Hometown Heroes: CEO of children’s museum aims to empower kids to learn

Hometown Heroes: CEO of children’s museum aims to empower kids to learn

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Children’s Discovery Center in Kakaako is a treasured resource for Hawaii’s children.

But few realize that the vision of its founder is now catching on thousands of miles away.

"What distinguishes a children’s museum from say a school, is that everything is an informal learning environment, and children learn in the most natural way that they learn and that’s through play,” said Loretta Yajima.

Yajima said back in the 90s, then-Gov. John Waihee approached her and asked her to take an abandoned city incinerator and develop it into a children’s museum.

“And I said, what is a children’s museum?” said Yajima. “I was excited and thrilled, and I walked in the building and I cried.”

Now, Yajima’s vision has become a reality. The old incinerator has been transformed it into a giant interactive educational center that has inspired thousands of children.

“I once had a young man and he said he’s going to dental school now because his favorite exhibit is the ‘Big Mouth Theater’ and he learned about how to take care of your teeth and brush and floss and he’s going to be an orthodontist now,” Yajima said.

Yajima’s vision has also since spread internationally.

In 2011, she said a Chinese businessman came to the center in awe.

“He said, ‘I'm so inspired by what I see here in the Hawaii Children's Discovery Center, I want to build 100 children's museums in 100 cities in China.’ And he said, ‘Will you help me?’ And I gulped and I said, ‘Well, we better get started.’”

The first one opened in Beijing in 2015.

In addition, a 750,000-square-foot museum will open in Inner Mongolia in August.

Yajima said she is thrilled not just for her accomplishments, but for the children who will benefit.

“I wanted to empower them. I wanted them to be more in touch with their ethnic and cultural heritage and to understand that sacrifices that were made for them so that we’d have a better,” said Yajima.

“These are going to be our global leaders of tomorrow and so what can we do to empower them, to excite them about learning and to have them be lifelong learners was really important to me.”

To nominate a “Hometown Hero,” email HometownHeroes@HawaiiNewsNow.com.

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