Capturing Waves of Change

In November, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner (CPIS MA student) and Leonard Leon (Academy for Creative Media BA student and Marshallese instructor) conducted a weeklong workshop on creative expression. “Capturing Waves of Change” encouraged youth from the Pālolo Homes community to tell their stories through photography and poetry at the Pālolo Ohana Learning Center with funding from the UHM Office of Student Equity, Excellence and Diversity (SEED). Kathy described some of the reasons she wanted to work with the students of Micronesian descent: “I love writing and art—I think it has the capacity to heal our wounds, to build bridges, and to make real change. But how do you get this sort of medium into our Islander culture? Especially when that culture doesn’t seem to place much value on art. How do you encourage these shy, quiet Micronesians out of their shells so they can speak up in front of others, and to say something profound, honest, and bold? Our culture generally expects our youth to listen, and not be heard, and that speaking up and being critical, especially amongst our elders, is rude and disrespectful. Now I’m not saying I disagree with these values at all—it’s how I was raised for the most part too. But I do think it’s important to have a space where kids feel comfortable expressing themselves—where they can process the world around them freely without judgment.”
During the workshop, Leonard and Kathy shared their experiences of how visual arts and writing have been outlets for expression, and how these art forms can be empowering. Leonard has worked on other projects with the Pālolo Ohana Learning Center through the UHM Ethnic Studies Service Learning Program. During the first days, he taught the students basic photography skills such as using the camera, its settings, and techniques for “training their eye”—selecting and framing subject matter. On the third day, Leonard gave each of the participants a camera and they went out into the neighborhood to capture moments that represent their community and personal experiences. The results were wonderful—scenes of flora, snapshots of daily life in Pālolo, and portraits capturing intimate exchanges between neighbors and friends.
 Palolo workshop photography
Participants taking photographs around Pālolo
During the final days of the workshop, Jason Mateo, co-founder of Pacific Tongues and CPIS MA student, facilitated poetry sessions during which participants were encouraged to explore the themes of acceptance and homeland. Through this workshop, 20 young participants explored new ways of creative expression to communicate personal experiences and find new ways to present how they see, feel, and interact with their community. On the final day, the participants celebrated by sharing their photographs and poems with family members. The center is grateful to the young artists and Leonard and Kathy for donating two framed photographs from the workshop.
Palolo workshop poetry
Jason Mateo and Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner conducting the poetry workshop
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About cpis

The Center for Pacific Islands Studies, in the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa School of Pacific and Asian Studies, is both an academic department and a larger home for initiatives that bring together people and resources to promote an understanding of the Pacific Islands and issues of concern to Pacific Islanders.