Candy Suiso

PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS
ʻike – Knowledge is Everywhere

 

In his documentary, ‘ike: Knowledge is Everywhere, filmmaker Matthew Nagato could have pointed out everything that’s wrong with public education in Hawai‘i. Instead, Nagato set out to accent the positive, by sharing stories of trailblazers in Hawai‘i who are creating and implementing innovative programs to improve public education. “We want people to strive, to get to places, to do things, and not just sit around and accept the status quo, simply because it’s difficult. I choose the route that gives people the hope, the opportunity and the belief,” Nagato stated in an interview.

 

Immediately following the film, Insights on PBS Hawai‘i will sit down with filmmaker Nagato; Candy Suiso, who created Searider Productions at Wai‘anae High School; Zachery Grace from Matt Levi’s Lawakua Kajukenbo martial arts club; and Waipahu High School Principal Keith Hayashi, one of the innovators featured in the film.

 

Can-Do Teachers

Can-Do Teachers: Teachers at PBS Hawaii - Terrance T.C. Ching Campus

 

Leslie Wilcox, President and CEO of PBS HawaiiA Hawaiian proverb tells us:

To prepare for 1 year, plant kalo.
To prepare for 10 years, plant koa.
To prepare for 100 years, teach the children.

Here at PBS Hawai‘i, count us in for the third option!

 

Our programming for all ages is designed to nourish minds, and Hawai‘i teachers are very much a part of this educational television/multimedia center.

 

About 80 digital media teachers from all over the state – private, public and charter school educators – recently met for a workshop in our cheerful new building. These professionals are teaching and learning at the same time, preparing their students for the future in a fast-changing world.

 

The teaching connection at PBS Hawai‘i is baked in. Our very first general manager was a teacher at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, Robert M. Reed, who established this organization in the 1960s to show the value of television as a teaching aid.

 

Several chapters of the Hawai‘i Alpha Delta Kappa organization of women educators have long served as volunteers here, overseeing young keiki and students at our events and handling paperwork. ADK members and tireless retired teachers Jean Kiyabu and Julie Shimonishi have served on our Board of Directors.

 

Another Board member is the extraordinary Candy Suiso of Wai‘anae High School, who many years ago set the stage for PBS Hawai‘i’s HIKI NŌ statewide student news network, by sharing digital media with her students. They became engaged learners and continue to be a potent force in creative youth media, locally and nationally.

 

Thanks to generous funding from former San Francisco educator Joyce Stupski and her Stupski Family Fund of the Hawai‘i Community Foundation, we are able to provide the schools’ HIKI NŌ teachers with storytelling mentors and training in journalism and video production.

 

It was a retired public elementary school teacher, Honolulu’s Karen Watanabe, who actually completed our building campaign by leaving us a large gift when she passed away at age 89. She loved math and liked to play the markets.

 

Leeward O‘ahu’s Teacher of the Year, the innovative Luane Higuchi of Wai‘anae Intermediate, has written a letter urging islanders to invest in children through PBS Hawai‘i.

 

We’re most grateful and very proud to stand alongside Hawai‘i’s teachers in planting a “can-do” spirit and learning and workforce skills, in preparing children for the future.

 

A hui hou – until next time…
Leslie signature

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Celebrating Moms

 

Original air date: Tues., June 8, 2012

 

In this special edition, we look back at some of the best stories about mothers from previous Long Story Short guests: entertainers Emma Veary, Keola Beamer and Mihana Souza; business leaders Cha Thompson and Christine Camp; and educator Candy Suiso.

 

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Transcript

 

Aloha mai kakou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. In this special edition of Long Story Short, we celebrate moms – mothers whose children went on to sing, lead, teach and ultimately pass on the lessons they learned from their mothers. We’ll look back on conversations with entertainers Emma Veary, Mihana Souza and Keola Beamer; business leaders Cha Thompson and Christine Camp; and educator Candy Suiso. Stories of mothers – next on Long Story Short.

 

We begin with a story from an elegant singer who was nicknamed “Hawaii’s Golden Voice” and graced Waikiki’s stages in the ‘70s. Today, Emma Veary remains a treasure of Hawaiian music. Emma’s strongest influence was her late mother, Nana Veary. Nana loved everyone, from the rich and famous, to the homeless and downtrodden. She dedicated her life to a spiritual journey, one that took her from her traditional Hawaiian upbringing, to Christian Pentecostalism and Zen Buddhism. Along the way, Nana’s children, including Emma, were there by her side.

 

We know Nana Veary as this renowned spiritualist whom people came from far and wide to consult and see, and spend time with.

 

Yes. Right.

 

What was she like as a mom, starting out when you were a little baby?

 

I mean, she was just our mom; that was it. And interestingly enough, when we grew old enough, we chose to go on her spiritual path with her. And that’s what made life most interesting. Because whatever she was studying, we were studying. And we were chanting in Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan or whatever she was doing; we were doing it. So we were living her life, her book, with her; which I still do.

 

For all of her life, she was in tuned spiritually, and went on these journeys for truth.  

 

Yes. Right.

 

How did you and your brother and sister fit in?

 

Well, again, we all joined emotionally, spiritually with her in her journey, and she’d come home and tell us what was happening with her. And we’d all exchange whatever was happening with us. And we enjoyed learning about the other parts of the world, and what their belief system was. And whenever she went anywhere, she always came back with all these wonderful tales to tell us.

