Mission keeps educator moving forward after loss of home and campus
It has been one year since lava first erupted in Lower Puna, and Susie Osborne is finally able to sleep through the night.
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HILO >> It has been one year since lava first erupted in Lower Puna, and Susie Osborne is finally able to sleep through the night.
Osborne, 62, lost her home in Leilani Estates to the lava flows in late May, and then about seven weeks later saw the campus of Kua O Ka La Public Charter School, which she co-founded and built near Ahalanui warm ponds, destroyed.
She continues to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder from her losses.
“They talk about the stages of recovery,” she said. “Even though the event is over, everybody thinks everything’s good. It does take time, but we all heal in time.”
After going into Leilani Estates during high levels of toxic gases to search for her three cats — she saved one — Osborne has suffered from lung problems and is still grieving for her other two cats.
When the insurance money finally came through, Osborne was able to buy a home in Hilo earlier this year, providing some grounding and making it easier for her to sleep.
“I feel happy, and now my big focus is just the next steps for the school.”
Through it all, what has motivated Osborne is her mission as the head of Kua O Ka La and the children, who have been resilient in the face of upheaval and uncertainty.
“What sets us apart as a school is our cultural values of aloha, mahalo and kokua,” she said.
Without a campus, Osborne arranged for alternative locations last fall. Middle and high school students are convening at the Boys &Girls Club in Hilo, and after some last-minute scrambling, elementary students were set up at Nani Mau Gardens in Hilo. She calls it “the miracle at Nani Mau.”
It would not have happened without help from the community, she said. Five Rotary clubs joined forces to raise money and volunteers to get the campus ready on time. Makana, the musician, held a fundraising concert for the school and the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation offered a grant for a new bus.
Next fall, students in grades K through 8 will go to Nani Mau, while high school students will take classes online, with support services available in Puna.
Osborne has returned to Leilani Estates to see where her house, now buried under 60 feet of lava, once stood. The area is still hot, with steam rising out of cracks in the ground.
An even more emotional experience, she said, was trying to get to the school’s former location. It was a beautiful and unique campus on 600 acres with an ancient Hawaiian fishing village — now all gone.
While she still faces considerable challenges, such as finding a permanent campus, Osborne said she will keep forging ahead and continue to live with aloha and gratitude.