'Compassion and aloha': Waianae rehab center combines science with Native Hawaiian values

(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

WAIANAE, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Weaving Western and traditional Native Hawaiian practices to heal individuals battling addiction — that's the approach of an innovative treatment facility on Oahu's Leeward Coast.

Since 1987, the program has helped more than 4,000 individuals.

For the students – "haumana" – at Ho'omau Ke Ola, protocol is everything. Students are dispelling negative energy and asking for permission to enter a place of learning, which is part of group's inventive approach.

"Western is a lot of mind, a lot of thinking," said Patti Issacs, the executive director of Ho`omau Ke Ola and a licensed clinical psychologist.

"The Native Hawaiian, Japanese culture, Filipino culture, a lot of cultures. It's the heart."

The program's residents are comprised mostly of former prisoners; some were also homeless. Ho'omau Ke Ola offers a two-month therapeutic living program, as well as out-patient help.

Its funding comes from the state Department of Health's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division and the state Department of Public Safety.

'We're not following the traditional model, which is housing first. We feel that for haumana to heal they need a long term program, lots of love, lots of structure," said Issacs. "We need to incorporate culture and life skills. We have to teach them how to cook, how to budget, how to go shopping. What is more important – my cell phone or pay the rent?"

At Ho'omau Ke Ola, the belief is that by integrating, Hawaii's best practices with modern behavioral health best practices--and 12-step recovery concepts--success is more attainable for many these individuals.

"When I was trained in the Western program, they said, 'You cannot talk about love,'" Issacs said. "But we believe if you don't have love, compassion and aloha, you cannot heal."

The 80 or so residents live in homes scattered across the Leeward Coast, but they frequently come to a 1,000-acre property nestled in Waianae Valley to work the land. Once on the aina, the focus shifts to work and taking care of the land.

"Incarceration treats them like animals. They locked in a cage, not treated with love. They treated with anger, with violence," said Uncle Helemano Lee, a Native Hawaiian practitioner and volunteer at Ho'omau Ke Ola. "I've watched some of these kids from day one that was in this circle today. And now they're at the end of their program, ready to get out into the community."

Hawaii musician John Cruz finished the program in December. Cruz says being a musician and being in bars performing for most of his life led to his own struggles with addiction – and that the program helped him correct harmful behaviors and learn more about himself.

"Everybody is so different on the point where they're at, but the important thing is that we're sharing it and feeling like were part of something that's bigger than ourselves," said Cruz.

"We developed a formula that apparently works. We seeing results. We see the best results out of any of the programs in town," Lee added.

You don't have to be Native Hawaiian to enter the program. It's open to anyone needing help with addiction.

To learn more about Ho'o Mau Ke Ola, click here.

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