Kyle Uemura’s ’18 commitment to malama ‘āina was instilled as a student at Punahou, learning about sustainability and hearing personal stories from kūpuna about how vital it is to respect and nurture our Island home.
Uemura spent his first year after Punahou at the University of Santa Clara, but he felt a calling to return to Hawai‘i and work on the land. “After I came home, all of these opportunities slowly started coming in,” he said. “You meet one person and talk with another person, and then you go to new places and have new experiences. These relationships have really blossomed into things I didn’t expect, but I’m really glad came together.”
Eager to literally get his feet wet, Uemura – now a senior at the University of Hawai‘i – and his girlfriend, Luana Low, have spent the past two years spearheading community sustainability projects through Ka Lau o Ka Lāhui, the UH service organization Low founded.
The couple have immersed themselves in recruiting UH students and others to join them for community workdays to clear land, remove trash and embark on other service projects. There are now some 70 members of the club, most of whom are UH students. They’ve gone to different fishponds and lo‘i and done work all over the Island to learn from people in the field about how to nurture Hawai‘i’s natural resources.
Ka Lau o Ka Lāhui is now centering its efforts on two projects. One is in Papa‘ako‘o with a family that has been trying to revitalize land that has been degraded over the years. The other is revitalizing a Waimānalo lo‘i. Uemura describes the whole endeavor as a journey to get students to learn about the ‘āina by getting into the ‘āina and doing hands-on projects to take care of the land.
A civil engineering major, Uemura says he was drawn to engineering, because when you consider Hawaiian culture and the way previous generations of Hawaiians did things, it’s really engineering – figuring out how to manage water flow and systems. “I’m interested in trying to manage water as well, and to keep it clean so we can pass things on to future generations,” he said. “Knowledge of biology, physics and other sciences can be incorporated into farming and running a whole operation, and that’s really what I want to do – to apply my knowledge from school to what I’m doing outside school.”
He hopes to continue farming in some capacity and encourage others to get outside to help restore the natural environment. He wants to be a bridge between engineering and agriculture to help farmers make their production more efficient. What drives him is his concern with Hawai‘i’s geographic isolation, and that the local economy and food supply are dependent on imported goods. He believes the pandemic only exacerbated these issues, and that sustainability is vital to ensure a thriving future.
“We have to take care of what we have now and prepare a different path for Hawai‘i,” he said. “That means growing our own food, decreasing our dependence on imports and things like that. It will help keep our dollars here in Hawai‘i and support those who are trying to do right for the land and right for people.”