By Jenna, Rika, Shane, and Zach (Students of Punahou School)
Punahou School of Hawai’i and Riverdale School of New York learn about social responsibility, economics, and the environment on a cultural exchange program in Christchurch, Hamilton, and Auckland.
In July 2017 select students of Punahou School based in Honolulu, Hawai’i visited New Zealand as a part of their Capstone course. The course aimed to develop students’ knowledge of social responsibility, economics and the environment in an integrated learning experience. The goal of the course is to develop global citizens with passion, empathy and intellect, who develop capabilities to design, research and present sustainable solutions that create social change. Here, students share experiences and insights from their travels.
In our senior year of high school, Magellan, Rika, Ke`ala, Zach, Shane, and I (Jenna) decided to apply to Punahou’s Capstone New Zealand course. We each had our own reasons, but we all aspired to travel to a place where none of us had been before. Our journey to New Zealand over summer break was a spectacular opportunity for personal growth. No longer with our parents, and representing Punahou School, Hawai`i and even the USA, we were all eager to immerse ourselves in Kiwi and Māori culture, share some of our American and Hawaiian culture, and take lessons back home. We were also excited to meet not only the Riverdale, New York students who travelled with us, but our host families in both Christchurch and Hamilton. We have established lifelong friendships with people from two different parts of the world which we will never forget.
Joining students from Riverdale, our first destination was Christchurch. After learning about the devastating 2010 and 2011 quakes, we wanted to learn more about New Zealand’s innovative efforts in urban development and revitalization. We visited The Epic, and were inspired by each presenter’s positivity and passion. They showed us creative ways to better our community. We also had the opportunity to visit and work on the Cultivate Christchurch urban farm. Being acutely aware of Hawaii’s need to increase agricultural production whilst using as little space as possible, learning how to sustainably grow crops, such as microgreens, in a city environment was extremely helpful. We learnt about turning mulch, planting living fences, and tried some freshly grown greens. We got to experience Christchurch’s strides towards being a truly sustainable city.
We were graciously welcomed by our host families and the greater Christchurch community, and were able to gain a deeper understanding of the after effects of the earthquakes through personal accounts and experiences. It was inspiring to see the community and teamwork displayed by the students and families. Everyone contributed to the vibrant community. From Student Army volunteers, to the volunteer firefighters, to the various tradesmen, we learned valuable lessons about the importance of community, positivity, and, resilience. We would like to extend a warm “Mahalo” to Billy and the Christchurch community for welcoming us and making our travels unforgettable.
Upon arriving in Hamilton, we were welcomed by our host brothers and sisters from St. Peter’s School. Shadowing students and visiting the school’s dairy farm, the Ag Research Center, and Waikato Regional Council, it was illuminating to learn about the impact of dairy farming. The Ag Research Center is making strides to create a more sustainable and environmentally friendly agriculture system with local farmers – we particularly learned about the steps taken to prevent nitrogen impacting fresh water sources.
Departing Hamilton, we drove down to Raglan and were privileged to stay on a marae. We ate traditional and delicious kai, learned Māori songs and dances, and participated in cultural exchanges. It was interesting to see the similarities and differences between native Hawaiian and Māori stories and culture – there are many parallels between the languages, as well as the mythology. We gained a deeper understanding of the importance of sustainability in Māori culture, taking only what is needed from the environment and using the natural hot springs to cook kai.
In addition to learning about traditional sustainable Māori practices, we were shown the importance of environmental conservation at Zero Waste, a recycling and upcycling center in Raglan. We learned about the sustainable strides each of us could make at home to reduce, re-use, recycle, and upcycle everyday products. We were taught about agriculture, sustainable Māori practices and the impact we have on our environment along with our responsibility to sustain an environmentally conscious and greener community. With big hearts, we would like to thank Hamilton and Raglan for welcoming us so warmly.
