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Hawaii youngsters tackle the pandemic as ‘Keiki Heroes’

  • COURTESY REBECCA CHOI
                                Rebecca Choi’s three daughters work together to color a page from the “Keiki Heroes” website.

    COURTESY REBECCA CHOI

    Rebecca Choi’s three daughters work together to color a page from the “Keiki Heroes” website.

Young children in Hawaii can become “Keiki Heroes” and learn to protect each other from the coronavirus pandemic, with the help of free activity books in multiple languages and an engaging website geared just for them.

“Even for adults it can be a pretty scary time, and that’s especially so for little ones,” said Rebecca Choi, a community volunteer and mother who lives in Hilo. “We want kids to feel empowered that there are things they can do.”

She and other volunteers on Hawaii island banded together last year to help preschool and elementary age children make sense of an often bewildering situation involving an invisible foe. They called their project “Keiki Heroes” to underscore that kids can be heroes in stopping the spread of coronavirus.

The Keiki Heroes website features short videos that answer questions posed by a Hawaii child about COVID-­ 19. There’s a theme-song video spotlighting local kids, as well as interactive games, plus a section with resources for parents and teachers.

The activity booklets were recently translated into 14 languages most commonly used in Hawaii. They can be downloaded for free and are available in Cebu­ano, Chinese, Chuukese, Ilocano, Japanese, Korean, Kosraean, Marshallese, Hawaiian, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese, along with English.

The initiative aims to engage kids, answer their questions, reinforce safe habits, dispel fear and isolation, and reduce stigma around COVID-19 diagnoses.

“I have three little ones,” Choi said. “We all know that when we try to work with kids, you can tell them to do something and they will comply, minimally. But the real way to change behavior is to impress upon them the ‘why’ behind it.”

“The ‘why’ behind Keiki Hero is, hey, you are a hero, you can protect not only yourself, but your ohana, your community,” she said. “We call them our superpowers, like wearing a mask to help your tutu. Not focusing on ‘Don’t do this, don’t do that,’ but the positive messaging of ‘Let’s do this!’”

Hawaii STEM Community Care, a coalition on Hawaii island, sponsors the project, which has received support from the Waikoloa Foundation, Hawaii County and Vibrant Hawaii.

The activity books follow the adventures of two cousins, Kai and Hoku, who live on the Big Island, along with a friendly gecko and a noisy bird. Youngsters can take the Keiki Hero pledge to use their “superpowers” such as wearing a mask properly, “respecting the bubble” and washing hands.

In the videos, experts answer questions posed by local kids like “What do we say if we get invited to a birthday party or a sleepover?” and “What does the vaccine do?” or “What do I say when someone is getting too close for physical distancing?”

Yuko Green, a children’s book author and illustrator, is the artist for the project.

“One of the core values for our team was to make sure it is localized and really relevant for Hawaii’s keiki,” Choi said. “When kids look at it, it looks like home, and they can relate to Kai and Hoku.”

The group doesn’t have the capacity to distribute physical copies of the activity books beyond Hawaii island, but anyone can download the materials. Already, people in California and elsewhere on the mainland are logging on and making copies for their families.

The Keiki Heroes team is also partnering with local businesses to provide incentives for kids while helping the community recover.

Get involved

To learn more about “Keiki Heroes” and to watch videos of children’s responses to COVID-19, visit:

>> keikiheroes.org

For free downloadable materials, go to:

>> keikiheroes.org/shop

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