The Story of We Care Kauai

The story of We Care Kauai
Reading Time: 5 minutes

The story of We Care Kauai. Image: Sean McHugh

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The story of We Care Kauai.

The summer of Covid. Make that statement to anyone on Earth, and it will certainly resonate. Globally, people had their own unique experiences and hold very personal memories of that time period. Kauai was no different. The summer of Covid marked a time of quiet, tranquillity, and emptiness on the island. Beaches were desolate, roads without cars. A scene that could be replicated across the planet. During this time, and sitting on an empty stretch of beach and completely alone, a question arose. What is going to happen when everyone comes back?

In response to that question, Sean McHugh came up with the idea of We Care Kauai. The plan was to create an organization that would help ease the transition back into an island life filled with tourism and eventually create a positive shift in the relationship between locals and visitors. How would that be possible? How do you shift perceptions and completely flip stereotypes and deep rooted ideas? The only way is through action. If actions truly speak louder than words, the actions of this organization and the people involved would help shape a new reality in which locals and visitors are coexisting in harmony to help sustain and improve the environment and life as a whole on Kauai.

The guiding philosophy at We Care Kauai is that every act of goodwill goes a long way. We believe that all people want to play a part in helping local communities flourish- especially in areas renowned for their beauty and culture. People travel from all over the world to enjoy the magic of Kauai. All of this traffic leaves a huge imprint on not only the land but also the people of the island. In 2022, over 1.3 million people visited Kauai. That is over 15 times the population of around 70,000 people living on the entire island. Now consider each individual’s carbon footprint within that group of well over 1 million people, and it is easy to see tourism’s massive impact on life. Of course, like with almost everything, there are positives and negatives surrounding the issue. The idea behind We Care Kauai is to create a way to help the positives associated with tourism far outweigh the unavoidable negatives.

Ho'omalu Ke Kai Clean up
Ho’omalu Ke Kai Clean up. Image: Sean McHugh

We Care Kauai has partnered up with 10 other nonprofit organizations on the island. The organizations range geographically across the island, from the end of Kuhio highway at Ha’ena State Park on the northshore, to the mountains of Koke’e on the west side.  The idea was to work with organizations that directly are helping to address all the different environmental issues Kauai is facing. Our partner organizations are helping pull trash directly off the reefs, restoring traditional fishponds, compiling data on water quality and reef rehabilitation efforts, maintaining trails, protecting endangered plant and animal species and helping eradicate a host of invasive bugs and plants island wide. 

Along with finding organizations dedicated to improving and protecting the environment on Kauai, we also sought out groups that are extremely passionate and dedicated to their efforts. True laborers of love. All of our organizations exemplify the belief that the needs of the ‘Aina come first and foremost. To live in a healthy, thriving world, we need to have a healthy, thriving relationship with Earth.

To have that symbiotic relationship, we must dedicate time and energy to caring for the world around us. This idea is strongly exemplified by the Wong family, the founders and operators of the Kauai Animal Education Center. Their mission has been to design programs that educate and provide interaction with rescued native Hawaiian and farm animals, in turn enhancing Kauai’s community while enriching the lives of keiki, youth at risk, inmates and kupuna (elders).

The farm is landscaped with medicinal, edible and native plants, producing viable substances for animals and people.  They invite the community to come and learn, interact and engage with a menagerie of friendly animals in a beautiful, natural setting. Public and Private schools across the island visit KAEC as a fun and innovative way to spend a day interacting with animals and learning how to farm the land they live on. The Wong’s and the community have come together to grow and nurture this organization from the ground up. The family is dedicated, like-minded community servants that work diligently to see the mission of KAEC come to fruition. 

We Care Kauai also recognizes that not everyone has the time, desire, or ability to get involved with working in the taro patches, attending beach clean ups, or helping with trail restoration type projects while they are on vacation. Many people looking for ways to help do not plan a vacation with built-in stewardship activities included. Getting their hands dirty isn’t always an option once they arrive.  Not being able to participate on the front lines does not mean someone doesn’t care.

Our organization also offers a way for people to give back monetarily. 100% of donations collected are funnelled to our partners. We hold quarterly raffles on the equinoxes and solstices. Every partner participates. The organization drawn receives all the monetary donations collected in the previous 3 months.

The premise of We Care Kauai is that all donations, any amount, make an impact. One of the founding beliefs of the organization is that if every visitor to the island contributed just $2 dollars, hundreds of thousands of dollars can be raised annually to support our frontline workers. With over 1 million people visiting Kauai each year, those big numbers can be a reality.  Even if only 5% of annual visitors donate $2, well over $100,000 can be collected and help protect and preserve the island.

MAlama Huleia Fishpond work.
MAlama Huleia Fishpond work. Image: Sean McHugh

The final goal of We Care Kauai is to create a harmonious environment not only between people and nature, but also amongst the people living on the island. Again, in 2022 alone, a little over 1.3 million people visited the island of Kauai. That is over 17 times the local population of a mere 74,000 people. An area designed to accommodate less than 100,000 residents is going to feel the impact of a million people passing through. The basic infrastructure will not be able to prevent congestion. A one-laned highway, slower speed limits, and small parking lots all help to exemplify the issues in an area profoundly overrun with people. Then think of the environment and how it absorbs all of the wear and tear.

Every person carries their own carbon footprint including the cars on the roads, chemicals in the sunscreens they are using, even the packaging of the food and drinks they are consuming. We Care Kauai strives to help create a relationship between visitors and residents built on a mutual appreciation and an understanding of goodwill and intent. We believe that intrinsically, all people want what is best for each other and for the Earth- it is part of our human nature. Earth is our host planet, it sustains all life, people included. For people to thrive, we must take care of it.

Supporting We Care Kauai offers tourists a way to show they want what is best for the island and the people who live on it. It shows a desire to do good and a respect and reverence for the place they are visiting. We Care Kauai educates visitors on the issues the island faces and how to appropriately act in response to the island challenges, this way they can be part of the solution and not a part of the problem. Supporting We Care Kauai is voluntary. Coming to the community workdays is truly a labor of love and appreciation. It is an offering of time and energy to take care of an environment that needs everyone’s support and care. Providing monetary support shows a willingness to help by any means possible.

Kauai is an extraordinary place that people from all over the world come to experience.  It is also a small, isolated island in the middle of the Pacific ocean with limited resources, delicate ecosystems, and finite space. With awareness, reverence, and respect for the land and all of its creatures, people can come to Kauai and simultaneously, show care, and enjoy their adventure here.

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