Students at work on a native Hawaiian planting project at Piliokahe Beach (commonly referred to as “Tracks”) in Nänäkuli. The Mälama Learning Center “adopted” the city-owned beach park with the goal of restoring a section of it with native plants to control erosion, beautify the area and engage the community.
Students at work on a native Hawaiian planting project at Piliokahe Beach (commonly referred to as “Tracks”) in Nänäkuli. The Mälama Learning Center “adopted” the city-owned beach park with the goal of restoring a section of it with native plants to control erosion, beautify the area and engage the community.

Student by Student, the Malama Learning Center is Helping to Change a Generation

Kristen Nemoto Jay
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

For most of her growing up years, Pauline Sato said she felt like “a weirdo.” While the children of her parents’ friends pursued careers in medicine or law or business, Sato was focused on taking care of the environment and saving Mother Earth. Although she didn’t have any mentors or close influences that pointed her in that direction, she concedes that she has always “marched to the beat of [her] own drum.”

“My parents were like, ‘She’s going to study what?’” the University Laboratory School alumnus recalled with a hearty laugh. They weren’t environmentalists, and neither was especially interested in outdoor activities. So their daughter’s career choice was definitely an eyebrow raiser for them.

“For some reason, environmental conservation and preservation just kind of stuck with me. It was a field of choice that helped conserve the place that I grew up in, so I thought, ‘Why not?’”

After completing her bachelor of science degree in natural resources with an emphasis on environmental education at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Sato decided to pursue her master’s degree in educational technology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa.

Her interest and dedication to environmental preservation and education continued to grow while working for nonprofit organizations such as The Nature Conservancy, Bishop Museum, Mälama Hawai‘i and the Agricultural Leadership Foundation of Hawai‘i. Sato’s 30-plus years in preserving Hawai‘i’s great outdoors eventually led her to the position she now holds as executive and program director for the Mälama Learning Center, a nonprofit organization that strives to make Hawai‘i’s environmental preservation initiatives accessible and tangible.

“I think part of the reason why people are not interested in environmental conservation is that they don’t know what it looks like or what they can do to help,” she says.

The Mälama Learning Center was born out of Kapolei High School’s desire for a performing arts auditorium for the community and an environmental group’s wish for a conservation learning center. According to its website, the Mälama Learning Center serves as “a place in West O‘ahu that brings art, science, conservation and culture together to promote sustainable living throughout Hawai‘i.” The center’s services and activities include composting workshops, cooking demonstrations, beach cleanups, educational seminars, farmer’s market collaborations, sustainable art activities and reintroducing native plant species throughout the Islands. Sato is heartened to see how the Mälama Learning Center has impacted people who would not otherwise have access to learning about the environment.

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The Mälama Learning Center is based at Camp Pälehua (formerly Camp Timberline) in Kapolei. To learn more about the Mälama Learning Center, visit Mälamalearningcenter.org or call (808) 305-8287.

Kristen Nemoto Jay was born and raised in Waimänalo. She was previously editor for Morris Media Network’s Where Hawai‘i. In addition to pursuing a freelance writing career, she tutors part-time at her alma mater, Kailua High School, and is a yoga instructor at CorePower Yoga. Kristen earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology from Chapman University and her master’s in journalism from DePaul University.

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