 

Now, so you’re a grown up yourself, and your mom’s on this spiritual odyssey.

 

Right.

 

You didn’t think, H-m, how come only my mom is out there—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

—in India searching for truth?  

 

We were sharing our mother since we were kids. And we enjoyed sharing her with people. We felt so blessed to have her that we thought, Oh, let’s share her with everyone. You know? And that was our attitude about it, share her with whatever. And I know she was lecturing at one point at UCLA. And this young student got up in the auditorium and he said, Excuse me, Mrs. Veary—trying to be smart like all students are he said, I understand the Hawaiian are a dying race. And she says, Let me come back to that after I finish my lecture. Okay. After the lecture, she said, All right, young man, I’ll answer your question now. I prefer to think that the Hawaiians are not a dying race; they are very busy creating an international race. Take my little granddaughter here; come here, Debbie. She says, This little girl is French, English, Spanish, Hawaiian, Japanese. She says, How more international can you get? She had a standing ovation. [CHUCKLE] But, that’s how she thought.

 

And did she bring to you her aha moments, her epiphanies?

 

Yes. We used to sit and have these discussions about what was happening in her life, and what was happening in ours, and how we were growing. And we didn’t we didn’t go out an awful lot; we didn’t enjoy doing that. We liked to stay at home with the family. We did a lot of things together.

 

And she said that she just learned that there’s just not a big place in one’s life for negativity.

 

Yes.

 

So she tried never to say—

 

No.

—anything bad. Did she succeed at home? I mean …

 

Well, we had our—

 

As far—

 

—spankings and everything. I mean, if you want to call that negative. But—

 

But could she be positive about so many things?

 

Yes; yes. She taught us to see only the good. And I have trouble with one child who only sees good, and she will not see the other. I said, There is also something that is not good here, and you have to find a balance there. You just can’t see only good, good, good, good, good; because not everyone is made up of the two.

 

Do you think your mother saw the negative, but chose not to acknowledge, really?

 

Yes; yes. That is non-acknowledgement of it, and nullifies it.

 

Are you that way too?

 

Yeah.

 

Emma Veary says that through her daily actions, she feels she’s continuing where her mother left off in her spiritual journey. Now another treasured local singer and musician, Mihana Souza. Mihana, who sings and plays the upright bass for Puamana, her family’s Hawaiian music group, talks about how she ended up as the bass player … and other lessons from her mother—the late great entertainer/composer Irmgard Aluli.

 

How did you come to be the one who played the bass?

 

You know, being a young mother, and trying to find a way to help with income, I started to make head leis and flower bouquets for friends who were getting married. And I remember I would strap my daughter onto my back, and we would go up, and we would pick all the lauae in the mountains. Well, one time, it got too hard, and I went to my mother and I said, What do I have to do to sing? And she said, Well, go get yourself a bass. So I called my cousin Kekua, and he happened to have two basses; so he said, Come, I’m gonna give you this bass.

 

Did you know how to play a bass?

 

I didn’t know how to play the bass.

 

[chuckle]

 

And I took the bass back to my mother that night. She taught me how to play that night, in forty-five minutes. And that next weekend, we started to sing; it was me, my older sister Neau, and my mother. And we haven’t had a free weekend since. [chuckle] So, yay!

 

Now, I know Puamana has always sung harmoniously. Have things always been harmonious within the group?

 

Always. Always. Number one, we have the example of my mother.

 

Was she always right?

 

Always. [chuckle] And I’ll tell you why she was right; because she always came from a place of humble kindness. She was always very thoughtful of who she was with. She was always very, very gracious. And she was always very kind.

 

Boy, that’s a hard act to live up to, isn’t it?

 

Yeah; it was really hard, except when you see it in action. Because when you see it in action, you realize that that is truly a wonderful way to live your life, to live a life of kindness. I mean, I always wanted it quickly, I wanted it now; until I saw the way my mother did it. She was just so nice. [chuckle] And she was never confrontational. But she was very gracious, and you could tell that she loved her homeland, and she loved the people here. She loved what she was doing. And she was a historian in her own way. Because her music would be an account of what was going on in her time.

 

And what an amazing thing happened when you recorded a song she wrote in the 40s.

 

[chuckle] Just to tell you a little bit about that story. My mother has written over three hundred Hawaiian songs. And I remember as a young child growing up, there were always these parties. Boy, they really knew how to celebrate. They would have these parties all the time, great parties. The women would always come up in muumuus, and they were those silky muus with the frills and they’d always have potluck. And always, I remember they would then gather in the back yard, and they would sing, and they would dance, and in the wee hours of the morning, then the men would come and sing. And my father always loved my mother’s — he would call them her Haole songs, because they were songs that she would write in English. And she has about seven of them. And one of them was called Rust On the Moon. So always at the end of these parties, they would sing all of these old songs, and they were the Haole songs. And when I put out my first album with the help of my mother, I remember promising my father that if I ever put out any albums — that’s really dating, ‘cause I speak in terms of albums [chuckle] that I would bring to the public my mother’s Haole songs, the ones that we loved so much. And one of them was Rust On the Moon. That was one of my favorites.

 

That favorite song her mom penned, “Rust on the Moon,” is featured on Mihana Souza’s debut solo album of the same name. In 2003, the album was named Na Hoku Hanohano Jazz Album of the Year. Our next Long Story Short guest was once recognized as Hawaii Mother of the Year. Cha Thompson, mother of 12, grew up in Kalihi public housing and is now a respected business leader. Along with her husband Jack, she owns and operates Tihati Productions, a family-run entertainment company. Here, Cha shares how she still gave her all as a mother to raise her children while living the life of an entertainer and entrepreneur. This often involved traveling abroad, so she had some help from her aunt, who she calls “one of [her] most favorite people in the whole wide world.”

