Declining budgets, combined with an increased emphasis on science and math education, have put music on the backburner for most schools.
But music will always play an important role on Molokai. Walk down the hallways of any Molokai school during passing periods and you can hear the echoes of a strummed ukulele or the chorus of a popular mele.
One company, KoAloha Ukulele, has never forgotten the importance of bringing musical instruments to our keiki. The Honolulu company recently completed its eighth visit to Molokai to offer free ukulele kits and building instructions for local youth. Alan Okami of KoAloha estimates that they have built over 300 instruments on Molokai over the past seven years.
When the KoAloha crew visited Kaunakakai Elementary in May, they were greeted with a packed and enthusiastic audience. While they received some Kaunakakai Elementary grant funds after the sixth year, the expenses are primarily subsidized by KoAloha.
The program began seven years ago when Josh Adachi from the Molokai Youth Center contacted KoAloha. It began as a request for instruction on building ukes and soon turned into a total effort including the kits and labor.
Okami calls the Molokai visit the most important trip they take each year. KoAloha promotes similar efforts at school across Oahu and on other islands. “This is an important part of what we do,” said Okami.
Hotel Molokai and its General Manager Michael Drew have been strong supporters of the program, providing lodging to the group. “He has been an angel to us,” said Okami.
When they arrive, KoAloha encourages parents to join their children during the building process. With a new ukulele typically costing several hundred dollars, this is understandably an emotional experience for all involved.
“We’ve seen years where there is not a dry eye in the house at the completion. We’ve had more party type receptions as well,” said Okami. “No matter what response, it’s always magical. All of my men walk away with the feeling that we actually receive more than we brought with us. One of my former workers, that refused to show any emotions with others, was taken and fought with all his might to hold back his tears. It’s simply amazing.”
According to Okami, there is no end in sight for this program. “We’ll be back every year, as long as Molokai will have us,” said Okami.
KoAloha has never sought publicity for its efforts. But Okami said they are beginning to reach out to communities to expand this program. “As others learn of what we do as a small and insignificant company, we hope that it will serve as inspiration for their activation in their respective communities.”
Okami now writes a blog called Kaleo O Kalihi for the Star-Advertiser newspaper to help show some of the community outreach efforts, and the fun, that takes place at KoAloha Ukulele.
The popularity of the program has expanded to now include three ukulele builds on the Big Island and even some builds among the Inuit tribes in Alaska.
KoAloha has not forgotten its neighbors abroad and plans to undertake uke building projects in Korea and Japan. They hope to be able to reach out to orphans in the Tohoku area of Japan that was hit by the recent tsunami catastrophe.
So why does KoAloha continue with these building projects despite the lack of monetary reward and little publicity?
“We do what we can, sharing of what we make,” said Okami. “It is the fruit of our land and we offer it to Akua. He is the one that makes it grow.”