On August 1979 Father (Fr.) Luigi (Gigi) Cocquio had just settled at Sacred Hearts parish in Wai’anae, on the island of O’ahu in Hawai’i. There he met Sr. Anna McAnany, a Maryknoll Sister. After a short conversation, Anna decided to test Fr. Gigi’s mettle. She took him out to five acres of unused land in the nearby valley of Makaha. Looking out over the weeds and brush choking three dilapidated quonset huts, Anna said: “Gigi, this land belongs to the church. We need to do something with it”. On August 12th, 1979, Gigi moved from Sacred Heart Parish into the first quonset on the farm. Soon after Ed Gerlock, a Maryknoll father , joined him. Eric Enos from Ka’ala Farm in Wai`anae came with some youth to help. They brought a tractor and machetes. A group of men from the parish brought a bulldozer, and with their help, a small piece of land was cleared and pipes were laid to water and nourish the seeds that that they were to plant in the in the land. They grew into vegetables and were harvested.
Puanani Burgess gave the place a name: Hoa ‘Aina O Makaha, which can be translated as “the land shared in friendship in Makaha”.
The Wai’anae Rap Center was a substance abuse rehabilitation program for young people from Wai’anae and Nanakuli high schools. They established an Alternative School on the farm in connection with Ka’ala Farm. For seven years the two farms shared a tractor which they would drive from Ka’ala to Makaha and back The land of Hoa ‘Aina O Makaha had been acquired by Sacred Hearts Parish in the early 1950’s, with the hopes of building another church. In the meantime, the quonset huts were brought to the land for catechism classes by Sister Anna.
By the time Gigi arrived, the quonset huts, former World War II barracks from Hickam Air Force Base, were old and not in the best condition. The first quonset was used as a residential living area, and the third quonset, in the back of the farm, became the Rap Center’s Alternative School. The second quonset was used by the Wai’anae Women’s Support Group. Founded by Sr. Anna, Ho’oipo DeCambra, Bobbie Spencer, Judy Seladis, and Sandy Vierra, the Women’s Support group did outreach to women and their families. They provided various types of assistance, from financial and emotional support, to counseling, emergency food baskets, literacy education, and an early soup kitchen for families. Aside from these accomplishments they published a book on the oral history of the Women on the Wai’anae Coast, entitled “A Time for Sharing“. This book has often been used as a resource in Women`s Studies courses at the University of Hawai’i in Manoa.
The Women’s Support Group was a safe place where women could share their life stories with other women and talk about the issues that affected their lives. It was a place where the support of other women meant new hope for themselves and their families; a place where women were able to renew their spirits as women. From the Women’s Group, a new vision was born that would radiate out from the public schools on the Leeward Coast offering a global outlook for peace: The Peace Education Program. With fights, riots, and other forms of violence raging on local high school campuses, a small group of residents began expressing concern for the safety of their children. With the leadership, vision, and courage of Sr. Anna, they approached the principal of Wai`anae High School. With great reluctance, he agreed to let a peace making program into the school. It couldn’t have done any harm.
From 1981-1999, the Peace Education Program reached thousands of students in the schools, both on the Leeward Coast and throughout the State of Hawai’i. The program offered workshops for teachers, published the program’s curriculum in the book, Teaching Peace, which has been has even been translated into Japanese. The Peace Education Program has also made connections with many other peace groups throughout the world. Their program has been a model for many schools in Hawai`i and elsewhere.
In the meantime the farm was growing steadily, both the outreach programs and the crops that could be harvested. By 1983, Gigi had a family to take care of. He had married Judy Seladis and were living in Nanakuli with her two sons Buddy and Scott and their son Pomaika`i. The farm didn’t have the financial resources to pay him a salary. Gigi started to raise corn and beans on the farm, and would sell them along the roadside. After several years, enough corn, beans and basil were being sold to pay him a very small salary.
