HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - If you know Makaha and you know farming, you know Luigi Cocquio.
The kids call him Mr. Gigi and he has been nurturing the keiki of Makaha Elementary School at his unique farm for four decades.
Right next to the school is Hoa Aina O Makaha. It’s five and a half acres of beautiful farmland.
There, Cocquio says he not only grow plants, animals and vegetables, but people grow as well.
"The kids and the interaction with Gigi is phenomenal,” said Makaha Elementary School special education teacher Gino Pascual.
Cocquio became a priest at 25 years old.
He was sent to the Philippines from Italy to work in the slums but was deported five years later.
So, he moved to Hawaii.
"Nobody wanted us really,” said Cocquio. “So, we rented an apartment in Kalihi and we started to work with the leprosy patients at Hale Mohalu. At that time, they were going to be evicted from their facilities."
In 1979, Cocquio said he was invited to the Catholic Church property in Makaha to live and work.
“We started to plant things and the school came a few years later and said, ‘Why don’t you work with all the kids?' And I said, ‘Mamma Mia! I don’t know what I’m going to do!’ Well, we started,” he said.
Today, the land has transformed into a haven for students where they learn gardening, cooking and life skills.
“My favorite part is when I get to see the animals,” said fourth grader Michela Kaululaau. “He lets students at his farm catch the fish that he has, pet the bunnies, and feed the animals.”
But Cocquio and his farm has had its share of challenges.
From stolen animals to vandalism and brush fires, Cocquio says he turns the setbacks into teaching lessons.
"After a day or after a couple of years with Gigi, they walk away with compassion. They walk away with a better sense of self," said Pascual.
Added Cocquio: “If we are able to create a place where people can feel good, feel at peace, that’s the only thing we can do."
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