"Kamalama reminds local people of what we already knew, but lost" explained a graduate. Neighborhood Place of Wailuku's Kamalama parenting class utilizes time-honored values to help parents bring back the love and respect that traditionally
steered Hawaiian families but have often been lost in modern-day Hawaii.
Kamalama was designed by Neighborhood Place of Wailuku's founder and former Executive Director Venus Rosete-Medeiros, and we have graduated more than 230 parents in our Happy Valley facility and 150 inmates at Maui Community Correctional Center.
While our program for incarcerated fathers focuses on parenting, it is ultimately about relating to anyone. One participant, because of Drug Court and Kamalama, feels hopeful about the future for the first time in his adult life. His goal for when he gets out of jail is to lead a brigade of Native Hawaiians cleaning up Kahoolawe.
"Before Kamalama I always lashed out. I heard my 3- and 4-year-olds saying, 'Daddy doesn't love us.' My own babies didn't know that I loved them," lamented another participant as his wife stood by, tears streaming down her cheeks. These responses are common as participants regain a connection to their heritage through the parenting process.
In the MCCC fathers' class, the facilitator instructed the men to stand on a small carpet, which they then needed to turn over without stepping off. "I have full confidence that you will be able to complete this exercise within three minutes" he stated. The inmates used teamwork and communication to accomplish the task in record time.
While it appears to be only an exercise, learning to work together as a team sets the stage for working with others on the outside and developing positive self-esteem - which will ultimately decrease anti-social, illegal activity. Many people who end up in the criminal justice system have received very little positive feedback in their lives and thus behave according to expectations.
Often, simple parenting basics make all the difference.
"Kamalama class reminds me of my native culture, even though we were raised getting cracks. It reminds me of the real values of my culture, of tenderly caring for our children. I used to be angry all the time, about what American culture did to us. I've spent half my life in jail. But now, between therapy - which is also from American culture - and Kamalama parenting class, I've learned a new way to relate to my family," testified a graduate of our Happy Valley class.
The A'o Ikaika class explores appropriate discipline. The true meaning of the word is "to guide." Participants are asked how many received "lickings" when they were children. Virtually all raised their hands. The facilitator then told the legend of the splintered paddle: King Kamehameha was searching for human sacrifices for a heiau. He came upon two fishermen and began to chase them. His foot got caught in a fissure of lava and he tripped. One of the men hit him over the head with his paddle, breaking it. The man's companion then encouraged him to kill the (unknown to them) king. He replied, "Life is sacred" and spared him. This act of kindness so impressed Kamehameha that he put an end to human sacrifice with the saying, "Let the old men, women and children sleep in safety by the wayside."
What is most profound about this story is that Kamehameha abolished this violent practice and shifted from following the historic "das how" way of thinking to valuing care and compassion.
Kamalama encourages parent participants that even though we may have been raised a certain way, we too can make changes, and instead of complacently following the "das how" way of thinking, can create a safer, healthier and more loving environment for our children.
Programs such as Kamalama are prevention at its best. In order to decrease later costs in welfare, child abuse, drug abuse and incarceration, classes that have the trust of and are integrated within Happy Valley's Native Hawaiian community can immensely shift families' lives - which will have a positive ripple effect within the entire Maui community.
If you would like to participate in Neighborhood Place of Wailuku's Kamalama parenting class, call 986-0700.
* Netra Halperin is the interim executive director of Neighborhood Place of Wailuku.