Businesses that support their communities
These four companies have built their brands by going beyond business as usual, and their communities appreciate them for it
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Visitors learn by doing at Maui Hawaiian Village.
Photos: Courtesy Maui Hawaiian Village
Malama I Ka Aina
Ten years ago, when Joshua Chavez and his business partners bought 25 acres of lush, emerald-green forest in West Maui’s Waihee Valley, they envisioned building homes so they could look down each morning at the Waihee Stream from their lanais. Instead, the partners and a small core of others built a kauhale, three traditional Hawaiian buildings with two more on the way. Since January, their for-profit company has operated tours that teach Native Hawaiian culture, food and clothing making, values and other traditions to school children, locals and tourists.
At the village, people learn what Native Hawaiians ate and wore, and how they built their shelters with hands-on demonstrations taught by cultural practitioners during two- and four-hour tours. This summer, a program created in partnership with Kamehameha Schools allowed Maui students to visit for free.
The Maui Hawaiian Village project combines the talents of five cultural practitioners, one longtime marketing manager and Chavez, a 33-year-old whose career has taken an interesting turn. After high school, he became a Realtor, like his mother; his father and brothers work in construction.
“I got into it to buy my own properties,” says the Maui native about his start. “My passion is land development.”
Obviously, the village is not a conventional development, but Chavez believes it will soon provide a return on the several hundreds of thousand of dollars the partners poured into the project. Already it provides fulfilling jobs for those doing the demonstrations three times a week, says sales and administration manager Janai Kealoha. “It’s inspiring to have a place like this where young people can come work,” Kealoha adds about her co-workers, most of whom are in their 30s.
Think of the Maui Hawaiian Village as a living exhibition, not a luau or show. “We’re not tour guides,” says exhibition manager Kahaku Ritte-Camara. She set up the program in which she and her fellow practitioners go through five hands-on demonstrations: making kapa, cordage and imu, pounding poi, and creating artifacts. Ritte-Camara, fluent in Hawaiian, says she wants everyone’s experience to be historically accurate, whether you’ve lived in Waihee Valley for 79 years or just arrived from the Kahului Airport.
The company brought in master hale builder Francis Palani Sinenci to construct the hale; each took roughly three months, says Chavez. First, they had to clear 10 acres of overgrown valley land by removing invasive species such as java plum and cane grass.
“This valley can be restored to its natural ahupuaa,” Chavez says, pointing into the distance. “We want to treat the land with respect.”
He created a nonprofit to continue to malama i ka aina, or restore and care for the Earth. While the tours provide payroll and keep the village in the black, the nonprofit is the root of the organization says Chavez. The staff will continue clearing out invasive species, planting native flora, and restoring waterways and kalo patches.
Ritte-Camara says everyone who visits leaves the village with a deeper understanding of the history of Waihee Valley and the tight-knit community that lives there. “People appreciate we’re continuing Hawaiian traditions,” Ritte-Camara says. “Some (kamaaina) don’t know a single thing about where they grew up.”
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