‘Living a dream’: Blind teacher turns a passion for music into a calling

Gensen Rabacal is the new music teacher at Momilani Elementary School.
Published: Mar. 6, 2023 at 6:52 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 6, 2023 at 6:54 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Gensen Rabacal is the new music teacher at Momilani Elementary School.

Students gather around the 33-year-old to sing while he plays the ukulele and leads them in the verses.

Rabacal can tell the kids are having fun — even though he can’t see them.

“I rely on my other senses,” Rabacal said.

He’s been blind since he was an infant. He was diagnosed with an aggressive form of eye cancer called retinoblastoma.

Both of his eyes had to removed.

But blindness didn’t stop him from achieving musical goals.

He learned to play the ukulele when he was 4 years old and has been singing since he was 8.

“I like when we practice our drama songs,” said Parker Pintande, a 6-year-old student at Momilani Elementary School.

All the grades have drama performances scheduled and Rabacal teaches the songs.

Bennett Pagaduan, a second-grade student, said Rabacal “makes people feel like they belong.”

Rabacal was featured on Hawaii News Now in 2018 when he got his degree from Chaminade University and was a substitute teacher at Pearl City Highlands Intermediate.

His dream was to be a full-time English teacher.

But the plans changed because he couldn’t get a job.

“One of the biggest concerns that a lot of people have is classroom management,” Rabacal said, referring to those who declined to hire him.

His musical talent got him gigs at places like The Pizza Press in Pearl City and a teaching job at the Chuck James Music School.

Then, last summer, Momilani Elementary School Principal Garrett Arakawa offered him a job as the new music teacher.

“I didn’t get to do the dream that I wanted to do but I am living a dream because I do have the opportunity to teach at a school finally and I do have an opportunity to make a difference.”

Kindergarten teacher Jordynne Ching said music is Rabacal’s calling.

“He’s so passionate about his craft,” Ching said.