Sacred Heart Church formed a board to oversee the farm. Families from the community began showing interest in starting gardens on the farm. At one point, the farm was providing thirty families with small garden plots. Gradually, teachers from Makaha Elementary School started maintaining small gardens on the farm with their students. Vegetables were grown and sold at a little stand at the front of the farm every Wednesday. Soon production shifted to growing and exporting basil with the help of community members who dedicated a lot of their time for a few extra dollars. Of course things weren’t all smooth sailing. Somehow Ed Gerlock and Gigi had acquired the reputation as trouble makers. When they first arrived in the islands, the diocese didn’t want Gigi and Ed here at all. Maybe it was the fact that Mr. Marcos had escorted both of them out of the Philippines at gun point. Regardless, they worked very hard to shed their bad reputation. Members of the farm became very active with the struggles of the Hale Mohalu leprosy patients and their campaign to prevent Gov. Ariyoshi from evicting them and demolishing their Pearl City residence. They were active in the Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific campaigns and groups supporting the movements for justice in the Philippines and Central America. But somehow the farm was still seen as a group of trouble makers. Maybe it was Gigi’s first homily at Sacred Heart Church. A small thing really, it just happened to be the anniversary of the United States dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima Day.
In the beginning, some people in the community were suspicious of the farm, jaded by other well intentioned programs that had come out to “help” in Wai`anae and folded as soon as the going or the money got tight. Others at the parish had a difficult time seeing the relationship between the church building they had envisioned when they bought the land in the 1950’s and the community of faith forming on the farm in the 1980’s.
Needless to say, there were many long, long discussions, and even a few disagreements along the way. There was much to learn. Besides, something new was being born, and new life never comes without the birth pangs. And the vision of the farm did continue to grow. People from the Rap Center, friends in the Diocese, and the Honolulu Community Action Program began putting their heads together to find money to support the program.
Help came from many people in many ways. The Women’s Support group put shelf paper in the quonsets to help hold together the termite-eaten wood. Father John Doughtery and Monsignor Dan Dever were firm believers, who nurtured both the financial and spiritual life of the farm community. Things were often tight, but the farm managed to scrape by.
In 1986, Gigi and his family moved back to the farm. In the mean time, Ku’umeaaloha Gomes, from the Wai`anae Mental Health Care Center, had started a counseling and gardening program at the farm. Rather than talking to her clients in her small sterile office, she would bring them to the farm. As they planted seeds or pulled weeds, she would talk-story with them. The conversations seemed more natural and productive for the children of the Wai`anae Coast. She called the program Na Keiki O Ka ‘Aina (The Children of the Land).
In 1987 the principal of Makaha Elementary, Mrs. Hazel Sumile, asked if Gigi could work with all her students. At first he worked with some of the more difficult students, continuing the gardening started by Ku`umeaaloha. They also started a “Kids in Business” store. Things were challenging yet productive. Then one day Gigi overheard a student asked another how you got to be a part of the farm program. The second replied that you had to be “humbug “. Gigi knew what the farm could be for the students, but began to wonder what message they were actually getting out of the experience. Na Keiki O Ka ‘Aina became a program where everyone took care of the land and took care of each other.
With the guidance of Bishop Joseph Ferrario and the Hoa ‘Aina Board of Directors, Hoa ‘Aina O Makaha became a 501(C)3 nonprofit organization. With an independent Board of Directors comprised of community members, a lease between the Diocese and Hoa ‘Aina O Makaha was formalized on August 1992. In a ceremony and celebration an agreement was signed for a 25 years at the rate of one dollar a year. The amount was paid in full, at the signing to alleviate any unforeseen problems that might occur later. Over the intervening years, the farm began hosting groups of people from around the world who were interested in Hawai’i and the work with the Wai`anae community. While there were visitors from England, Philippines, Italy and the United States, the strongest connections were with the Akaikutsu (Red Shoes) in Yokohama and the My Ticket cultural tourism agency in Osaka. More often than not, these visitors would forego a stay in Waikiki to sleep on the floor of Gigi’s quonset. The farm board began to dream of a place where people could come to stay, exchange cultures, work and eat together, and dream of a peaceful world with the people of Wai`anae.
In 1994, after years of frustrating fund raising in the United States and with the generous support of our friends in Japan and Italy, the decision was made to renovate the second quonset, long home to the Peace Education Program. Gigi had plans to visit his mother, so the renovation was entrusted to farm workers and a crew of volunteers from Wai’anae and Honolulu. The plan was to make the quonset water tight, add new windows, and remodel the inside.