 

My Puna Dear in Waimanalo helped raise my children. And it was a place where they were always clean and always well fed, and always happy. And I could rest assured that they weren’t missing me the way uh, other children would miss their parents that would have to take trips a lot. Because we’d always be on the phone, and she was like, Don’t worry, Mama be home, Mama be home soon, and whatever. And she was the stabling force, and the reason I could travel the way I did.

 

Somehow, I don’t see you handing off most of your business and most of your childcare to other people. I just don’t—

 

[chuckle]

 

—see that

 

I did; I took care of them. Even though I traveled, a lot of times they would travel with me. And I’m telling you; if I was—my youngest son was about six weeks when I went back on stage. And I had him in a little basket back of the stages in Chicago, or New York, or Washington, DC. I did; I took my children with me. I did.

 

You gave birth to five.

 

M-hm.

 

And then you ended up with seven more, somehow?

 

Yeah. It’s a Polynesian custom. And when I say hanai, I raised them from three weeks old. I don’t only take the ones that, you know.

 

Are almost ready to go. [chuckle]

 

Yeah; almost ready—no, no. That’s why the line between my natural children and my hanai children pales, because they’re all brothers and sisters. They never say, Oh, this is my hanai brother, or this is my hanai sister. They’re brothers and sisters. And it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Because ‘til today, everybody comes home for toonai. That’s the Sunday afternoon meal, right after church. Everybody’s there; and everybody’s talking at the same time. And it’s amazing; we all know what everybody’s saying. Sundays are great for us …we always say in our family—and we were honored by a high school for this; much is expected from whom much is given. And man, nobody in our clan, nobody would ever start to begin to think that maybe they were owed this, or maybe they’re kind of special. We make fun of everything, and man, we’d take ‘em down. That wouldn’t happen in our family.

 

So everybody’s expected to do housework. No breaks?

 

My son, who has a real thriving career on his own—he fronted for Fifty Cent.

 

Afatia.

 

Afatia; for Fitty Cents. And I mean, I remember him, he was June Jones’ first running back, and won a ring, and all state, all star, and, excuse me. By Saturday morning, that kennel better be cleaned, ‘cause we don’t have a yardman that’s gonna clean the kennel. And he used to do it, and he’d say, Ho, Mom, can’t you get—you know, I gotta be at rehearsal, and I got—yeah, we can, but you know, twenty minutes or half an hour, do your stuff first. And that’s the way it is; I expected that of them. And I’m really grateful that they’re great kids.

 

Speaking of great kids, our next guest is always in their company. In addition to her husband and daughter, Candy Suiso, the respected Waianae High School educator of over 20 years, has a large family of students, colleagues and alumni. Thanks to the multimedia program she co-founded, Searider Productions, students are gaining the communication and team building skills needed to succeed. Candy’s mother, Julia Smith, was also a respected teacher on the Waianae Coast; for three decades, she taught at Makaha Elementary. In this segment, Candy reveals what life was like for her mother and family – a life few people knew about.

 

…she—my mother, she literally raised four of us. My mother and father divorced when I was nine. my older sister was eleven; and I had a younger brother who was, I think, five; and then my other brother was three. And she just—her whole life was shattered. Um, moved us to Kauai, had my grandparents take care of us. I can’t do this; she moved to Makaha and just literally really had to get her life back together. And a year later, we moved back, and she remarried. And it was a—there was a lot of dysfunction. I don’t know what the word to say, but there was—she married an alcoholic, and there was a lot of abuse. He didn’t really work much, and she carried, she struggled. She would live paycheck to paycheck. And there was a lot of times I know it was hard. It was really hard. She couldn’t provide, I think, the way that she would want to for us. But she’d always have a roof over our heads, we would always have clothes on our body, we’d always have—we had each other. And—

 

What about food?

 

We always had food on the table; always. My mother was the queen of Spam.

 

[chuckle]

 

She knew how to cook Spam, she knew how to cook corned beef hash. She knew how to make ends meet. We always knew at the end of the month when the times were hard, a little harder, we’d have the bean soup and we’d have the ham hocks. And we hated it, but actually, it’s something that we really love eating now.

 

M-hm.

 

We cook it, and it’s good memories. It used to be bad memories, but there was always food on the table, and clothes on our back, and a roof over our head. And she kept us together. She raised four of us, and living out in Waianae, it would have been easy for any of us to either go the other way. But we all turned out really …

 

It must have been hard for her. She was the authority at the school—

 

M-hm.

 

—and somebody who was seen as having her life all together.

 

M-hm.

 

But then to go home and really have to—

 

M-hm.

 

—scrounge and work and scheme to keep things together for your family.

 

I don’t know how she did it. When I look back now, I think, I don’t know how you did it. And you know, my sister and I talk about this all the time. It’s—she—to get away from what was going on at home. A lot of times it was pretty—it was nasty; it was pretty bad a lot of times. And she would just block it out and work. I think that was a lot of how she would run away from what was happening at home her home life, with her husband. And she would just work. She would just involve herself with work, and keep busy. And my sister and I talk about this all the time. We have so much of her in us.

