Nate Gyotoku Reflects on Inaugural Kibou for Maui Experience

USJC Associate Nate Gyotoku (Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, ELP ‘13) recently led the inaugural TOMODACHI Kibou for Maui cohort to Japan. The TOMODACHI Kibou for Maui is a new program in partnership with Odyssey Nature Japan and is open to high school juniors and seniors directly impacted by the Maui wildfires. 

These students participate in a knowledge exchange with people in the Tohoku region of Japan, themselves survivors of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami of 2011. The program is the brainchild of USJC Board Member Yoh Kawanami (Hawaiian Electric) and Miku Narisawa, co-founder of Odyssey Nature Japan. Ms. Narisawa is a survivor of the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis and was a participant in the TOMODACHI Rainbow for Japan Kids program that brought young survivors from the Tohoku disaster to Hawaii to find hope and rejuvenation. Mr. Kawanami contacted Mr. Gyotoku and the JCCH to recruit, train and provide student support for the trip and beyond. Here, Mr. Gyotoku reflects on the trip and his hopes for the students.

Mr. Gyotoku (first row, left), Mr. Kawanami (first row, center) and Ms. Narisawa (first row, second from right) with the students in Japan.

When we evaluated candidates for the program, we wanted to hear about their community service and their extra-curricular activities. We were less focused on academics, frankly, and more interested in the type of person they are overall. We asked ourselves: Will they want to give back to the community after the trip?

The trip itself is brief, but it shapes their way of thinking for a lifetime. Long term, our hope is that these kids want to stay on Maui to give back to their communities. Interacting with the Japanese survivors helps them see a future for themselves despite the devastation. These kids witness resilience firsthand; they see how communities are rebuilt and people thrive. They returned to Maui with renewed hope and drive to do something for their hometown.

We tell the kids that our door is always open; this is just the beginning. We offer mentoring, support and encouragement as they contemplate their futures and the opportunity they have to contribute and lead. These high school kids are at a crucial time in their development, and they need adults in their life to show them what is possible and to believe in them.

Some people have already left Maui for the continent because they are not hopeful about their future there. We are helping to shift that mindset, one student at a time, one ‘ohana at a time. We’ll be recruiting for the next cohort of students very soon, and more information can be found here.

The TOMODACHI Kibou for Maui Program is in partnership with the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai’i and Odyssey Nature Japan, and is part of the USJC Kibou for Maui Project, which is funded by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and administered by the U.S.-Japan Council.