Personal philanthropy links Hawaii Island and Japan

  • Courtesy photo

    Subaru Telescope recently presented a check for $3,410, raised through donations, for the ‘Imiloa Lava Relief Fund.

Since the 1999 opening of the Subaru Telescope on Maunakea, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan has found creative ways to give back to the host community on Hawaii Island. Support of educational programs, behind-the-scenes tours of its facility and donations of scientific equipment are just a few examples.

But Subaru philanthropy took a new direction this summer when the observatory’s Hilo-based staff members joined forces with their colleagues at NAOJ in Japan to collect personal donations to help with lava relief in Puna. The result of this grassroots fundraising effort was a new fund to enable the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center to reach out to schoolchildren whose families and schools were displaced by the Kilauea eruption.

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On July 13, a group of 37 children from the county-sponsored Pahoa Summer Fun program spent a day at ‘Imiloa thanks to generous Subaru and NAOJ staff members. Normally based at the Pahoa District Park and Community Pool, this year’s summer program was displaced by the eruption event and took place at Pahoa Elementary School, where participating children spent most of the day confined to the gym because of poor air quality and other outdoor safety concerns.

According to Pahoa Summer Fun director Ranson Yoneda, who accompanied the group to ‘Imiloa, many of the participants come from families who recently lost their homes or are unable to get back into their homes. And with the lava having cut off access to nearly all the coastal areas of lower Puna, these children had limited opportunity for “summer fun” this year, “so we are especially grateful to ‘Imiloa and Subaru staff for enabling us to bring the kids into Hilo to spend a day far from the lava, and to experience this amazing science center.”

“We are so grateful to our neighbors at Subaru Telescope and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan for quickly responding to the lava emergency in a way that will surely help improve the mental, physical and emotional health of schoolchildren in Puna,” said ‘Imiloa Executive Director Ka‘iu Kimura.

During their day at ‘Imiloa, keiki had an opportunity to participate in a live presentation about Hawaii’s volcanoes in ‘Imiloa’s interactive CyberCANOE theatre. After exploring ‘Imiloa’s Exhibit Hall, they were invited into the planetarium to conduct science experiments, explore telescope technology and view the film “We Are Astronomers.” Thanks to the Subaru/NAOJ donations, the group received a complimentary lunch at the end of the program before returning to Pahoa.

Yuko Kakazu, public outreach specialist at Subaru Telescope, commented that she and her colleagues were motivated to take up a collection for lava relief in large part because of their gratitude for the ways in which the people of Hawaii stepped forward to assist Japan after the devastation of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Fukushima.

“We will never forget the generous donations raised here for Japan relief efforts nor the hospitality that Big Island families extended in welcoming children into their homes from the affected areas in northeast Japan,” she said.

In presenting a check for $3,410 in donations, Michitoshi Yoshida, director of Subaru Telescope, said, “It is our privilege to be of some small assistance to the people of Puna whose lives have been upended by the lava emergency. They are our neighbors, too, and we are grateful to be able to partner with ‘Imiloa on this educational outreach.”

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‘Imiloa hopes to continue hosting schools and children from Puna. Additional gifts to support the ‘Imiloa Lava Relief Fund can be made through the University of Hawaii Foundation at www.uhfoundation.org/ImiloaLavaRelief.

For more information, contact Margaret Shiba, director of institutional advancement at ‘Imiloa, at 932-8921 or mshiba@hawaii.edu.