By Kiana Dulan | Staff Writer

In the thick of studying for classes and preparing projects for the upcoming Student Undergraduate Research Fair, students from Kapiʻolani Community College’s Ecology Club volunteered on Nov. 5-6 for the Oʻahu Waterkeepers, a local Waterkeeper Alliance chapter fighting for drinkable, fishable, swimmable water.

This local chapter, among many other conservation organizations, not only restores the surrounding environment but also reinvigorates those who volunteer for them. Citing numerous studies, says that volunteering builds self-confidence and self-esteem, and improves physical and mental health, all of which are important for any college student. Sometimes weʻre so focused on maintaining good grades and other responsibilities, that we often neglect our own well-being. 

As an intern for this waterkeeper chapter and a member of the Ecology Club, I figured I could provide a great opportunity for club members to get their heads out of the books and into oyster cages. Because of Covid regulations, only two or three students were able to volunteer each day. Everyone had to wear masks and endured the oysters’ stench, but they benefited from their experience no less.

On the second day, I was lucky enough to drive Ecology Club president Keanu Rochette Yu-Tsuen to the field, and he mentioned that he was still swamped with homework and exam studying, but figured that going outside would be a great release of pent up stress. Once he said that, I realized I was so fortunate to play with nature as one of my sources of income, albeit in between boats and harbor.

Throughout the day, we shared knowledge and laughs and it seemed like everyone forgot about their scholarly responsibilities. We finished the day off already making plans for the next time Ecology Club could come, hopefully without the presence of Covid restrictions.

Before I joined the Ecology Club and long before Covid, I had another internship at the Mālama Loko Ea Foundation, an organization that takes care of an ancient Hawaiian fishpond on the North Shore. I worked there for 10-11 months and quickly learned the healing potential of our surrounding environment. Spending 6-7 hours in the hot sun or muddy fishpond waters (sometimes at the same time), I would have no energy at the end of the day, but was always glad of the work I completed because of the overarching intention to restore the native Hawaiian environment. Throughout my internship, I also realized my improved self-confidence and self-esteem, all the while gaining a greater sense of purpose.

Volunteer days were and always will be the best because I was able to share the same feeling with people I just met. During my internship, I volunteered at other conservation sites such as Waimea Valley and Diamond Head, and found that the feeling doesn’t change no matter where I go.

Because of Covid regulations, places to volunteer have been greatly limited. The conservation sites I mentioned are closed, but there are plenty of other sites to volunteer at, including KapCC’s very own rain garden. If you’re not interested in conservation, however, there are a variety of other opportunities amidst this pandemic.

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with my numerous responsibilities, but being in nature and sharing the fulfilling feeling of restoring Hawaiʻi’s land and sea as well as supporting the lāhui always seems to be the solution.