 

Because you work all the time.

 

Because we work all the time, or we keep busy when we want to avoid something or we want to—we just work. And so many times, we think things that used to bother us, the things that she would say, or maybe some of the things that she would do, it would just drive us nuts. And now, I hear myself say things that she would say, and I find myself doing things that she would do, and I think, Oh, my gosh, I have become my mother. And it used to bother me, but now, it’s a good thing. It’s a really good thing.

 

You were lucky that your mom lived long enough to see what you’ve accomplished on the Waianae Coast. What did she say to you?

 

[SIGH]

 

She was always proud of me. She was just always proud of me. She was—she didn’t say much, but I always knew. I think she was most proud, because she saw that part of her lived through me and continues. But she was always—I mean, she just always would tell me how proud she was of what I’m doing and the work that I chose. And that sometimes teaching is not a very prestige job, and you will not make a lot of money. It will not make you very rich with things and with money, but it will make you very rich with people. And she was right.

 

Candy Suiso’s mother was right. Because of Candy’s dedication to and connection with her students, many of them, past and present, see her as a mother figure. The Hawaiian music community lost a mother figure and cultural treasure, with the passing of Aunty Nona Beamer in 2008. Six months later, in this next Long Story Short segment, her son, slack key guitarist and composer Keola Beamer, was ready to talk about his mother and his grief.

 

I didn’t know that that was possible to love somebody so much, and then they’re gone. But the grief sort of reminds me a little bit of when I was a young man, surfing, and you’d sit out there on your surfboard, and everything would be okay, and then this set would come in these big, towering waves. And grief is like that; you’re doing pretty good, and then the grief comes in, in waves, and you do your best and you deal with it. And then another set comes, and this continues for a while, you know. Because my mom was a revered Hawaiian cultural treasure, she touched many lives. And we as Beamers have to have the compassion for other people’s grief too; not just our own.

 

Hard to take care of them, when you’ve gotta take care of yourself too.

 

Yeah. That’s difficult. But we can do it. We have done it. My mom led a life that made a difference in the world; she made the world a better place. She touched thousands of lives and helped many, many students, and she left with dignity. How great, you know. I’d be so happy if that happened in my own life. I want to share a story with you that means quite a lot to me. The morning of her passage, Moana, my wife and I were in San Francisco. And I had this very powerful dream, and it was young woman, a beautiful young woman, vibrant, beautiful black hair. Just this unbelievable energy. And you also had the feeling with this woman in my dream, that she was a person to be reckoned with. You know. And I almost didn’t recognize her, but it was my mom. And she had just come to say goodbye.

 

Did you recognize that at the time, that she was saying goodbye, or did you figure it out later?

 

Figured it out a little bit later. I almost didn’t recognize her, because I was used to taking care of my kupuna mom, right, with the thin arms and the graying hair. But this woman was my mom, before my brother and I were born. And she was beautiful and vibrant; and the word that comes to mind is, joy. She was joyous. She had transcended the cocoon of old age.

 

Our next guest is familiar with difficult times. Now a successful developer and business leader, Christine Camp and her family fled from poverty and political unrest in South Korea when she was only nine years old. In this segment, Christine talks about a different kind of escape. In high school, Christine excelled in her classes, held down several jobs and became a cheerleader. However, her strict mother prohibited Christine from taking part in extracurricular activities that prevented her from taking care of household chores. So at age fifteen, Christine decided to run away from home. Little did she know that by running away from her mother, she would realize what she needed to run toward.

 

… I felt that I could do better, I was making my own money. So I packed up my bags in a little pillowcase.

 

Pillowcase?

 

Yeah. [CHUCKLE] I said, I’m done with you. I ran away from home.

 

How could you make your own way at age fifteen?

 

Isn’t that amazing? I did. And I can’t … my rent was hundred and seventy dollars a month.

 

Where did you live?

 

On Harding Avenue, in one of these old Chinese schools that became an apartment house. Little sections of classrooms were apartment house, and I had a little apartment house next to the sewer line where the cockroaches gathered at night. [CHUCKLE]

 

And what about your neighbors; what were they like?

 

Six families. I have to say, I saw what I felt was to not have hope, to feel a loss in what our life would be. There was a welfare mom who dropped out of high school, had several children, and still within high school age. There was a woman who had two kids, and she was a prostitute. There were—it was just kind of like that. An alcoholic woman, another woman who couldn’t afford to eat regular food, and she was sharing her cat food, what I found out, and I would try to give her what I could. And the only bright light in that whole place were two college students who were a couple, and they were happy people. They were clean, and they were smart, and they had a hope of future. I mean, they had hope for their future. But I internalized this when a traumatic accident happened with me. I couldn’t afford electricity, so I didn’t have power, but I had a little gas oven. And these kids were running around without adult supervision, and I felt like I was the den mother. Whenever I had free time, I would have them come over to my place. And it was a child’s three-year-old birthday, and her mom was out. So I decided, I’m going to bake her a cake. And I’d never used the oven. Turned the oven on; nothing. It was a gas oven. And I realized, Oh, it’s a gas oven, I have to turn the match on. Turned on the match, and the whole thing blew up on my face. I had no hair on my face. Anyway, the emergency medics came, and they called the emergency and everything. And at that moment, while I was cooling off, they had ice on me, I’m sitting there, and I had an Aha Moment. All these images came to me of the people that were living around me, and the little kids. And the only bright spot that I saw were these students who had a future. And I felt that education was my future, I didn’t want to be there, and that I wanted to have hope. I didn’t want to lose hope like these people. And they’re wonderful people, but they lost hope for their future, and they weren’t taking responsibility for themselves. So I packed up my ego, packed up my things; I went home that day, the next day.

