else in the world, and that what remains is worth saving. It is a cultural experience that is sure to last a lifetime for the students. We are trying to plan for 100 years…or even longer. We are teaching the children well.

Alan Lieberman is the program director for the San Diego Zoo’s Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program.

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