In 1995, Hale Ho’omaluhia (the house that brings about peace) was completed and dedicated on August 7th, the 50th Anniversary of the Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While many people had volunteered their skills, time and energy to complete the structure, it was dedicated to the vision and work of Sr. Anna McAnany, who at that time was being called back to Maryknoll, New York after almost 60 years of dedication and love to the people of these islands. In her spirit of sharing life stories and experiences, Hale Ho’omaluhia has hosted people from all over the world in the hopes that, through our sharing, a common thread might be found to join the world in peace and unity.
As part of this vision of finding peace through understanding our differences, Me Ke Aloha Pumehana Mai Hawai’i (With deepest love from Hawai’i) was born with the intention of sharing the reality of Hawaii with the people of Italy. In 1997, this dream came true when 17 young people and adults traveled to Uggiate, Gigi’s home village in Italy. The trip was an incredible experience, not only for the group but also for the people of Uggiate and the surrounding villages with whom a deep and lasting relationship has been established. The beauty of baroque churches and the graceful gestures of the hula merged amid the overwhelming hospitality and love felt by all involved.
As Hoa ‘Aina grew, and as teachers from Makaha Elementary moved to new assignments, schools from across O’ahu began asking to visit the farm for educational purposes. As a result, the Learning Center at Hoa ‘Aina O Makaha was established in 1996. During the 1998-1999 school year, 4000 students came to the farm for a day to learn about gardening, Hawaiian plants, caring for animals, and alternative energy. The Ke Ala program was born.
Although it has always been part of the farm’s work, the School to Work program began in a more organized manner in 1997, with the help of a little magic done within the Department of Education. The goal of the program is to give interested students from Makaha Elementary an actual work experience. Students from the third through sixth grades apply for different jobs positions: organic gardeners, Hawaiian plants specialists, carpenters, farm guides for visiting schools, and store clerks. After they fill out the job application, they must go through interviews and training to learn about the responsibilities and duties of their position. Often, when asked during their interviews why they want to participate in the program, the students often respond, “because soon I will have to get a job to help support my family, and I want to be ready”.
In 1998, Bill Sutkus, a community worker at Queen Lili’uokalani Children Center, envisioned the idea to start a new program: The Malama Makaha Credit Work, to help the children of Makaha Elementary School to participate in educational excursions. the “workdays “ at the farm were designed to encourage parents to participate in the activities to support their children and to take ownership of the farm.
In 1999, Hioa’Aina published the first book – The Love Was Already There – to celebrate the first 20 years of its existence.
In the year 2000 with the help of many, Hale Haumana was built. A traditional Hawaiian Hale, a place to learn, to reflect, to celebrate and practice the culture. In the same year Aloha Pumehana Mai Hawai’i group went back to Italy invited by the Mayor and the Parish of Uggiate,Gigi’s village to celebrate the Jubilee. In Rome the halau had the opportunity to dance and meet with the Pope John Paul the second. In Uggiate they joined with people from Bangladesh, Togo, Croatia, India, Germany for an international celebration of the Jubilee year.
In the year 2005 the Department of Education cut many positions of resource teachers. Ke Ala was awarded a teacher for three years and because of lack of funding Hoa’Aina had decided to close the program. Kokua Foundation came to rescue and Ke Ala continued to flourish.
In 2008 Hoa’Aina published its second book, titled Through The Eyes of The Children. It is a reflection on the experience with the children and the lesson of life learned with them and through them.
The history of Hoa ‘Aina O Makaha has taught us that nothing could have been done without the help of hundreds of people. The vision and philosophy of Hoa ‘Aina O Makaha would not have been a reality if they had not believed in the promise of this place and the possibilities for change. Hoa ‘Aina continues to be indebted to those special people who contributed their lives, energy and whose spirits continue to uphold the vision of Hoa ‘Aina O Makaha. With everyone’s help a peaceful oasis has been created in an otherwise chaotic world.
“There have been many challenges to get to this place, there will more ahead, but if people continue to believe in the vision of Hoa ‘Aina O Makaha and it makes sense for our community and for our children, then we will continue to face the challenges and good things will continue to happen.
E Malama Ika ‘Aina, Nana Mei Ke Ola
(Take Care of the Land, It Grants You Life)