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All That Has Changed by Allena Villanueva, Purple Prize Fellow

Written by Allena Villanueva
May 15, 2020

When I first got the email from Alec Wagner three months ago that I would possibly be a fellow, everything felt relatively normal and life didn’t feel like it was going to change. That day, I remember going to summer school then coming home to do homework, following the same routine I had been for months. My future looked predictable to me then, with a beautifully set plan through high school and college. The plan included going to college on the mainland, then setting up a career there, and eventually starting a family there too. The plan that I made for myself then was one that I never thought would change. But now, after being a Purple Prize fellow, that same plan is completely different. After college, I plan to set my roots in Hawai’i. The fellowship retaught me the beauties of Hawai’i, about home, about giving back to the land, and the importance of connections. The fellowship left me inspired to change Hawai’i for the better and to inspire others to do the same.

On the day of Kilo Hōkū, one of the people that Kalei and I interviewed after their pitch said that after going through the building and connection phases, they noticed “the changes in [them].” I believe that this goes further to say that the Purple Prize competition in general changes people, and being able to see groups grow throughout the short time I knew them and going through the change myself — the fellowship was so amazing.

There are things that we do every day to ground ourselves and to prepare for what is to come. Sometimes it is alone that we do this, and sometimes it is with others, and the Purple Prize fellowship taught me what that is. It was with every oli that I learned more and more about the importance of grounding, and that is one aspect that stood out to me. At school, we oli a few times a year, but not enough to go “wow, I fully appreciate the meaning of this oli.” At Purple Prize, it felt like everything started with an oli and each oli that was chanted grounded everybody to their place, to what they would do, to everything. After every oli, I felt empowered and calmed. I felt like I was ready to take on whatever was to come. I remember before Kilo Hōkū, all of the volunteers chanted an oli, and after that, I remember being very humbled. Now, I think that it’s very important to start things off with a chant, or another medium of sharing mana to start a big event.

Another thing that surprised me was how incredibly welcoming and understanding everybody was. The first time that I met a purple prize staff member was when I attended the IP workshop, and Naomi Facetimed me before to check in. That was awesome because I was so nervous for the fellowship and I didn’t know what to think or expect. Meeting somebody before going to the first workshop was a very meaningful and valuable experience. When I volunteered at the Paepae ʻo Heʻeia fishpond, I already knew that there was going to be a sense of togetherness in the fellowship. After meeting the people there, and working very hard in the fishpond, I took that as a similar to building a business. Being a on a building phase team was awesome because you get to see what goes on with a business, and I felt extremely welcomed by everybody on Studio Moeā. They offered to teach me about coding and how to run a business. Each of them had a lot of faith in me and I am excited to work with them more in the future. I am very excited to continue my relationship with not only Studio Moeā, but also Purple Prize.

In the past three months that I have been a Purple Prize fellow, I have learned more about Hawaiian culture, technology, and myself than ever before. I learned about oli, greetings, new words, and about the importance of ʻohana. Before I became a Purple Prize/Nalukai Fellow, I didn’t know much about Hawai’i or the Hawaiian culture. Being constantly surrounded by the Hawaiian culture at school or at home, I had some basic knowledge of Hawaiʻiʻs history and few vocabulary. But, I never understood the true essence of what it meant to be intertwined in the culture, to see it in action. The fellowship showed me the true meaning of being a Hawaiian — to care for the land, the people, and the future. Throughout the fellowship, I had to slow down multiple times and look at the big picture. I saw countless the purpose of connections, of following passion, or caring. At this point, it feels like life is only measured by before and after the fellowship.

The epitome reason of giving back to the ʻāina is to pave the way for future generations. Somebody I was talking to said, “Nobody can save Hawaiʻi except the people in Hawaiʻi.” And I have never been so inspired to do the same. Each person in the competition was determined to change Hawaiʻi for the better. A lot of them grew up in Hawaiʻi, and they were giving back to the land, to their children, to their ancestors. I believe every team and every person gave back to Hawaiʻi in a way that they loved most. These people are saving Hawaiʻi. And now seeing that, I am inspired to save Hawaiʻi and to inspire others to do the same.

After being a fellow, I feel more connected to the Hawaiian culture. I don’t know more information about it, but I feel like I’ve experienced it more. To me, it is about connection. It is about connecting with each other, yourself, your ancestors, your future, and what is to come. The Hawaiian culture is about supporting each other and being one family. It’s about telling the stories.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to see one of the most beautiful interactions in the world. It was the reaction of gratitude, greeting, and connection. It was a greeting between two people and they put their foreheads together to share power, I believe. It was interesting to see two people greet and ground each other like that.

The amount of inspiration that I gained was incredible. It was very admirable seeing people go after what they truly believe in. Each person inspired me to go after what I believe in wholeheartedly. The person who won first prize, PelagiX, was so passionate about what he was doing. He was determined to do anything to get cameras on fishing boats.

Though I know nothing about fishing or boats or even cameras, I was inspired to share his same vision and felt like I was willing to do anything to get cameras on fishing boats. His passion was contagious, and I know now that it is that drive that moves mountains.

After Kalei and I interviewed all of the teams after their pitches, Manuwai from Mana Studios said something that stood out and that I still remember to this day. On the morning of Kilo Hōkū, he thought,“I feel like we’ve already won.” This meant that no matter what the outcome of the day was, everything that led up to that day was a win. He was so proud of his team and everybody that no matter what happened, in their hearts, they accomplished so much. And what was even better was that they won second place in the competition.

