Resource fair aims to connect Lahaina’s Filipino community with much-needed aid

Despite billions of dollars in donations and government resources, advocates say distribution is not equal
Published: Sep. 22, 2023 at 4:55 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 22, 2023 at 5:37 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - There are a number of resource centers and outreach events for Maui fire survivors, but advocates say many Filipinos are reluctant to seek help and feel invisible in the recovery efforts.

What makes the Hawak Kamay Fair on Saturday different is its attempt to create a safe, familiar space for healing. Hawak kamay means “hand in hand” in Tagalog — fitting for a fair that aims to bring together government agencies, businesses and nonprofits to help Filipino survivors.

“We are having a lot of volunteers that can speak the language. And I’m not talking just about Tagalog and Ilocano and Bisaya or any Filipino language,” said Kit Zulueta Furukawa, director of the Maui Filipino Chamber of Commerce. “It’s our love language as well, in our healing language for the Filipino community.

“It’s much easier to ask for help if you see a familiar face.”

Faces that can build trust -- like volunteers from grassroots groups like Tagnawa for Maui. They work to remove shame and confusion by empowering survivors to get the help they deserve.

“It’s based on this Ilocano and Filipino ethic of care and deep love for each other, where ourselves, our individual selves are all ultimately connected to the community,” said Tagnawa volunteer Nadine Ortega.

Despite billions of dollars in donations and government resources, advocates say distribution is not equal — and unique cultural situations are creating barriers to relief.

“They were living in multi generational households. And there’s only one family or one person named the utility bills, for example. And so there was not underneath their name, so they could not provide that document for residency. Some of them don’t have bank accounts set up,” Ortega explained.

And it’s not just recent immigrants.

Longtime Lahaina residents are discouraged by a cold bureaucratic process.

“I applied for FEMA. I was disqualified. But then I had to reapply. They told me that I have to say no insurance or something in order to pass,” recounts Elmer Tolentino, who lost his home in the Aug. 8 fire.

It’s why advocates are pushing a more culture-sensitive approach to recovery, especially when community trusts neighbors more than officials.

Volunteers will be at Lahaina Civic Center Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. to help people sign up for government assistance and create online fundraisers.

The fair will also include free food, massages, legal and mental health counseling, keiki activities, and giveaways. If you need help recovering from the wildfire, click here or visit

For organizations wanting to support, visit