“YAAH has been the highlight of my school year. When everything else was cancelled due to the pandemic, YAAH made it possible to continue being involved in my community and meet the most amazing people.”
--James Campbell High School Senior
Climate change, education, social justice, health and well-being, building a resilient Hawaii – these are the issues that young people in Hawaii are passionate about. These are also the issues that the 31 students in the inaugural cohort of Youth Action Alliance Hawaii (YAAH) tackled head-on during the pandemic.
In September 2020, 31 students from 17 different public, private, charter, and homeschools on Oahu, Maui, and Hawaii Island dared to embark on a new journey. Over 7 months they met virtually at least twice a month to learn about global issues, become more civically engaged, and take action to address issues in their community.
In April 2021, students shared their accomplishments with elected officials, non-profit directors, university professors and presidents, and other interested community members during a virtual Student Showcase. Even though the event marked the formal end of YAAH this year, 87% of students said they plan to continue working on their projects.
Students reported practicing these 21st century skills
“I now feel I have the tools, confidence, and understanding to go out and make a change in my community...not to just look at them and wish or hope it would change,” said one junior attending Assets School.
Another homeschool senior shared, “YAAH helped me overcome the constrictions I felt from the pandemic, and it made me want to get involved in my community more, whether that be on a local or global level.”
“Without the normal social connection and learning they typically get at school, young people are particularly vulnerable and can feel disconnected and disempowered,” reflected PAAC’s Study Tour Director, Erica Nakanishi-Stanis. “YAAH provided a valuable opportunity for like-minded students to make new friends and reclaim some agency during this challenging time.”
Innovation and Collaboration
YAAH is three unique programs rolled into one. While PAAC has worked with Ceeds of Peace and HawaiiKidsCAN in the past, YAAH represents a truly collaborative effort by these like-minded non-profit organizations that believe young people are vital to tackling the challenges we face locally and globally.
Each organization draws on their strengths to oversee a different aspect of the program. PAAC’s role is to contextualize local issues by providing global perspectives on topics such as climate change, food security, equity, and more. Ceeds of Peace supports students as they create, develop, and implement an Action Plan to address an issue in their community. And HawaiiKidsCAN empowers students with the knowledge and tools they need to advocate for systems change through public policy.
“We’ve tried to look at the disruptions to our normal programs as an opportunity to innovate and work more closely with similar, grass-roots organizations who are doing important work to educate and empower our future global leaders,” said Jason Shon, PAAC High School Program Director. “And the best part is, students are the biggest winners.”
To learn more about YAAH, visit paachawaii.org/YAAH
YAAH Student Projects
Students grouped themselves into five hui with each hui focusing on a different theme. Here are descriptions of each hui in students’ own words:
ʻEa Ka ʻAi o Hawaiʻi
Our overarching mission is to share our understanding of resiliency and ʻEa in Hawaiʻi, to show that through ʻāina we can actualize a better world. We seek to draw connections between sovereignty, food production, and resilience, and we strive to kickstart discourse and relationships between local food and resiliency producers and community members.
Youth Health Hub
We strive to inform others, primarily youth, about the significance of accurately understanding physical, social, sexual, and mental health. We are actively breaking down barriers and de-stigmatizing topics youth should not feel embarrassed about discussing. Overall, we hope to promote healthy behaviors, achieve health literacy, and improve access to health resources. This will be done through virtual workshops, where experts will shed light on health topics, our website, which will debunk common misconceptions and supplement the information presented in the aforementioned workshops, and our social media pages to spread the information to a broader audience.
We engage in plastic pollution and climate change education and advocacy. Weʻre inviting our community to join our art competition, building plastic recycling murals to raise plastic pollution awareness. We’re also launching a student-run Instagram page and social media featuring activities and our competition. We also hope to raise awareness of Bill 40 (one of the strongest plastic laws in the nation, which bans single use plastic used by restaurants and businesses).
HI College Prep
We are a youth-led group addressing the issue of college preparation awareness. We engage in
FREE college application advice, information on scholarship activities, test prep tips, career webinars, and Reserve opportunities.
Social Justice & Culture Alliance
We are a group that aims to help educate youth and adults about some of the challenges faced by the LGBTQIA+ community. We embrace a strategy of empowering the community from the ground up, facilitating leadership opportunities, and advocating for changes with a real impact. We are a youth-led project base in Hawaii - throughout the islands. Our mission is to create virtual safe spaces to educate the public on topics and issues surrounding the LGBTQIA+. Our goal is to create a community that is knowledgeable and accepting of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Workshops led by PAAC (Nov 2020-March 2021)
PAAC’s role in YAAH was to inform students of the global context of issues that impact local communities. PAAC-led workshops included:
Health & Well Being
Sunday, November 8 (10-11am): This workshop challenged students to think critically about well-being from a macro, societal perspective (as opposed to just an individual perspective). In particular, students learned about one economic measurement that is often used to assess success: Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Students delved into GDP, its usefulness, and its shortcomings as a measure of societal well-being. The goal was for students to understand that the tools they use to measure success often drive your actions - a practical lesson applicable to their hui projects. Teresa Molina, Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics at UH Manoa, shared case studies from around the world to highlight the relationship between economic development, the environment, and human health.
Global Food Security
Saturday, November 21 (9-10am)
This workshop helped students to understand that 1) food security rests on four pillars, availability, access, consumption, and stability, 2) different places in the world face different challenges to food security, and 3) people in Hawai’i and around the world can use technology, trade, poverty alleviation, and other tools to improve food security. Ambassador (Ret.) Lauren Moriarty also spoke to students about global food insecurity, tools to improve food security, and her own experience working to combat food insecurity in different parts of the world throughout her foreign service career.
Saturday, January 9 (9-10am): This workshop helped students to understand that: 1) the country into which you are born determines a lot about the quality of life you will have and 2) even with all our issues, compared to other countries, the US is very wealthy and has a high standard of living compared to other countries. The workshop featured PAAC’s World of 100, a virtual simulation that helps students to understand how wealth is distributed throughout the world. The activity uses a digital white board to bring statistics about the world to life.
January 23 (9-11am): Although not originally planned, PAAC worked with HKC to plan and facilitate the January 23 YAAH session following the sudden departure of HKC staff before the scheduled workshop day. For this workshop, PAAC provided a short presentation on How a Bill Becomes Law in the Hawaii State Legislature as a way of introducing students to the legislative process. Representative Amy Perruso participated in the 2nd half of the workshop, taking questions from students.
February 20 (9-11am): PAAC facilitated a Climate Action Simulation that helps students to understand which proposed climate solutions can have the greatest impact on reducing global temperature increase. The activity utilizes En-ROADS, an online climate simulator created by Climate Interactive and based on the most up-to-date climate science. This is the same simulation PAAC has facilitated multiple times this school year for other schools, teachers, and classes.
March 20 (9-11am): In this workshop, students 1) learned about important global trends in information/media and how those trends impact us in the U.S. and Hawaii, both individually and collectively, 2) analyzed and identified biases in their news diets, and 3) articulated ways to participate in a healthier information ecosystem. Dr. Bill Wieninger, Professor at the Daniel K. Inoue Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies (DKI-APCSS) presented on global media and information trends and helped students assess the biases in their information diets.