Maui islanders get fire help

Chantelle Matagi of Papa Ola Lokahi, Jendrikdrik Paul, the Executive Director MCOH, and Shanty Asher of the Pacific Islander Liaison and Office of Economic Revitalization for the City and County of Honolulu on Maui for the “resource fair” for fire victims.

KAREN EARNSHAW

At least nine and possibly 12 Marshallese families lost their homes and all their belongings in the Lahaina, Maui, fire three weeks ago and 90 percent of the Marshallese workers on the Hawaiian island have lost their jobs, according to the Executive Director of the Marshallese Community Organization of Hawaii, Jendrikdrik Paul. 

“The Marshallese community on Maui has between 800 and 1,000 people and a number of the families were displaced due to the fire,” Jendrikdrik said. “They lost everything they had. Not only that, 90 percent of them lost their jobs because most all of them worked in Lahaina in custodial positions. They were cleaners or security officers, some worked at gas stations or were attendants at restaurants.”

In his role with the Marshallese Community Organization, Jendrikdrik and a team of Marshallese and FSM people were on the ground in Maui last week Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to hold a “resource fair” for the Marshallese and Micronesian communities. “Well, we pretty much looked after all the Pacific islanders,” he said.

As a result, a huge takeaway from the fair was that the displaced families, some of whom were staying with relatives, are now all housed in hotels and will be allowed to stay in place for six months. 

Jendrikdrik said that as soon as they heard about the fires, the relevant people on Oahu got together and built a team. Significantly, this included a resilience and recovery group that was established during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

For example, for the team to be in Maui, they needed accommodation: “It was organized for us to stay in condos that were provided by the condo owners for two nights,” Jendrikdrik said.

Word of the resource fair was sent out using various Facebook pages, which was quickly followed by the “coconut wireless.” The fair was held at the Kahului Community Center: “On the Tuesday we helped people fill out all their applications for FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and the Red Cross. We did the paperwork for their medical insurance and SNAP, etc.”

At this point in the interview, Jendrikdrik said emotionally: “It was so heart-breaking. We came across a female, she’s Marshallese, and the fire was so bad where she was she jumped into the ocean. She had to swim way out in the water, because the water near land was so hot. She was in the water for six to eight hours.”

While Jendrikdrik believes this woman “was clearly traumatized from the experience and will likely end up getting PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).”

He said that they didn’t hear of any other injuries. “But at the fair you could see they were all really defeated. They have lost everything.”

Marshall Islands Consul General to Hawaii Isabela Silk spent many hours last week Tuesday talking to eight Marshallese families who lost their homes and all their belongings in the Lahaina wildfires. Her primary reason to join the Marshallese taskforce in Maui was to assist the families who lost their homes to apply for replacement RMI passports, but of course she was also there to offer help to all the Marshallese affected by the fires. 

“One of the families I met really touched me,” Isabela said. “Although they had lost everything and it was so sad and they were trying to piece their lives back together, the lady said ‘I just thank god we’re alive while so many died.’

“Another woman said they were still trying to comprehend what had happened. She said (on the day of the fire) she was staying next to a gas station that blew up.”

Isabela said the result of the wildfires “is still so new to them and after sitting with them for the whole day I didn’t just feel physically tired, I was hit emotionally because you really feel their pain.”

The task force was set to hold a second resources fair for the islander communities this week and it’s hoped they will be able to help any islander in need.

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