Kids ‘open up’ at Camp Agape
MAKAWAO – As Alicia Gaoiran was strung to a zipline Sunday afternoon at Piiholo Ranch, she was grinning with excitement, albeit a little nervous.
“I’m really scared,” said the Maui High School junior, before letting out a small squeal as she darted across the lush forest.
Gaoiran was among 96 children and teens, including five from Molokai and two from Lanai, who took part in a four-day camp, which began Friday.
Camp Agape, which began on Oahu
in 2005 for children with incarcerated parents, held its first one on Maui over the weekend at Camp Maluhia. Children ages 7 to 17 enjoyed activities such as archery, swimming, arts and crafts, and, of course, ziplining.
The camp is a stark contrast from their lives.
Gaoiran’s mother is currently serving a one-year sentence on Oahu for breaking probation on previous drug charges.
“My mom was hardly ever home,” she said of their Kahului residence, which they shared with Gaoiran’s aunt.
“My mother used to work in Lahaina and she was into drugs so she would stay there about a week or a couple days (at a time),” she said.
Last year, Gaoiran attended her first camp on Oahu and said it was amazing.
“I’m kind of shame and not sure if I really want to open up,” she said. “And I was kind of wondering if it really was going to help me, so I was a little excited when it was getting close to the day but I was also nervous.
“Before I went to camp I was actually a really angry person,” she said. “I was very bitter because I never forgave my mom. Today is the day of forgiveness, and last year in Oahu, the day of forgiveness was the day I broke down and opened my heart again.
“All the burden in my heart was let go and after camp I was a happy person.”
When she returned to school, Gaoiran said, she was singing, smiling and greeting everyone with, “Good morning, have a wonderful day.”
“Everyone was like, ‘What happened?’ ” she said, smiling. “I was just happy for months and months and it’s just . . . I’ve had a better life since camp.”
Deidreana Maluyo-Gilman, a freshman at Oahu’s Leilehua High School, shared the sentiment. She has been attending Camp Agape since she was 6 years old.
Maluyo-Gilman’s struggle began when her grandfather left her and her brother in a van while he used their stroller to shoplift food and other items while growing up in Utah.
“They called the police and took us away without my grandpa even knowing,” she said, adding that the siblings were dressed only in diapers inside the van parked outside a store. “That was the first time (Child and Protective Services) took us away in Utah. It’s happened so many times.”
Maluyo-Gilman’s mother picked them up from the police station, but CPS again took the children away after neighbors became aware of their mother’s substance abuse, she said.
Maluyo-Gilman and her brother then stayed with their grandmother on Oahu for a couple years but were returned to their mother when she became drug free and got her own apartment.
“She was doing really good . . . until her friends came back and influenced her to do drugs,” Maluyo-Gilman said of her mother. “When that happened she didn’t pay the bills and we got kicked out of the apartment.”
The family then reached its lowest point – homelessness for 2 years.
“It was struggling living in the homeless environment because we didn’t have any food,” she said. “We only had crackers and ketchup.”
“It was hard for us to live that life,” Maluyo-Gilman said. “But I was hardly around my mom because she was out there with her friends, and my dad was an alcoholic at the time. So it was just my older brother watching me and my three younger brothers.”
Although Maluyo-Gilman was only 4 years old at the time, she said she was fully aware of her mother’s drug abuse and, later, drug dealing.
“I didn’t want my little brothers knowing what my mom was doing so I’d be, ‘She’s selling candy to people,'” she said. “I felt bad lying to them but I didn’t want them telling people at school what was going on.”
The stories of abandonment and shame shared by children are familiar to camp founder Roy Yamamoto, a repeat offender himself who avoided a 20- to 40-year prison term on robbery charges by turning to God.
Yamamoto said that his own daughter shared her story of living without her father and lying to people about him being in college while he was in prison.
“She couldn’t even tell her best friend where I was her whole life until I got saved and got out of prison,” he said. “She held that shame and shared that with the kids.”
Yamamoto started Camp Agape to help children dealing with similar situations. The Maui weekend was the 15th camp overall, with locations on the Big Island and in Oregon.
“The fruits of it are just amazing to see all the children here because they are at the highest risk of becoming criminals as adults,” he said.
Michael Kahahane, a senior at Baldwin High School, attended the camp as a volunteer with his two younger sisters and was in awe of the camp.
Kahahane, whose father has been incarcerated for the past six years and is currently in an Arizona prison, jumped when he heard it was going to be held on Maui.
“This is our first year at Camp Agape and I already want to come back next year,” he said.
Derek Smith, who helped organize the Maui camp and has taken children to the Oahu one as well as others on the Mainland with his wife, Julie, was thankful to the Baldwin family for providing Piiholo Ranch as a site for activities. He also thanked the army of volunteers that helped with the camp.
“We had more people come forward to help us than we ever expected,” he said.
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at email@example.com.