Rod Ohira's People
Peace song's significance grows
By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer
Manoa Elementary School teacher Helen Hew-Len composed "Hawai'i's Children for Peace" four years ago, but the song has become even more meaningful since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Cory Lum The Honolulu Advertiser
Helen Hew-Len leads her Manoa Elementary students in singing "Hawai'i's Children for Peace."
Cory Lum The Honolulu Advertiser
"We enjoy freedom and peace because of sacrifices made in the past. Hopefully, we can instill in our students these same values of sacrifice."
A Washington state newspaper columnist who wrote that there was a lack of patriotism in Waikiki following the Sept. 11 attacks touched off a firestorm of protests from Hawai'i residents. It also inspired Hew-Len to compose an introduction verse to her song:
"Hawai'i cries for America from far across the sea,
America, America we pledge our loyalty,
America, we proudly say your name."
"The first time we sang it, they did this," Hew-Len said, using her index fingers to imitate tears running down the faces of her pupils. "They connected with it right away. I added the introduction because when I first heard about (the column), I thought how dare she write in the newspaper about what kind of people we are when she has no inkling who we are."
The former Helen Kaalekahi, 54, who is married to Robert Hew-Len Sr., was attending Kamehameha Schools when her family moved to the Mainland.
As a member of the "Kamaaina Trio," her father, Henry Kaalekahi Sr., spent six years playing music at Sheraton Hotels from Los Angeles to Portland.
She returned to Hawai'i with her family for her senior year in high school and graduated from Roosevelt in 1965.
She has now been communicating with young students through music for 36 years. Hew-Len eased into a teaching position while the youngest of her five children, 18-year-old daughter Lilinoe, attended Manoa School.
Manoa School's Association of Parents and Teachers has been paying her part-time salary for the past 12 years, although she devotes full-time hours to students. Furthermore, Hew-Len spends her day off and lunch hours from January to May teaching music and organizing the annual May Day program as a volunteer at Lincoln School.
The Papakolea native has written alma maters for both Manoa Elementary and Lincoln School.
Three hundred Manoa students in grades 3-6 will be performing "Hawai'i's Children for Peace" at an assembly for parents and relatives on Wednesday. They will also be recording Hew-Len's song as background for a video presentation on student activities.
The plan is to send copies of the music video to Hawai'i's congressional delegation with a request to pass it on to President Bush. The students are also sending a banner to Washington, D.C., that reads, "The leaders of tomorrow encircle you with love today." The message will be written in both Hawaiian and English on the banner.
Hew-Len's father is doing the Hawaiian translation for the banner.
"I want them to know there is something to learn in everything we do," Hew-Len said. "In the process of doing this recording, they've learned the names of our congressional people and know what they look like."
The lyrics to "Hawai'i's Children for Peace," sung by children, are both inspiring and haunting.
"Listen to the children of Hawai'i,
Listen to what we have to say,
We want peace and freedom,
for all the world today,
Peace and freedom today.
We are the voices of tomorrow,
Listen to our voices when we say,
Give us peace for tomorrow
And freedom for all today,
Peace and freedom today."
As a teacher, Hew-Len wants to impress more than songs upon her students.
"In Papakolea, you can really touch our Hawaiian children through music," she said. "Some children have a difficult time reading. But they can learn words and meaning from music. Our general education system doesn't value music as a tool to learning but I believe music makes for a well-rounded student."
Her music lessons are based on real-life scenarios.
"I go according to the needs of children, many of whom come from broken homes today," Hew-Len said. "I tell them how important family is. Someone will always raise a hand and say 'but I don't have a family.' I say we all have family, whether it's an invisible family, community family or school family. No matter what, you should value that family."
Hew-Len's reward comes from the children. "Seeing faces light up when they sing is a wonderful feeling," she said.
Reach Rod Ohira at 535-8181 or firstname.lastname@example.org.