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Posted: Aug 6, 2009 12:33


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Na'alehu, Hawaii
Marney Sullivan

Visit by Lon Woodbury MA, IECA, CEP, June 3, 2009

Our "welcome" to the Ohana camp (which is translated from the Hawaiian as family) was a very impressive experience. Walking up the dirt road that led to the camp, we were met by two students who wordlessly started drumming, and turned, indicating we were to follow. The drummers slowly led us through the tropical garden spaces cultivated by the students.

As we arrived at the circle of students sitting on stumps, each with a word written on the top, additional drummers chimed in. The throbbing of a chorus of drums was an almost overwhelming experience, and signified that welcoming somebody into the community was a very serious and important ceremony. We were presented with Leis and greeted with burning sage on a seashell. I was conducted to the stump with the word "persistence" written on it, and my wife Denise was led to the stump with the word "magical" written on it. We were invited to sit, and that ended the welcoming and started the talking, with all members of the community introducing themselves. I was informed this ceremony is conducted for every new student that moves into the camp community, which has to convey to the newcomer that the welcome is sincere and their arrival is important. The words written on each of the stumps in the meeting circle is a fairly new innovation, a project of one of the students. The students seem to like it and use them by selecting the stump that has the word of a concept on which the student is currently working.

Pacific Quest was founded by Mike and Suzanne McKinney in 2004 as a coed wilderness program with an emphasis on their organic farm and sustainable life skills instead of hiking and survival skills. The goal is to develop personal responsibility in the students, figuring for some of the students that if future treatment is necessary that it will be facilitated if issues of personal responsibility have already been dealt with and no longer interfere with formal treatment. For students that are transitioning back to the home setting, the tools of personal responsibility are exactly what they need to go back home. The program screens out students that are highly oppositional, and emphasizes working with students who might be termed "acting in." As the students talked with us in the circle at the Ohana camp, it was obvious that some of them were definitely troubled, while seeming to be getting a lot out of their experience at Pacific Quest.

Care of the land is integral to their program, so each student is assigned (or picks) a plot of land to grow something that will be productive for the community. We saw all kinds of tropical plants along with lettuce and tomatoes thriving under the sometimes mixed care of the students (mixed especially in the Kuleana camp for the new students). The lesson of successfully growing something useful can give a profound sense of success for the students, along with the longer sense of cultivating something that will not produce until after the student has left but will be enjoyed by subsequent students. The students cultivate with their parents during visitation as well.

New students start with the Kuleana camp (which is roughly translated from the Hawaiian as "responsibility.") It is an orientation that usually lasts one to two weeks. Basic aspects of self care are emphasized such as hygiene. Each student learns the history of the Hawaiian culture and is introduced to the concept of caring for the land, assuming basic camp responsibilities, and hygiene such as maintaining basic cleanliness, brushing their teeth, etc. The camp is approximately a thousand feet above sea level, and enjoys a breathtaking view of the Pacific with the surf very visible far below.

Once a student has accepted at some level the basic responsibilities to be learned, the student moves across the road to the Ohana camp to be welcomed into the community like we were. There, the garden plots were better cared for and nestled in the trees, had a more tropical look and the students were more actively working on their issues. The students prepare the meals, using a lot of produce from their garden plots. We had a very tasty "local" lunch with the students and engaged in conversations where everyone had something to say. This camp is where the real work by the students goes on, which includes a three day and three night solo. Each interaction with a student is designed to empower them.

Currently there are two phases in the program represented by the Kuleana and Ohana camps. Recently the program leased some buildings in Na'aleh to be used as offices as well as the possibility of being used in developing a third phase called Kokua, emphasizing service, leadership and transition. This is a natural extension of the current existing program, giving more obvious form to the concept of giving back to the greater community.

I have to say that the students looked good, including those that are troubled enough to probably need intensive treatment as a follow-up.

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