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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, August 30, 2002

Island Voices
Aloha missing at the airport

As members of the Airport Ho'okipa Aloha Council, we are concerned about the lack of aloha at the airport on travelers and our economy.

On June 28, the final performance of a spirited kupuna halau at Honolulu International Airport ended with tears and sadness. After more than three years of giving airport travelers musical greetings and aloha, the volunteer greeter's program came to an end because the state ended the council's funding.

A month earlier, the state Department of Transportation notified Hawai'i airports and tourism officials and the Ho'okipa Aloha Council that it could not fund our greeter and host culture programs after June 30 due to the poor state budget situation, especially after Sept. 11.

The council, comprised of volunteers and some paid staff, had organized, scheduled and hosted the hundreds of keiki and kupuna who volunteered to greet our airport travelers at airport arrival and departure gates. Every day they performed was a happy day for the volunteers and the many airport travelers and employees they touched with their aloha spirit, talent, bright Hawaiian costumes and their kolohe-ness. The lively music, hula and humor they gave our airport travelers were often their first and last chance to experience our Island music and the aloha spirit given by people who give it freely.

Many volunteers would arrive early to greet one another and talk story before they hauled all their instruments through security lines to perform at the gates. Some kupuna could barely walk, much less dance, yet when the music started, they found the strength to sing and dance. They loved making our airport travelers and employees smile when they performed. Often they invited them to dance a hula, sing a song and take pictures of them.

The travelers frequently talked with the performers and asked to give the volunteers money for the aloha they felt watching the groups perform. The groups wouldn't accept the money as they knew that what they gave to others was from their hearts and not meant for their pockets.

The volunteer kupuna and keiki groups performed between two to four hours per day at designated arrival and departure gates. For their effort, the volunteers were given a meal, some snacks, transportation and a place to gather and practice before their performance.

The Ho'okipa Aloha Council received about $158,000 in state funds each year to provide host culture and hospitality training for airport workers and businesses, the volunteer greeter's program and to schedule seasonal events such as Aloha Week, etc. Last year, there were 386 performances by 2,688 performers who gave us 16,126 volunteer hours. The cost of replacing our volunteer musicians with professional entertainers would be much higher.

Before and after Sept. 11, Honolulu Airport was one of the few places in the world that had a greeter program that worked so well. It was a win-win situation for everyone: our airport travelers, our businesses and employees, our community, our economy and our volunteers — many of whom were senior citizens. All of us felt and gave the spirit of aloha at the airport. Although other Hawai'i airports provide some type of greeter programs, none do it to the extent that Honolulu did.

We hope the state will find a way to support the greeter program or help obtain support and resources from the travel and tourist industries to get our volunteer greeters back into the airport. We need to give the spirit of aloha and kokua to the volunteers who want to give their aloha to the tourists and to airline travelers who are stuck in long security lines and the travelers who flew many hours to experience our aloha and our island culture.