Last week, Gabriel Navalta got to shake hands, share ideas about tsunami preparedness — and even discuss common interests such as a love of volleyball — with students from a scattering of countries including China, Seychelles, Chile, Palau and Papua New Guinea.
“It was awesome to connect with like-minded individuals from countries like us, who also have a passion for changing society and (raising) tsunami awareness,” the 17-year-old Navalta said. “And it was awesome just hanging out with them.”
Navalta was one of six students from Laupahoehoe Community Public Charter School who attended the High School Students Islands Summit Nov. 7-8 in Okinawa, Japan. The event aimed to help student participants become leaders in disaster readiness in their respective countries. It was held in commemoration of World Tsunami Awareness Day 2017 on Nov. 5. At least 250 youngsters from 26 mostly island nations attended.
Many of the participating nations — such as Kiribati, Maldives, Comoros, Cook Islands, Fiji, Indonesia and Sri Lanka — also have faced a tsunami risk.
Laupahoehoe was the only participating school from the United States. Last year, the event’s inaugural year, students from Waiakea and Hilo high schools attended.
Laupahoehoe was invited this year because of the impact of the April 1, 1946, tsunami which killed 24 people in the Hawaii Island coastal community. At the summit, the students gave a brief presentation about the 1946 and 1960 tsunamis and drafted an action plan that describes what they’ve learned from past disasters and how they plan to educate the next generations, said Laupahoehoe teacher Todd Otake, who accompanied the students.
Otake said the students also shared various cultural elements of growing up in Hawaii and played ukulele for the other students.
“It was quite an honor,” Otake said. “I was amazed little Laupahoehoe got invited as the only school from the United States. It was something the students didn’t take too lightly. They really stepped up to the challenge.
“These kids have been hearing stories from tsunami survivors their whole life,” he added.
“We used that story (of the 1946 tsunami) as our attention-getter in the presentation. And we really tried to make it personal to the experience of Laupahoehoe.”
After the summit, the Laupahoehoe students flew to Oahu to share their action plan with Dawn Amano-Ige, wife of Gov. David Ige.
The students said they want to continue working with state and local emergency organizations to help increase Hawaii’s level of disaster preparedness.
“This was a first for Laupahoehoe and I’m so glad I got to be a part of it,” Navalta said. “Hopefully this isn’t the last time for our small school and community.”
“Not only did we represent the United States but we took even bigger pride in representing Hawaii,” Otake added. “Part of our mission was spreading the aloha spirit from our island here to their island. So that those kids, any time they think of Hawaii, they will see (in their heads) our Laupahoehoe students singing with them. So it was a great opportunity.”
Email Kirsten Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.