Written by Host2Host Executive Assistant, Charity Kuahiwinui, former co-host in North Portland and co-founder of Ensourced
I moved to the Big Island of Hawai’i at just 18 years old. I was new to the world, but old enough to experience the true meaning of `ohana. My (now) wife’s family took me in and, with few exceptions, made me feel like I belonged, like I was a part of something larger than myself. They taught me the true meaning of aloha and as trite as this Disney soundbite may be, that “`Ohana means family and family means that nobody gets left behind or forgotten.”
It wasn’t always or even often sunshine and surf life for us. We managed to scrape together enough for a studio apartment in the worst part of Hilo and drove 1.5 hours one-way through windy roads up mountains and around horseshoe turns to work at five-star resorts on the other side of the island. This was our first exposure to the hospitality industry. We worked hard, often pulling double shifts, hitchhiking to work when the car was broken, and sleeping on the beach to save gas.
Non-Profit Experience Runs Deep
Eventually, we made the leap to the smaller but more commercially viable island of O`ahu for better job opportunities. It was there I began working in administrative roles for now-defunct bookstores, law firms, and eventually a non-profit - the esteemed, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Hawai`i. Because of the general lack of quality healthcare options on nearby and far-flung islands, we cared for families during the most difficult times of their lives - from neonatal urgent care to pediatric cancer treatment, attending funerals and mourning together. The work was emotionally tough but rewarding, and the children always managed to make you smile. While there, I had the opportunity to travel to Maui to assist with a fundraising event.
Our First Real Vacation
My wife, Maylene, joined me, and we took a few extra days over the weekend to tour the island and have a mini-vacation (our first). We woke up in the wee hours of the morn to catch sunrise on Mt. Haleakala. We drove our rental car exactly where the official agency maps told us not to but where the local shuttle bus driver said it would be fun – over dirt roads through up-country, around the eastern part of the island, then onto windy Hana Road. Later that day, we had the most terrifying drive of our young lives when we drove from Kahului to Ka`anapali on the one-lane road with two-way traffic, blind turns, a steep mountain on the left, and sheer cliffs with no guard rails on the right. I’ll never forget how we had to honk around every blind corner to make sure the way was clear and the time Maylene had to reverse up the steep road because a line of locals was coming the other way. We paused at that turnout, studying the crashing waves hundreds of feet below, caught our breath, and steadied our nerves before continuing onto Lahaina town.
Arriving in Paradise
When we got there, it felt like an absolute paradise after that harrowing experience. Peaceful and serene - with much of the town preserved from whaling days in the late 1800s and as the former capital of the Kingdom of Hawai`i, history was all around us. We cooled ourselves under the nourishing banyan tree and took in the sites and sounds of the city. Barely old enough to drink, we greedily guzzled every last drop of that very special place. Maybe you have too.
Everything Changed in an Instant
That’s why our hearts ache for the fire that recently struck Lahaina and engulfed it in the worst possible way, roaring through paradise, and resulting in utter destruction. Livelihoods were lost. Homes were lost. Pets were lost. Lives were lost.
The extent of the damage will not be known for some time, and we are left wondering how the area will ever begin to recover from the damage, intrinsically understanding it will never be the same.
So, while you can, hug your loved ones (even if virtually) and tell your `ohana just how much they mean to you. Tomorrow is not promised.
Be Responsible Hosts with Guest Safety at Heart
Then, think about how you can help keep your guests safe in the case of an emergent situation. Do you have adequate carbon monoxide, smoke, and fire detectors? Do you test them regularly? Each bi-annual time change provides a memorable testing cycle so you don’t forget.
Do you provide fire escape ladders for multi-story buildings? How about fire extinguishers or even fire blankets that are easier to use in the kitchen?
Do you provide emergency evacuation information and phone numbers for guests? International visitors might not have that information readily at hand.
Do you have ways to communicate with your guests when urgent situations arise? The plans you put into place now, when you’re not faced with an emergency can truly save lives when one is happening.
Send Your Aloha to Maui
And, if you’d like to help the good people of Maui, consider a monetary donation to one of these reputable organizations: