By Susana Helm, Ph.D.
Back on May 9, The Puni Ke Ola project on Molokai celebrated youth drug prevention through a community celebration.
Invited guests included the dean of the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) at the University of Hawaii, Dr. Jerris Hedges, along with island-based and statewide professionals and kūpuna in the field of youth wellness and drug prevention.
Family and friends of the young participants attended as well. The event, at the Mitchell Pauole Center in Kaunakakai, gave guests the opportunity to hear from `opio (youth) about Hawaiian cultural elements and ways of knowing that will inform the core of a Native Hawaiian model of drug prevention, which we are working together to develop.
Puni Ke Ola translates to “life flourishes,” and references bringing about the best. Puni refers to embracing; and ola signifies life and life giving forces. Puni beckons ancient knowledge, as it more commonly is used in older mo`olelo (historical knowledge). Our name symbolizes the core role of traditional Hawaiian epistemology that guides our research and practice.
The Puni Ke Ola project was initiated from a desire to use a youth drug prevention program that is grounded in Hawaiian epistemology. Because we were unable to identify a nationally recognized evidence-based practice in drug prevention that had been grounded in Hawaiian epistemology (Edwards et al, 2010; Rehuher et al 2008), concerned citizens teamed with university researchers in an effort to develop our own “Native Hawaiian Model of Drug Prevention.” Our goal is to have our model nationally recognized as an evidence-based practice so that we may use it ourselves, and so that it is available to other rural Native Hawaiian communities.
While our participatory action research team has been active since 2006, our efforts from 2006-2012 had focused on building relationships for community-based and school-based practice. In 2012-2013 we were fortunate to be awarded a set of small grants to initiate the first phase of our research. We received pilot project funding from The Queen’s Medical Center, the Diversity and Equity Initiative and the SCRA Mini-Grant. With an all-volunteer staff from the community and the university, we recently concluded data collection consisting of eight photovoice focus group sessions with Native Hawaiian haumana (student, apprentice).
The community-based co-PI/Project Coordinator recruited haumana who had demonstrated leadership in the area of drug prevention. These `opio recruited their friends and `ohana (family) to join the project. Ten youth leaders joined the project, ranging in age from 13 to 18 years old. While the overarching theme has been Hawaiian epistemology to promote wellness and prevent drugs, each photovoice focus group theme emerged from the prior discussion.
With school resuming this week, we will embark on the next phase of intervention development – cultural auditing and analyses to identify and elucidate key elements for drug prevention process and content. We expect that more haumana will join the project when school resumes and cultural auditing begins.