Our final stop was Auckland, where we were given the opportunity to exchange cultural values with students at Te Oro, a Māori cultural center. Sharing Hawaiian songs and dances and learning of cultural differences such as our “aloha” being spelled as “aroha” in Māori was wonderful. The enthusiasm brought by the Te Oro community in learning our Hawaiian songs and dances was amazing. We were extremely grateful for the opportunity to share a glimpse of Hawaii with the Auckland community.
We also worked with students at Manuewa High School to brainstorm innovative solutions to address a major issue affecting both our communities – the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This opportunity was an eye-opening realization of the impact we each have on our environment, and it was inspiring to work together and formulate ideas to positively impact our world.
Our final destination in Auckland was the Kaipatki Project, where we worked to restore native plants and trees in Auckland’s “bush”. These restoration projects showed us the impact that we, as students, can make to better our environment and our part of the world. For the opportunities to meet and learn from wonderful individuals and organizations in Auckland, and throughout New Zealand, we are ever grateful.
We first traveled to Christchurch, to see how the people are collaborating and working with each other to help restore the city after the disastrous earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. We kicked off with Coffee and Jam sessions, where anyone could pitch their ideas and have them heard, with ideas revolving around the concept of helping people. One lady wanted to install a bookshelf on public buses so people can have access to old donated books and hold onto the book until they are finished. This was an amazing insight to how a unified community cares for each other.
One of the most fascinating places we visited was the Container Mall. After the earthquakes most of the buildings in that area collapsed – and in response to the devastation the Container Mall was built. This mall is special because it is entirely made of recycled shipping containers. This was not only cost effective, but very resourceful.
At our second destination, Hamilton in Waikato, we were fortunate enough to be hosted by St. Peters School and visit their school farm. We learned about a major environmental issue: nitrification; when nitrogen pollutes the waters of rivers and other bodies of water, generally as a result of farming – especially cows. Since Hamilton has a strong agricultural focus, there are many farms, with a massive livestock count. One solution we learned about was planting nitrogen-absorbing plants; such as the native cabbage tree. We even participated in planting nitrogen-absorbing plants near waterways at St. Peters farm.
For our final stretch of the trip we made our way over to Auckland, where we visited many schools and were immersed in Māori culture. We witnessed the Haka performed by the students, listened to Māori songs and dances, and showed our appreciation – exchanging our cultural dances with the Hula as well as many Hawaiian songs. We were also given an opportunity to learn about solutions to worldwide issues from Māori culture.
There were many benefits we enjoyed as a result of this exchange program. Each city we visited had a unique set of values we focused on while we were there. We were educated about the economic and environmental situation in Hawaii, to let us compare what we saw at home with what we learned in New Zealand. We were also able to gain a greater understanding of our Hawaiian culture and practices.
Much of our time in Christchurch revolved around the rebuilding efforts after the devastating earthquakes. It seemed it would take a lifetime to rebuild the destroyed residences and businesses, but we witnessed all the ways the government helped the rebuild of Christchurch.
One organization we met with, “The Ministry of Awesome”, engages citizens in the city to fill labor gaps, which provides cost efficient and community driven ways to get the local community engaged in the rebuild. We learned about how community can come together in the wake of a disaster and help each other. We experienced the Christchurch hospitality, each staying with a host family and learning what it was like to live the Kiwi way – and learned about the acts of resilience from each family to overcome this hardship.
Our time in New Zealand’s largest city (Auckland) was filled with cultural exchanges, including Hula lessons. We shared our dances with members of the South Auckland community. Being able to experience, learn and teach about our differences and the shared heritage of our Polynesian culture is something unique to the Capstone course. New Zealand was an amazing yet different place and we benefitted greatly from being able to learn about a familiar but new culture. We learned how to come together as a community to take care of our environment, and keep our vibrant indigenous culture alive.
The time we spent in New Zealand was invaluable. The act of stepping into a foreign country and living and walking a mile in another’s shoes shows a perspective that can’t be found anywhere else, and it was better than the vacation I originally planned for. The hands-on cultural experience showed us what it means to serve a community in a country far away, with lots of learning that wasn’t traditional.
For more video blogs and photos of Punahou’s New Zealand experience check out: https://wpmu.punahou.edu/2017newzealand/.