Monday, January 5, 2015

Volunteer Spotlight: Vernon Wong

To say the least, Vernon Wong is a dedicated KIRC volunteer. He donates his own time on Kaho‘olawe while also educating, organizing and encouraging his friends and colleagues to support the KIRC’s efforts. After a volunteer access on Kaho‘olawe with the Pacific Century Fellows program, he became a great advocate for us by organizing rotary groups and leading teams of colleagues and clients from First Hawaiian Bank’s Wealth Management Group. Vernon’s infectious enthusiasm has opened the door for many new members of our community to support the work and many challenges that come with restoring Kaho‘olawe.

Why did you initially volunteer for the KIRC?
I was able to make my first trip to Kaho‘olawe in 2006 with a group from the Nature Conservancy who invited some of us who went through the Pacific Century Fellows program. I enjoy everything about our native Hawaiian culture and I had always wanted to visit Kaho’olawe to learn more about this special, uninhabited place.

Why do you continue to volunteer?
I continue to volunteer because Kaho‘olawe is so special and it needs our care, love and support. The island is very spiritually and culturally significant. It is so sad and disheartening that it had to go through so much pain and neglect. Once you have experienced the spirit of the island, you feel a sense of responsibility to help restore and malama the island.

Why is it important to volunteer for this cause?
I volunteer for this cause because Hawai‘i is my home. With the growing population and development throughout the state, it is important to keep Kaho‘olawe pure and simple. My wife and I are both 4th generation in Hawai‘i, our kids being 5th generation. We need to restore and preserve Kaho‘olawe for future generations to be able to come to a place that’s pure and undeveloped and learn about the history, culture and spirit.

What has been one of your favorite memories throughout this journey?
My favorite memories from my volunteer trips have revolved around the spiritual experience and building a relationship with my co-volunteers and the island. So many chicken skin experiences shared with family and good friends. I always enjoy the landing in Honokanai‘a Bay. The boats’ engines shut down and as we drift in, we ask for permission to enter with the Oli Kahea and receive a chant back from those on shore. Everything else is silent except for the winds and the ocean. Chicken skin. Walking up Moa‘ula Iki in silence, with the mist, taking in the entire island and feeling the wind and spirit. Chicken skin.

Is there a message that you would like to share with the public regarding Kaho‘olawe?
My message is to keep the funding going for restoration and the volunteer programs. Kaho‘olawe is such an important island for education and for preserving our native culture. We need to take responsibility to preserve this island for future generations. The Legislature and federal government need to understand the responsibility and importance of keeping these programs going. My volunteer trips and experiences on Kaho‘olawe have helped me to change my perspectives and priorities and I am better off for it.

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