The Ugly Truth of Paradise

Written By Chelsey Engel

As I looked out the airplane window, my eyes set upon the crystal clear water and lush, vibrant cliffs of Hawaii.  Most tourists flying in see that beauty, and only that beauty.  However, I was heading to the island for a reason other than sightseeing.  I was there to photograph a summer camp for homeless and low-income children, the veiled nightmare of paradise purposely hidden from visitors.When I landed, I was picked up at the airport by a woman with platinum blonde and burgundy spiked hair.  She was extremely talkative and energetic even in the midst of a very stressful and time-consuming camping event she was running.  Her name is Magin Patrick and she is the founder of Project Hawaii, a non profit organization that strives to better the lives of the homeless in Hawaii. After moving to Hawaii from California in 2002 due to violence in her neighborhood, Patrick, who has been helping the homeless since she was young, was afraid that she would be without a purpose in the ‘Aloha State’ because, as she told me, “How could paradise have homelessness?”However, after only a few days in Hilo, she came across homeless children and decided to call the city her home.”I just knew this is where I belonged,” Patrick said.Patrick, 41, began the Christmas Wish Program in 1988 to help the homeless while living in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Once in Hawaii, she continued the program by helping the homeless on the island.  Project Hawaii began as a summer camp and has now become the legal name of the entire organization.  The camp was created as a teen mentoring opportunity, bringing teenagers from all areas of the country to the island to help and play with the children Patrick services.On any given day, there are more than 1,600 children living without a roof overhead on the Big island of Hawaii where Patrick resides.  This creates a dire need for not only awareness about the situation but also a need for helping hands.  My job, while at the camp, was doing both.When I arrived with my camera at Kalopa State Park where the five-day sleepover camp was taking place, I was immediately bombarded by the 20 children, ages three through seven, who attended.”Auntie! Auntie!  Take my picture!  Can I take a picture?  Let me see!”All of these kids come from different situations.  Some of their parents have jobs while some do not.  Many of the children do not eat nutritious meals, therefore their teeth are not healthy and many have cavities.  There are even a few children who are abused.  One thing they all have in common, however, is that they have native Hawaiian heritage.This is something seen time and time again.  The United States government or any other economically powerful country invades an island of beauty, takes it over to turn it into a tourist attraction, and pushes the local, native population away.  They are then less educated and therefore have little to no opportunity to find decent-paying jobs, if any.According to Patrick, these kinds of politics play a major role in Hawaii as well as create problems with keeping her organization running.”It’s very political here,” Patrick said.  “It’s a huge downfall on the island.  Eighty percent of my support is from the mainland.”Financial problems are also a concern with Patrick and many other non-profits in the United States.  When companies donate to a charity, they get up to a 50 percent tax break; however, they find it easier to donate outside of the country because it is harder for the government to track it.  Therefore most companies do not donate within the country.  It is completely backwards, at least according to Patrick.”We need to keep the money flowing in the communities we live in,” Patrick said.  “Helping the homeless would actually help the economy grow.”Patrick believes that something in the system needs to change and that possibly companies should only receive up to 20 percent, making them more willing to donate within the country.  Otherwise, finances will continue to be a struggle for her and other groups. Another roadblock Patrick finds herself stopped by is the government’s restrictions on how she can care for the children.  While in Honolulu during my last day in Hawaii, Patrick had a meeting with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regarding the meals she serves the children.  According to the FDA, she cannot serve marshmallows, which Patrick used for s’mores during the camp, and she cannot serve juice without serving another fruit product, which is difficult because fruit is very expensive in Hawaii.  Patrick works for hours to cook three healthy meals a day for the children and finds it more than frustrating to have to deal with the FDA’s unreasonable restrictions.Education is also a problem in Hawaii and Patrick strives to fix that for the children.  During the camp, she hosted a Science Day, which allowed the kids to participate in fun and interactive experiments.  However, the government will not recognize these educational activities or help fund them.  If the education system in Hawaii is failing these children, then who is going to help them if the government does not allow it?  This is yet another example of the government purposefully under-educating the native population of an island in order to preserve the tourist state of mind.The economy in Hawaii also creates problems for Project Hawaii and the summer camp.  During the first year of the camp, Patrick had 90 teenage mentors come to volunteer.  However, due to Hawaii seeing an inflation of 15 to 30 percent every year, tuition for the camp has to increase, making it difficult for the event to go on. The tuition that the teenagers pay goes toward buying meals, school supplies and other services for the children.  The fee also pays for the teenangers’ excursions they take part in, such as snorkeling and surfing.  However, this summer, Patrick was only able to recruit eight teens.