Laughter and excited voices echoed through the lobby of ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center on Friday morning as a group of keiki gathered for a photo.
More than three dozen children from the county’s Summer Fun program in Pahoa had just left the planetarium — where whispers and wows could be heard in the dark as they learned about telescopes used to discover the universe — and were gearing up for lunch.
It was a day of respite and fun for the keiki who are coping with the continuing eruption activity in Puna.
Ranson Yoneda, a recreation director at Pahoa District Park, said it wasn’t initially known if they were going to be able to provide the program this summer, but it was relocated from the park to the Pahoa Elementary School gym.
“The biggest impact (from the eruption) is this year we have to really keep the kids indoors due to Pele’s hair being on the fields outside,” he said.
The air quality “hasn’t been bad,” according to Yoneda, but Pele’s hair — thin strands of volcanic glass — poses a hazard.
Even though they’ve had to stay inside, Chanel Lujan, 12, said the Summer Fun program is “still good.”
Chanel, who is among those who have evacuated from the lava zones, said they have field trips on Fridays, but the trip to ‘Imiloa was better than others. She liked going through the exhibits.
“It’s fun,” she said.
Trenton Ferreira, also 12, is in the Summer Fun program for the first time.
“It’s really fun and cool,” he said. He enjoyed being at ‘Imiloa, too.
Even though they’ve had to spend a lot of time in the gym, “it’s been good,” said Trenton.
“This Summer Fun program, I really recommend it for kids that only play games, like video games, because this is a place to exercise,” Trenton said. “And you get to explore a lot. It’s something like a summer school, but you have fun all summer.”
Trenton said his family hasn’t had to evacuate from their home in Puna, but when asked if the eruption has been difficult to deal with, he mentioned the large earthquakes that shook the island in early May.
“It was the first time I felt an earthquake in a very long time,” he said.
Friday’s field trip was funded by a grant donation from Subaru Telescope, which is part of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan.
Ka‘iu Kimura, director of ‘Imiloa, which is located on the campus of the University of Hawaii at Hilo, said that through its educational program, exhibitions and planetarium, ‘Imiloa provides a chance for guests to “engage in hands-on science, science in a way that is grounded in our Hawaiian world view, our Hawaiian traditions … In particular, for this group that’s here today, it’s especially special that they’re here because many of these children and their families have endured a lot of hardship with the volcanic activity (in Puna).”
The opportunity provided through the NAOJ and Subaru donation is “a chance to bring them outside of their community, come to ‘Imiloa, have fun, explore, learn a lot of things, meet new people. I think just bringing the joy and happiness into their lives, even if it’s just for a few-hour field trip … We’re just really happy that we were able to be a place that could welcome them and help to bring some joy into their life.”
UH-Hilo interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai said people “need an opportunity to feel normal, but people also need an opportunity to laugh and to feel release and I think this provides that opportunity to kids. So it is wonderful that our astronomical observatory guests on the campus connect with us so much they are willing to do this.”
“It is our privilege to be of some small assistance to the people of Puna whose lives have been upended by the lava emergency,” Michitoshi Yoshida, director of Subaru telescope, said in a press release from ‘Imiloa. “They are our neighbors, too, and we are grateful to be able to partner with ‘‘Imiloa on this educational outreach.”
Email Stephanie Salmons at email@example.com.