 

What was that reception like for you?

 

What was amazing is, my mom never asked me a question. I had called my sister and said, I’m coming home. And she didn’t go to work. She went to work seven days a week; she didn’t go to work. She was there folding laundry, she acted like nothing happened.

 

But now, she’s seen you make this wonderful transition to American life, and be extraordinarily successful as a professional, and a mom. And what does she say?

 

She still treats me like I’m thirteen years old. [CHUCKLE] She wants to comb my hair, and [CHUCKLE] make sure that I’m wearing the right color. No, she’s extremely proud of me. She’s very thankful. She took care of me, so now I take care of her. And she helps me raise my son. And it’s come full circle.

 

Thank you to Christine Camp, Keola Beamer, Candy Suiso, Cha Thompson, Mihana Souza and Emma Veary for sharing personal stories about their mothers and motherhood. And to all devoted moms, mahalo nui for your patience, wisdom and love. On behalf of PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.

 

What did you spend your free time doing? You went to school, you tried to earn money.

 

You know, we babysat; I mean, one another. I took care, helped with the younger ones. I remember helping my mother’s kid sister take care of her children. I was all of eleven years old, and you already helped; you helped—that’s why I love children so much, and if you did anything else, you cleaned the house. My mother made sure of that. And my daughters now; I mean, they all have their college degrees. But they would say, Mama would say, if you have any worth—if you’re worth your salt, you had to learn how to clean the toilet, you had to know how to fight. And you had to have a college degree.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Candy Suiso

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Candy Suiso

 

Original air date: Tues., Feb. 24, 2009

 

Program Director for Searider Productions

 

Leslie Wilcox talks story with Waianae High School alumnus Candy Suiso, who returned to the school as a Spanish teacher and then helped to create the nationally acclaimed student media center – Searider Productions. Candy talks about how the language of visual storytelling gave voice to a community in need.

 

Candy Suiso Audio

 

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Transcript

 

When I left, I remember graduating from Waianae High School, thinking, I want to get the heck out of here, and I never, ever want to come back. I never want to come back. I remember that—thinking that way. But you know, you leave a place that you really love, and when you come back—every year, I would come back, it just felt better and better. And I knew I wanted to come back. When I realized that’s what I wanted to do, I wanted to teach, I knew I wanted to be at Waianae High School.

 

There’s a movement taking place on Oahu’s leeward coast. You may have seen a part of it without realizing you were seeing part of a movement that’s bringing in jobs in place of drugs, hope in place of homelessness, and a culture of doing the right thing. And where would you have seen this? On television!

 

Public service announcements, TV commercials, student news videos and music videos are some of the kinds of work of the multi-talented, award-winning high school students from Waianae High School’s Searider Productions.

 

They’re part of a movement that’s encouraging, educating, enabling young people to learn life and workforce skills and give back to their community. A movement led, guided, nurtured by a graduate of Waianae High who returned to the community to live and work. This educator learned to find resources in and mostly OUTside the public school system to grow the largest and most successful high school multi-media production program in Hawaii. We’ll sit down to chat with Candy Suiso – next.

 

Aloha no, I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawaii. Today’s Long Story Short features Candy Suiso, a graduate of Waianae High School who’s been teaching there for more than 20 years. Her mother taught at Makaha Elementary for 30 years.

 

What Candy and a team of teachers have done at Waianae High is pretty simple. While teaching students to use different mediums of communication (print, audio, video and web), they’re also teaching them to communicate – ask questions, seek different perspectives, present a story.

 

The teachers at Waianae have simply given students the tools they need to succeed, the skills they need to know, and the belief that they can achieve. And boy have they.

 

Success receiving grants… success producing broadcast TV commercials… success winning awards…

 

I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to give back to the community that was very good to me. I really felt that that’s where I was the most needed. It felt right. I wanted to be in—I wanted to be home. I wanted to be in the community that raised me. And it was the right thing to do. I just felt that that was the right thing to do, and it was the right decision, when I look back.

 

Much of what you’ve done at Waianae High School wasn’t done really within the system. You had to find ways to equip yourself and your students with grants. You had to become a grant writer—

 

M-hm.

 

–to get the proper equipment, the space.

 

M-hm. There’s—within the DOE, there’s so many limitations, and there’s only so much money to go around. And part of our success is, I believe, we’ve learned to work around the system and been very successful in going—like you said, going after a lot of grants. A lot of support, pulling together partners, pulling together people that believe in you; that’s been our success. We had to prove ourself, you know, like you said, the right people at the right time started to notice these students, and started to give. And—

 

These were big grant makers.

 

[chuckle]

 

Kellogg Foundation. I mean—

 

We still—

 

–you were getting—

 

Yeah, and the—m-hm.

 

–hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money.

 

We were—yeah, we were able to secure couple HUD grants, federal government grant—from the federal government. We received another federal—the Native Hawaiian Education Act, another federal U.S. DOE grant, and recently, W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant. Back to back; but prior to that, it was the little grants that we were able to get. Little donations from people like the, you know, Ko Olina Charities, HMSA, who’ve been very generous, the Campbell—James Campbell Company. Just people who really saw these kids’ potential, and gave.

