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Voices In Prevention

Voices in Prevention spotlights people on Maui, Moloka’i and Lana’i who are working in drug use prevention, treatment and recovery, or are affected by substance use. This month, we spoke with Kapua Chang, who is a mother of three, a grants specialist with Imua Family Services, an independent consultant with ChangeWorks Hawai’i, treasurer of Malama Maui Nui, board member of the Maui Huliau Foundation and vicechairperson of the Maui Coalition for Drug-Free Youth.

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Q: What led you to become involved in community organizations and advocacy work for causes as diverse as conservation and substance use prevention?

A: I was born and raised on the west side of O’ahu, in the small town of Ma’ili. I attended Kamehameha Schools Kapalama and went to college at University of Hawai’i. I moved to Maui in 2009 and most of my professional career has been centered around conservation and environmental education.

I sincerely enjoy community work. I view it as my kuleana and opportunity to “give back.” Although substance prevention and public health are not my fields of professional work, it is an area that I am extremely passionate about.

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Q: Why are you so passionate about preventing substance use?

A: When I was growing up in Ma’ili, alcohol was very normalized within my community. Even today, large beach and house parties occur often and alcohol is always out in the open without much adult supervision or regulation. It’s normal to see adults handing alcohol to their underage relatives.

As I grew older, it was really heartbreaking for me to see the negative effects and consequences of underage drinking, and the widespread community acceptance of it. And it’s not just in Wai’anae. I see this happening here on Maui, too.

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Q: In your view, how does underage drinking affect the Native Hawaiian community?

A: As a Native Hawaiian, my sensitivities around this situation are heightened because I do recognize the prevalence of underage drinking and alcohol addiction within the lahui. Too many of our Native Hawaiian families are stuck in unhealthy substance abuse cycles that are very difficult to come out of. We should not dismiss or ignore the traumatic historical and cultural events that have undoubtedly had a negative effect on kanaka maoli living today — which have contributed to the high statistics of substance addiction amongst Hawaiians and other Polynesian groups — but we do have the opportunity and ability to rise above it and do better for our keiki.

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Q: In your work and experience with youth, how do they view substance use?

A: Over the past four years, I have had the opportunity to hold discussions with youth living in Maui County, including in Hana and on Moloka’i and Lana’i. They’ve made it extremely clear that drinking is a massive problem and they want to see drastic changes happen. They are witnesses to the lasting damages that alcohol has caused in the lives of their friends and families and they are coming up with potential strategies and solutions that are attainable and community specific.

It’s about time the adults pay attention and act.

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Q: What can we do as a community to prevent youth drug and alcohol use?

A: If they are telling us that underage drinking and alcoholism are massive problems, we need to listen. If they are recognizing the bad example we are setting when we hand them a beer bottle at their graduation and pass it off as “cultural tradition,” we need to stop. It is our kuleana to do what we can to mitigate every obstacle that threatens to disrupt their ambitions and success.

We all want to see our keiki thrive. We want to see them being successful in their education and we want to see them being leaders in our communities. Let’s be positive role models and show them that we’re listening to their concerns and taking the necessary steps to reduce the consequences of underage drinking.

* For information on the Maui Coalition for Drug-Free Youth, visit www.mcdfy.org or on Facebook and Instagram@mauicoalitionfordrugfreeyouth.

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