Native Hawaiians in North Texas organize fundraiser for Maui residents

As the people of Maui are attempting to recover from one of the deadliest wildfires in U.S. history, Native Hawaiians in North Texas are offering a helping hand thousands of miles away.

By Toluwani Osibamowo, KERA NewsAugust 15, 2023 11:15 am,

From KERA News:

A group of Native Hawaiians living in North Texas are raising money to help victims of last week’s massive wildfires in Maui, which killed at least 96 people and destroyed thousands of homes.

Pomai Uyehara, owner of Pineapple Grill Texas in Hurst and an Island of Hawaii native, said learning about the devastation in Maui while being thousands of miles away left her with a sense of hopelessness.

“It’s almost like a pain — like a birthing pain is how I can describe it — for our people,” Uyehara said. “And for not just our people, but everybody that was there.”

She and her husband Barry were up one night at 2:30 a.m. watching videos of the destruction on social media and crying. That’s when she said they decided to find a way to extend their kahea, or calling.

The couple reached out to hula schools, a Montessori school and friends across the community to help in planning a fundraiser event with food from Pineapple Grill as well as Hawaiian song and dance.

All proceeds will go to Project Aloha, Uyehara said — specifically to four families affected by the wildfires.

“These four families have lost everything,” she said. “To rebuild, if we can help them in a month or two, getting a toaster or a microwave … we would like to do that as well.”

The Uyeharas are raising money with the help of people like Manu Birkmire, who runs Ka Pa Hula O Manulani, a school that teaches hula and other elements of Hawaiian culture including history and language.

Birkmire’s reaction to the scope of the devastation caused by the wildfires came in waves. The first was helplessness and heartbreak. The second was the loss of historic landmarks.

But Birkmire kept in mind the Hawaiian greeting aloha — which also describes a sense of peace, love and kindness — to give her a sense of hope, and to push her to offer her services to the fundraiser and the community she’d been part of her whole life.

“That’s why everyone knows that word,” Birkmire said. “The Hawaiian people understand that the basis and the foundation of life in good times and in struggles is that love for each other, that support for each other, that unification and harmony, the coming together.”

Rick Bowmer / AP Photo

Destroyed property is seen, Sunday, Aug. 13, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii, following a deadly wildfire that caused heavy damage days earlier.

Charman Aiwohi has known both Uyehara and Birkmire for years. He also runs a hula school with his family in Dallas, Keola’s Hula Halau.

Some of Aiwohi’s family still live in Maui — on the eastern side, away from where most of the wildfires burned. He said raising money and awareness locally extends a helping hand while also mitigating some of his own fear, too.

“Our hope is to raise as much as we can and send our aloha to Hawaii, letting them know we are here in Texas,” he said. “Even though we don’t live there, we can still try to do what we can to share our love for them.”

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