 

Because they were doing things with nothing. When we first started, we started in a classroom with no air conditioning, with very little equipment.

 

And by the way, heat isn’t just bad for people, it’s bad for—

 

It’s so bad.

 

–equipment.

 

We would pack fifty kids, forty kids in a classroom, and it was hot, and no air conditioning. But you know, those kids never grumbled; they never grumbled, because they didn’t have an air conditioned room or top of the line equipment like a lot of other schools did. Instead, they just started to create projects. And they did some pretty good projects, and people started to notice. That’s what happened, is people started to notice.

 

How did they know they could do that? What got them started?

 

You just—you give ‘em the tools. You, as educators you know, the team of educators, there was enough people out there that said, You can do it, of course you can do it. You know, make a video; here; here’s the camera, here’s your tool, here’s how you do it.

 

The essence of video production, as I look at it, is storytelling.

 

M-hm.

 

What kind of experience do you think your students had in storytelling?

 

They are born with a gift to tell a story. I really believe their success is because they are born with the gift to create. They—the kids out in Waianae, I really believe, are the most creative, loving, storytellers because—they don’t grow up with a lot. I really believe that; they don’t grow up with a lot, so they entertain themselves by playing the ukulele, sitting around, talking story, they draw, they doodle, they sing. And it carries over. When they come to us, they just—they’re so strong and their heartfelt creativity carries over with this tool. All of a sudden, we have these expensive toys now that we give them, and we say, Go create. And they—

 

And they—

 

–create.

 

–just take to it.

 

It was amazing

 

Now—

 

It’s incredible.

 

–you didn’t have the star pupils of Waianae High School. Some of your kids were doing really poorly in other—

 

M-hm.

 

–classes, they were reporting to school from their homes on the beach in tents.

 

M-hm. We have the homeless, we have kids whose parents have been in jail, they are abused. They come to us, we know they’re—a lot of dysfunction. So much. And you know, that’s my world; I grew up there, and I know that world. And they come to us, and we give them hope. For a lot of these kids, it’s their security; we’re their family, we give—we teach them a tool, and they become successful at it. And they see something that they create, and for their self esteem, it’s wow, I did that. You know, it gives them hope. And they realize, I have just learned something that I can do for life. And a lot of these kids’ lives have been turned around. They would have dropped out, I really believe. And they’ll tell us that too. If it wasn’t for this class, I would have dropped out, or I didn’t know I was gonna go to college, or I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. And now, so many of our kids are college graduates.

 

They’re being recruited by—

 

They’re being recruited.

 

–television stations, and advertising—

 

Yes, yes—

 

–agencies.

 

–yes, yes.

 

I remember when your Seariders first started doing public service announcements for various clients. You—

 

M-hm.

 

You invited the business community to hire the kids and said, We’ll see what we can come up with you. I just remember, as a professional television person at that time, how the students’ work had so much more depth than what you would normally see in a PSA or public service announcement, because the kids knew that world, as you mentioned.

 

M-hm.

 

When it was about crystal meth, they—

 

Yes.

 

–brought a reality to it that—

 

Yes.

 

–nobody had brought before.

 

They know—

 

these kids know what it’s like to live in houses, in homes where there’s crystal meth, or they have to be in a car with someone who’s been drinking.

 

They know how it hurts.

 

They know it hurt. And it was their stories. If you look at any of those PSAs, those are their stories. They knew. That was either them, or that was someone that they knew, and they were able to come up with the idea from the heart, from real life. And I think that’s what makes their work so powerful; it’s real stories. They tell their stories, whether it’s a news story, a public service announcement, a commercial, they’re just telling their story.

 

You know, John Allen, who is the teacher now, I hear him say this all the time; you know, no matter what piece you do, you, you have to hit the emotion. If you can make someone laugh, you can make someone cry, you’ve done your job. And that’s what you want to do as videographers, as filmmakers. Whatever your piece is, you want to—who’s your subject, who’s your audience, and what’s your purpose. And they do a good job.

 

Knowing the audience and the purpose for every video they produce, students at Searider Productions have received rave reviews and numerous awards, including Robert F. Kennedy Foundation journalism honors and a prestigious national high school Emmy. By the way, it’s NOT in an Emmy category for students from a low-income, minority, geographically isolated community. It’s an Emmy open to the richest and poorest schools across the country. Waianae outdistanced everybody else.

 

A national high school Emmy, they got a free trip to New York to share it with some of the top journalists in the country. And what was so unique about that is, they showed it on these big screens, and it was a paddling story. And it showcased Pokai Bay in Waianae, our ocean, our mountains, the story of paddling, how it’s not just a sport, it’s a way of life for us out in Waianae. And Katy Hoppe, the student who won, got up there and spoke, said how proud she felt to be able to share the culture of Hawaii at a national level. Just to share what we do, and to share their work. And it was a very chicken skin moment. I cried; I sat there, and I cried.

 

[chuckle]

 

It was such a proud moment.

 

Candy Suiso, multimedia teacher at Waianae High School, is clearly very proud of her students’ accomplishments. Historically, the school has turned in pretty dismal scores in standardized testing. It’s excelling in its team-based multi-media program.

 

Searider Productions is housed in its own building on-campus with 15 edit stations and HD cameras, still cameras, and computers for students to work on the school newspaper, yearbook, video news and video productions. Two bold statements posted on the walls at SP read: Lead, Follow, Or Get Out Of The Way and If Can Can, If No Can, No Can.

