Hawaii students to build, play ukulele

Photo by Ryan OzawaChildren on the island of Lanai will soon build and strum their own ukuleles and Hawaiian lap steel guitars, courtesy the Lanai Art Center and Waianu’s Hale Kuai of Honolulu.

The ‘O Ka La Na‘i Nui program, to be held at the Lanai Art Center during the second week of August, will engage fourth and sixth graders in hands-on workshops that promote Hawaiian culture and encourage students to pursue vocational opportunities in Hawaii.

“We have the technology right here in Hawaii to equip keiki with tools to become entrepreneurs,” said project coordinator Kevin Gill.  “Keiki don’t have to go on to the mainland for high-paying tech jobs. They can stay on the islands and run their own businesses.”

Schools nationwide have dropped wood, metal and electrical curricula due to decreased funding. With the help of local organizations, including the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the ‘O Ka La Na‘i Nui program aims to fill this gap by teaching fourth graders how to build and play the ukulele. Sixth graders will learn to craft and play their own steel guitars.

Kevin Gill and Cultural Advisor Waianuhea Ah Quin of Waianu’s Hale Kuai teamed with the Lanai Art Center in early 2011 to bring ‘O Ka La Na‘i Nui to life. In April, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs awarded a $18,418 Kauhale grant to the program. KoAloha Ukulele will provide ukulele kits and assist keiki in assembly. Dr. Neil Scott will provide steel guitars, assembly assistance and instruction on playing the steel guitar.

Dr. Scott and Gill are part of the Archimedes Project at UH, providing technological solutions to people with special needs. They developed a Computer Numerically Controlled manufacturing process designed for small-scale use, like crafting individual guitar bodies.

“If keiki can touch things, make things with their hands, they want to learn,” said kumu hula Ah Quin. “But this is missing from our schools today.”

Ah Quin said he wants to preserve Hawaiian culture by empowering communities.

“We need to keep keiki attentive in school, working on projects so they can feel confident and be just as competitive as keikis on the mainland,” Ah Quin said.

Gill and Ah Quin say they foresee a huge success with the program. With this project, they hope to reach a wider audience on all islands and eventually influence the way visitors interact with Hawaii’s people and economy.

“Our greatest goal is that tourists can go through International Marketplace [in Waikiki] and take home a true piece of Hawaii, not something “Hawaiian” that was made overseas,” Gill said.

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