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Start with the keiki

Pam Omidyar

How can we create a healthier, happier society, one with more compassion and cooperation and less violence and suffering? Like any complex problem, there is no simple solution. There are many ways that this question can be answered and many opportunities for change, big and small, some of which are presented in this “new ideas” issue. But to truly shift us collectively towards a more peaceful and prosperous society, we must be intentional and prioritize our efforts. I fully believe a greater commitment to early childhood development for every infant and child in our Aloha state, is a good place to start.

Of Hawaii’s many gifts to the world, I cherish how different ethnicities and cultures live together with mutual respect for each other’s traditions and ways of living. Imagine a world that lives the values of Aloha and also celebrates the unique gifts of every child. Hawaii has the opportunity to be a model in this area by creating early learning systems that are fully inclusive, and equitable for all of our children.

Rigorous science has shown that focusing on the “whole child” from ages zero to eight, including social, emotional, and cognitive aspects of development, results in healthier outcomes. There is plenty of time to ensure children are strong in their academic studies, but the window for teaching empathy, cooperation, and many other critical prosocial and emotional skills, is best capitalized on when young, resulting in less aggressive behavior. In addition, it has been shown that children with stronger empathy skills do better in their academics. Studies by Harvard’s Center for the Developing Child show that “the more adverse experiences in childhood, the greater the likelihood of developmental delays and later health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, substance abuse, and depression.” Even without the research, I think we’ve all seen – as parents, teachers, doctors and nurses, aunties and uncles – that when a human being suffers early in life, the results are not only negative but long lasting, both for the child and for our communities. 

A greater commitment to early childhood development for every infant and child in our Aloha state is a good place to start.

Thanks to the efforts of many dedicated public servants and local citizens, Hawaii has begun the process of creating a comprehensive, statewide plan for improving early childhood outcomes. The State is going further than most by expanding its outlook and programs to include children up to eight years old, whereas most programs taper off around age five. It’s exciting and encouraging to see the collaboration that is already happening across state agencies, between community organizations, and with families. The groups working on these issues remind us that it’s not just what we do that’s important, but how we do this work that also sets an example. As the members of this group put aside departmental and organizational self-interest and step back to build shared understanding of the most important areas to focus on, they show us that approaching these issues with the right spirit and intention can lead to much stronger outcomes.  And that when we align our values with our actions, we have even greater potential – in Hawaii, that means healthier children, healthier families, and healthier communities.

Please keep an eye out for opportunities to support Hawaii’s keiki in the upcoming legislative session by visiting The Governor’s Executive Office on Early Learning. While there are many “new ideas” on the table in Hawaii, none of them have much of a chance of success if we don’t first act with intention regarding early development and learning for the youngest members of our society. In this modern age of consumerism and instant gratification, more attention is being paid to whether our current lifestyles are making us happier – and more specifically, identifying the things that make us truly happy. In many cases, happiness stems from the foundation that was created for us during childhood.  We are re-discovering our interconnectedness and the essential requirement of appreciating all of our individual differences while celebrating our common humanity. Hawaii is a blessed place to live, for the power of Aloha, does just that. Now we must combine the Aloha in our hearts with a comprehensive and innovative strategy for all of Hawaii’s children.