 

Tell me about, If can, can.

 

If can, can; if no can, no can. Because you know, there’s nothing worse, we feel, than saying you’re gonna do something, and not do it, and not follow through. And we tell these kids, if you’re gonna do something, if you’re gonna say you’re gonna do something, hold yourself to it, and do it, follow through and do it. Because really, there’s nothing worse than not completing something that you’ve committed to. And if we could teach them now in school, it will carry over in life, in a job, in a marriage, in a relationship.

 

And when you work in teams, you know other people are counting on you.

 

Yes; ‘cause it’s teamwork, and the good thing about our program is, every project that these kids do is a team effort. And we always think, if you have—when you leave our program, if you have learned nothing about video production, about creating a webpage, about a page layout in a newspaper, we hope you’ve really learned the importance of teamwork, cooperation—

 

And getting things done on time?

 

It’s meeting deadlines, respect, respect for self, respect for other people, respect for property.

 

So if you’re gonna say you’re gonna do something, you better do it, because if you don’t, you’re dropping the ball for your teammates.

 

But if no can, no can.

 

If no can, no can. And if you can’t do it, it’s okay; say you can’t do it.

 

But just don’t say you’re gonna do something, if you can’t do it. ‘Cause you let everybody down. So if can, can; if no can, no can. And it’s been out mantra, and the kids—they get it, the kids get it.

 

So sounds like you don’t care if your students become these video producers extraordinaire; it’s whatever they want to do in life, and this is just a tool to help them get there.

 

To teach them. You know, my mother would always say, You do what you want to. You know, what’s gonna make you happy; and whatever you do, you do it the best that you can. If you’re gonna cook, if you’re gonna be a teacher, if you’re gonna be a lawyer. Well, no matter what it is you’re gonna do, you do the best job you can possibly—you know, possibly do. And for our kids, they might not be the videographers and the Spielbergs, and whatever. We want them to know—we want them to be the best at whatever they choose to be. And be honest, contributing citizens to our community. To come back, to give back, and just to do what’s right in life. Do what’s right, even when no one’s watching. You know, do what’s right.

 

What’s the impact of Lead, follow, or get out of the way?

 

[chuckle] Well, you be a leader; we want to also promote leadership and be a leader, and lead; or follow. If ovementyou’re not gonna take the lead, then do what you’re told to do, or follow what needs to be done.

 

And in this world, you know, if you’re negative, and if you don’t like what’s going on, and if you’re gonna whine and complain, then get out of the way. Because we have so much work to do and if you’re not gonna move with us, get out of the way.

 

With Candy Suiso guiding them, young people on Oahu’s leeward coast are moving forward, together as a team. And, through Ms. Suiso’s guidance, there are also opportunities for young people to return to the Waianae coast to work and live. Here’s a sampling of the work of Waianae High School graduates at the for-profit social enterprise Makaha Studios located in the old Cornet Building

 

That’s where they’re based, in the old Cornet building. And it’s, you know, people are, Whoa, that’s kinda shady over there, because you have a lot of the homeless that’ll hang out there, or the—oh, a lot of illegal activity going on, and it’s kinda scary sometimes to be there. But they’re not afraid. That’s where their office is, they’re making the most of it. It’s their start, it’s their humble beginning; they’re gonna grow, and they’re gonna flourish. I really believe that, and they believe that.

 

They want to give back; they want to grow that company. They want to stay in the community, which is good, we’re finding out. Because there are no jobs out in Waianae. Really, if you look at it, it’s a rural community, you have to drive out to work, and so this studio now is creating a lot of good jobs for these students that are coming out of Searider Productions.

 

Seems to me that something is happening on the Waianae Coast. It’s the can-do that you—

 

M-hm.

 

–that’s on your wall; if can, can.

 

If no can, no can. But we call it a movement. There’s just—it’s really—it’s this generation of, I would say, the twenty to the thirty-year-olds I want to talk about. They get it. They are a generation, I feel—we can feel very hopeful that they want to give back. They are not—at least the ones that we’re working with in our community, they’re not so wrapped up in making big bucks, and they want to go and get educated, whether it’s a trade school, whether it’s through work, or through college. And they want to come back into the community, and they want to turn the community around so that people will no longer look at Waianae and say, Oh, it’s bad, they have the drugs, they have the pregnancy, their scores are low. They want to do some positive things, and make some real positive changes for the community.

 

And it’s all being done from within.

 

Yes; within.

 

With reaching out to national grantors.

 

Yes. Yes; and national grantors are seeing what we’re doing, and

 

And we’re very thankful for that, that we have these national or local foundations and philanthropists that are saying, these—wow, this community is really trying to help themselves, and we want to help them. And we know that money will dry out, and we—in fact, we want to get to the point where we don’t have to ask anymore, that we can be sustainable, and not—and create jobs enough where we can stop depending on grants. That’s what we want for the future of our community.

 

Where do you think this movement will take the Waianae Coast?

 

I hope eventually it will take them out of poverty. It might take decades, but this is certainly a start. You have a group of young adults that are really making a difference, because they have come back to the Waianae Coast, and they are giving back, and they believe in themselves, and they’re believing in the students that are under them, and they’re trying very hard to prove to the rest of the world that we’re just as good as everybody else if you just give us a chance.

 

Candy Suiso… raised in Waianae… returned to Waianae to live and work. Like her mother, for 30 years a teacher at Makaha Elementary, Candy Suiso is an educator.