Some of these people are superheroes or they don’t sleep, because they had families and jobs were running their own business. I was very inspired to see all of these people come together, even when they have life in front of them, to build something so fantastic and something that will really change the world. These teams showed me that no matter what, there is always time to change the world. There is always a time to come together and face the triumphs and troubles of life. Each individual I met that was a part of the Purple Prize showed me the power of resilience and powering through. There are hundreds of excuses to not do something, especially as big as building a company, but they did it. This shows me that even with all that is going on in my own life, all that I will face, there’s time for passion.

The teams that participated in Purple Prize are teams that I truly believe will change the world and Hawaiʻi in their own way. Their vision and their passion will move mountains and give hope and ideas to other cultures, states, or countries. I believe Studio Moeā has the potential to do so much. I believe 100% in what they’re doing. I believe that a different type of media is needed to teach keiki. I believe that they can change how the future generations of Hawai’i perceive their history and culture.

There’s a saying that says: In the end, you only regret the chances you didn’t take. And I agree with this because I believe that I didn’t fully take advantage of every opportunity I was thrown. If I could redo everything again, or if I could give advice to future fellows, I would say to take advantage of every single opportunity even if you’re scared or don’t know what the result holds. I would also recommend making conversations with people you want to talk to even if are too shy to. Everybody is nice and understanding and are very interesting people. And you never know how you can help the people that you meet at or through Purple Prize or how they can help you. For me, I wish that I was more open to talking to people in the beginning rather than the end of the fellowship, because now I feel like I didn’t get to hear enough stories or meet enough people.

The most memorable moment from the fellowship that I will never forget is when we all got into a circle and sang E Hawai’i at Kilo Hōkū. It was a great closure, and all of the feelings that went on throughout the day were shared. The anxiety, the joy, the grounding was all coming to an end. Maybe I remember it the most because it was when I felt like I was no longer a fellow. And that’s probably why they say that the hardest part of the journey is the end. I will never forget how surreal it felt.

Through this fellowship, I not only began to think of ways to exponentially help Hawai’i, but also the teens of Hawai’i. As a teenager myself, I am becoming more and more aware about all of the problems that teens face everyday. Purple Prize inspired me to take on many of the challenges in Hawai’i and ways that I can solve them. And even though I only have a rough idea of what I would do, I now know that I can do it. It feels like with the Purple prize, I can take on anything. Through this fellowship, I felt like I had the power to change Hawaiʻi, and my thought process was that if the adults can do it, so can I.

With Purple Prize kokua at Kilo Hōkū

After reflection, words cannot express my mahalo to everybody. Everybody greeted me with open arms and showed me endless possibilities. Everybody inspired me in different ways and supported me in so many different ways. For example, the team that I was apart of taught me business skills and offered to teach me coding skills because two of them had expertise in coding. I didn’t expect to be offered so many opportunities and I couldn’t be more thankful to Studio Moeā for taking me under their wing and allowing me to get a peek of their business. Being apart of Studio Moeā taught me an important lesson of keeping the past in mind by embracing the present. Each member of Studio Moeā inspired me to go after what I love and I know that the members still have my back. In addition, I cannot thank Alec Wagner enough for not only helping me through Purple Prize, but also helping me with situations that happened through Nalukai and in life. The fellowship opened doors for me for future programs. For example, I am involved in Ka Maka ‘Inana, a program that Alec introduced me to. And even beyond that, he has offered to help me in programs that I am in through school. There are so many people that I must thank such as Aaron Schorn, Kelsey Amos, Naomi Yoshida and Kalei Akau for showing me aloha. I was very, very nervous when I first entered the fellowship, but I was shown aloha the whole way through and my nerves quickly dissipated. This fellowship showed me the meaning and impact of aloha. Everywhere I turned, even if I was about to go on the wrong path, there was someone there for me or willing to be there for me.

In my application, I wanted to gain knowledge that wasn’t searchable by the internet, knowledge that could only be gained through experiences and interactions. After being a fellow, I have received more than I anticipated. I learned tangible skills, things that are searchable by the internet, but I also gained skills and experiences that you can’t look up on the internet. And personally, I believe that the most important thing that I gained from this fellowship was not tangible, but was the importance of connections and how to interact with people. Not the connections of “who knows who” or the connections through the phone, but hugs, and words, and chants. I learned the value of raw connections and how important it is to see yourself in other people and understand others as well as yourself.

Even months after my fellowship ended, the effects of the amazing experience are still strong. I never thought that two events, Nalukai Academy and the Purple Prize fellowship would impact my life so much. Now, I want to implement Hawaiian values into my businesses as many teams did in the Purple Prize.Through my experience I was humbled and educated in so many ways. I learned more about business, myself, my culture, and surprisingly, my family. I was able to connect with people that I didn’t know very as well as my family. I talked to my parents and my grandparents about what I learned during Purple Prize and became much more invested in my Hawaiian lineage. I learned more about the story of Hawai’i and the story about the Villanueva’s in Hawai’i.

I leave for college in 2022 and plan to go to college out of state. But what has been uncertain is what’s after that. And I will not know, because that’s just life, but I would like to come back to Hawaiʻi. I feel as though it is my job to come back home and give back to the ʻāina, the community. Everybody part of Purple Prize was not only giving back to Hawai’i, but to future generations and giving justice for past generations, and they inspired me to give back to Hawai’i just as they did. Every single person that I met through Purple Prize showed me another way that I should live my life and different ways I can give back to Hawaiʻi. The experiences I had go unmatched. I wouldn’t trade my experiences for the world, and the Nalukai Purple Prize Fellowship has been the most life changing experience I’ve ever had.

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