Aloha from the East-West Center
The best five weeks of my life were on the island of Oahu in Hawaii, USA.
Also known as “The Gathering Place”, I gathered with 20 other young fellows across Southeast Asia for the Young Southeast Asian Leaders’ Initiative (YSEALI) Academic Fellowship on Environmental Issues for its Fall 2022 cohort. We were hosted by the East-West Center (EWC), an institution dedicated to providing information and analysis on the United States, Asia, and Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue. Hale Manoa, a community housing under the EWC overlooking the Manoa Valley, became my home for 35 days but the welcoming comfort of my fellows made me feel much more at home.
The sight of a rainbow is a luxury I witness almost every single day, thanks to Hawaii’s temperamental weather.
I would pass by it as I rushed down to Hale Halawai, a multi-use facility where my classes under the fellowship would normally take place. The locals say that the Manoa Valley is sacred to them, as it is the place of the rainbow goddess, Kahalaopuna, who was born of wind and rain. I remember one of the trails we hiked called the Puu Ohia and marvelled at the scenic, natural landscapes of the island while listening to songs of native birds. The beaches at Waikiki, North Shore, Ala Moana and Kaimana had the bluest and clearest waters I’ve ever seen.
We embarked on many journeys together, visiting places of historical importance. We rode a boat to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, walked the halls of the Iolani Palace and conducted a mock trial at the King Kamehameha V Judiciary History Center. These sites personally educated me on the complexities of Hawaiian history, with most of it marked by trauma and grief. We also committed ourselves to some community volunteering work. We did hours of service at the Ka Papa Loʻi O Kānewai in the University of Hawaii, a center of learning for the indigenous practice of taro planting. Taro, a staple Hawaiian food, is basically keladi. The fond memories of scorching sun and sweat at the Heʻeia Fishpond were one of my favourite community services. I am still mesmerised by its beauty and the fact that the fishpond has been an indigenous practice of aquaculture for 800 years.
Learning was a continuous part of this fellowship.
I attended book circles, reading dialogues and bootcamps facilitated amongst the fellows. We studied different environmental themes such as climate and energy, oceans and fisheries, food and agriculture as well as governance and development. A significant part of that learning process granted us the opportunity to meet different people in Hawaii. These include politicians like Senator Chris Lee, community leaders like Dotty Kelly-Paddock and conservation experts like Dr Sam ‘Ohu Gon III. The EWC does not go unnoticed too. Great teachers like Lance Boyd and Amalina Arrifin continuously inspired us to become great environmental leaders throughout the fellowship and once we’ve returned home.
I will miss the friendships I’ve cultivated on the YSEALI Academic Fellowship the most. Until today, I still remember our lunches together at the University of Hawaii’s Gateway Café. I hold dearly to the memories of our failed attempts at surfing in Waikiki. I reminisce about the numerous sunsets we watched together. I won’t be able to forget our karaoke sessions on the bus. I recall the cultural exchange night, where we danced together in Hale Halawai. Both our laughs and tears on the departure day, I still cherish them. Our time together in Hawaii was brief, but our memories are forever. One day, I hope to be reunited with these amazing people.
If you are reading this, you may also enjoy what I have experienced. I strongly encourage it, for the fellowship paves a way for young Malaysians to learn, expand and create new friendships beyond the borders of our country.
For more information, visit here: https://asean.usmission.gov/yseali-academic-fellows-country-specific-information/