 

Your mom was a legendary teacher on the—

 

M-hm.

 

–Waianae Coast, right?

 

Oh, she—thirty-one years of her life, she dedicated her life to teaching out there. And really, that was her life. She impacted a community and thirty years, just taught at Makaha Elementary School. She went there, and she never left. Um, I remember the principal would always throw all of these hardcore kids and say, Okay, Mrs. Smith, you’re the one that’s gonna take these kids. And she would turn them around. She would just—she was mean, but she was very strict, and she was very fair, and she loved them all. And she did; she turned a lot of lives around.

 

What kept her going?

 

What kept her going is just seeing the results, seeing these kids turn around. You know, working out there in Waianae, there’s a lot of dysfunction. There’s not a whole lot. We have a bad reputation out there. And she would take kids and really give them hope. She would let them know, You can do anything you want. She would tell them that, and she would really make them believe that, you know, you can do anything that you want. And they would believe; and sure enough, they would. So many of them would turn their lives around. She believed in them, and I think that is why they believed in themselves. She really instilled in them, You can do, you can do and you can be anything you want. You just have to believe in yourself.

 

Did you ever see her at a moment where she just didn’t have that hope, and she was miserable about—

 

Yeah.

 

–something that had happened?

 

Oh, yeah. She went through—she was very, you know, she—my mother, she literally raised four of us. She was My mother and father divorced when I was nine, my older sister was eleven; and I had a younger brother who was, I think, five; and then my other brother was three. And she just—her whole life was shattered. Um, moved us to Kauai, had my grandparents take care of us. I can’t do this; she moved to Makaha and just literally really had to get her life back together. And a year later, we moved back, and she remarried. And it was a—there was a lot of dysfunction. I don’t know what the word to say, but there was—she married an alcoholic, and there was a lot of abuse. He didn’t really work much, and she carried, she struggled. She would live paycheck to paycheck. And there was a lot of times I know it was hard. It was really hard. She couldn’t provide, I think, the way that she would want to for us. But she’d always say, you know, but she would always have a roof over our heads, we would always have clothes on our body, we’d always have—we had each other. And—

 

What about food?

 

We always had food on the table; always. My mother was the queen of Spam.

 

[chuckle]

 

She knew how to cook Spam, she knew how to cook corned beef hash. She knew how to make ends meet. You know, we always knew at the end of the month when the times were hard, a little harder, we’d have the bean soup and we’d have the ham hocks. And we hated it, but actually, it’s something that we really love eating now.

 

M-hm.

 

We cook it, and it’s good memories. It used to be bad memories, but there was always food on the table, and clothes on our back, and a roof over our head. And she kept us together.

 

She raised four of us, and it—you know, living out in Waianae, it would have been easy for any of us to either go the other way. But we all turned out really …

 

It must have been hard for her. She was the authority at the school—

 

M-hm.

 

–and somebody who was seen as having her life all together.

 

M-hm.

 

But then to go home and really have to—

 

M-hm.

 

–scrounge and work and scheme to keep things together for your family.

 

I don’t know how she did it. When I look back now, I think, I don’t know how you did it. And you know, my sister and I talk about this all the time. It’s—she—to get away from what was going on at home. A lot of times it was pretty—it was nasty; it was pretty bad a lot of times. And she would just block it out and work. You know, I think that was a lot of how she would run away from what was happening at home her home life, with her husband. And she would just work. She would just involve herself with work, and keep busy. And my sister and I talk about this all the time. We have so much of her in us.

 

Because you work all the time.

 

Because we work all the time, or we keep busy when we want to avoid something or we want to—we just work. And so many times, we think things that used to bother us, the things that she would say, or maybe some of the things that she would do, it would just drive us nuts. And now, I hear myself say things that she would say, and you know, I find myself doing things that she would do, and I think, Oh, my gosh, I have become my mother. And it used to bother me, but now, it’s a good thing. You know, it’s a really good thing.

 

You were lucky that your mom lived long enough to see what you’ve accomplished on the Waianae Coast. What did she say to you?

 

[SIGH]

 

She was always proud of me. She was just always proud of me. She was—she didn’t say much, but I always knew. Um —I think she was most proud, because she saw that, you know, part of her lived through me and continues. But she was always—I mean, she just always would tell me how proud she was of what I’m doing and the work that I chose. And that sometimes teaching is not a very prestige job, and you will not make a lot of money. It will not make you very rich with things and with money, but it will make you very rich with people. And she was right. You know, she was right.

 

Life is all about people, about relationships, about making a difference in people’s lives, in giving and giving back.

 

When you give, you give from the heart.

 

And you don’t expect—

 

And you don’t expect—

 

–anything back.

 

–anything in return. You give because you want to, not because you want or expect anything in return. And you give from the heart when you give.

 

Educator Candy Suiso… raised in Waianae… returned to Waianae to live and work. She knows about students’ pain and tough times, because she too has first-hand experience.

 

 

I met you a long time ago in one of your Seariders’ first triumphs. Do you remember?

 

I remember. That was our very first national recognition, and it was the first time we were ever on TV.

 

And you must have caught it, because you contacted us and you put us on your early morning show. And we remember getting up early in the morning, leaving Waianae at four o’clock in the morning. I thought, Oh, my god, there’s Leslie Wilcox.

 

[chuckle]

 

And it was so exciting; we felt like rock stars.

 

[chuckle]

 

Thank you for that.