By Léo Azambuja

Clockwise from top left, Leina‘ala Maka-Adric, Jesus Perez Valenzuela, Kala‘e Abrams, Elijah Poch, Sasha Poch and Daniel Kitch in Hanalei, with the Hihimano mountain on the background.

Clockwise from top left, Leina‘ala Maka-Adric, Jesus Perez Valenzuela, Kala‘e Abrams, Elijah Poch, Sasha Poch and Daniel Kitch in Hanalei, with the Hihimanu mountain on the background.

Over the decades, native Hawaiians and long-time residents across the Hawaiian Islands have seen untouched environments being replaced with neighborhoods, resorts, malls, military bases and industrial plants.

Although the visitor industry has forever changed Kaua‘i’s North Shore, its community has played an important role in planning the North Shore’s future for more than 40 years, fighting to preserve its beauty and way of life. And the Ahupua‘a Explorations, a new, free after-school program, may just help to continue this by teaching children about their natural and cultural environments.

“If people know about their environment, they’ll take care of it,” said a program volunteer from Wainiha, who goes simply by Mu.

Teacher Meryl Abrams and assistant teacher Brandon Kitch show Kala‘e Abrams Kaua‘i’s North Shore on the map.

Teacher Meryl Abrams and assistant teacher Brandon Kitch show Kala‘e Abrams Kaua‘i’s North Shore on the map.

About 200 years ago, during the reign of King Kaumuali‘i, the island was divided into five moku, or districts, each containing several ahupua‘a, pieces of land usually delineated from mauka to makai, or mountain to the ocean, like a pie slice.

Ahupua‘a Explorations will teach up to 25 children from fifth to sixth grade about watershed concepts using outdoor learning, hands-on science activities focused on ahupua‘a models and community service projects within the Halele‘a Moku, which goes from Ke‘e Beach to Kalihiwai.

“Do you know your place? And do you know your role in it?” said Maka‘ala Ka‘aumoana, who as a child heard the same questions from her mother. Now, as the executive director of the Hanalei Watershed Hui, she wants the children to find their own answers.

“What is your place in your place? That’s what I want the kids to hear,” she said.

Along with the Hanalei Watershed Hui, the other three principal partners planning and executing the program are the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources — Division of Aquatic Resources.