Many adults can easily remember growing up in an era before the ubiquity of smartphones and their constancy of text messages, emails, social media updates, and 24/7 news. While it may be unwise to over-romanticize those calmer, less frantic ‘good ‘ole days,’ our recollection of the pre-internet past emphasizes what cannot be denied: today’s culture—particularly our youth—is on a precarious path. Coming of age in today’s world mean’s being tethered to social media platforms, hearing songs on the radio that glorify substance use and abuse, playing video games and watching films featuring graphic violence, and feeling the intense social pressure to not only be slender, fit, wealthy and attractive, but also to attain near-impossible levels of individuality, fame, and success (for some, by “going viral”). This in conjunction with a 24/7 news cycle announcing the latest terrorist attack, scandal or mass shooting, explains why anxiety, bullying, and suicide among youth are at all-time highs. Youth coming of age in today’s world lack positive role models and instead, face a whole new set of challenges. Challenges that, in many ways, we as adults are ill-equipped to face.
Without meaningful rites of passage embedded in the fabric of society, many parents and teachers are aware that teens and tweens initiate themselves into their emerging adulthood through underage drinking, smoking, drug use, piercings, tattoos, and sexual activity. Without positive role models or the support from family and community to properly encourage, educate and initiate these young adults into the significance of their emerging adulthood, the circle of knowledge remains broken, and our communities suffer as the perpetuation of substance abuse, domestic violence, and other social ills continue.The question then becomes, how can we impart our youth with important values, ethics and communication skills, especially when they seem to run counter to what’s presented in the media? Here in lies the opportunity to begin to re-forge the circle of knowledge by providing meaningful, contemporary rites of passage with Maui youth, so that they can awaken as emerging adults, deeply anchored into themselves, through their own clear understanding of their personal values and an understanding of their intrinsic value: their life purpose, gifts, and contribution to the world.
But what is a contemporary rite of passage?
Contemporary rites of passage are adventure-based, inquiry-grounded, and discussion-centered experiences that cultivate a person’s relationship to self while also fostering a deeper connection with their peers. Thus, creating a community that celebrates authenticity, emotional awareness, communication and critical thinking skills, trust and fun. Through engaging inquiry, discussion, metaphor-based experiential education, and cultural storytelling, a contemporary rite of passage program sparks the answers to some of life’s biggest questions such as, “”Who am I? What do I genuinely want? How do I define success for myself and my life? What does it mean to embody healthy adulthood?” Youth embark on a path of empowerment, one in which their personal compass will begin pointing towards healthy choices, strong relationships and awareness of their community, with the support of their new friends.
Operating under the umbrella of Maui Youth and Family Services, Makoa Project is a not-for-profit organization that seeks to facilitate these rites of passages for young people through two distinct offerings, which are offered as free services. Our week-long after-school programs, called the Makoa Project (makoa means courageous), are culturally-rooted programs that offer opportunities for Maui’s youth. Through exposure to hula, rope making, canoe plants, kalo farming, fishing and paddling, Makoa Project encourages Maui youth to develop a relationship with Hawaiian culture while also nurturing their journey of self-exploration.
Additionally, Makoa Project offers a one-day program, called Bridging Forward, specifically designed for mothers and their 15-18-year-old teen daughters (Mothers & Daughters Bridging Forward), and alternatively fathers and their 15-18-year-old sons (Fathers & Sons Bridging Forward). Given the distance that frequently occurs between adolescents and their parents, this discussion and experiential-based program presents a wonderful opportunity for them to rediscover—or find for the first time—the inherent bond that exists between them. Ideally implemented in conjunction with the Makoa Project Youth After School Program, Bridging Forward cultivates a metaphorical bridge between parent and teen, and provides parents with the potential to lovingly acknowledge their child as the unique, emerging adult they are.
Through partnerships with Makoa Quest, Maui Youth and Family Services, Haiku ʻĀina Permaculture Initiative, Na Wahine Ho’omana, Paeloko Learning Center, Maui kalo farmers and cultural practitioners, Makoa Project works as a network of caring adults to re-forge the circle of knowledge. We do this to empower the next generation to embody healthy adulthood by bringing forth their gifts as a contribution to the world, as a reflection of their personal values and life’s purpose here on this planet. With the support of their community, they are then able to summon the inner fortitude to meet their own life’s quest with courage, anchored within a larger knowing that they are part of and important to, our one global family.