A 24-year-old Hilo native is getting a firsthand experience in all things Malagasy as a Peace Corps volunteer in Madagascar.
Kamaka Dias has been serving abroad with the Peace Corps since June 2016 and is set to return in September. He teaches English as a foreign language in a small highlands community called Alatsinainy Bakaro, located about four hours south of Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital.
“Deciding to join the Peace Corps was an easy decision for me,” said Dias in an email interview last week (his town lacks WiFi). “… My whole life I have always enjoyed helping others and bringing smiles to people’s faces … I have always felt that I have lived a very blessed life and wanted to give back to others on a bigger scale. I also love traveling, learning new languages and cultures and was ready for a challenge. It all just made sense.”
Dias also is part of an effort to start an English learning center in Bakaro, which he said would “give people living out in this rural place resources to higher education that most kids in the city only have access to.”
“With the addition of books, computers, maybe even some board games, this place will hopefully give people a fun and cool place to go to instead of getting involved in bad things,” he said.
The Peace Corps is a federally operated volunteer program established in 1961 under President John F. Kennedy. It aims to “promote world peace and friendship.”
Dias is one of more than 7,000 Peace Corps volunteers serving in more than 60 countries around the globe. Nearly half of volunteers serve in Africa.
There are now 25 Peace Corps volunteers from Hawaii, Peace Corps spokeswoman Carla Koop said in an email. There have been more than 1,400 Hawaii volunteers since the program began. Hawaii ranks No. 33 in terms of volunteers per capita.
Koop said Hawaii has a “distinguished history with the Peace Corps” and the University of Hawaii even sponsored a training program in Waipio Valley between 1962 and 1972.
Dias is a former student of Ke Kula ‘O Nawahiokalani‘opu‘u, a Hawaiian language immersion school in Keaau. He’s also a UH-Manoa graduate.
He has documented his volunteer experience extensively through video posts, Instagram and a blog in which he’s mused about topics such as “Being a Haole in Madagascar,” “8 Reasons a Kabone is Better Than a Flush Toilet” and similarities between Hawaiian and Malagasy cultures.
He said there have been some adjustments — he lives alone more than two hours via bicycle from the next closest volunteer. He fetches water from a well and spends his free time reading in a hammock, playing guitar and watching TV shows uploaded onto a hard drive.
He also has suffered appendicitis while in Madagascar along with parasites in his foot, food poisoning, high fevers and even schistosomiasis, a waterborne disease.
He said he has missed some big life moments, including his little brother’s first baseball game, his niece’s first birthday and losing both of his grandparents. He “attended” his grandparents’ funerals via FaceTime.
“Technology has been amazing,” his father Michael Dias told the Tribune-Herald. “Because of it, we’ve been amazingly able to keep in touch.”
“I think it’s really special and a different perspective to have someone from Hawaii go there,” Michael Dias continued. “The aloha and cultural values he has I think have really helped him. Although he’s representing the United States, he’s also representing us here and our native culture being part Hawaiian.”
Kamaka Dias said he wants to continue traveling once he returns and he’s considering a job as a flight attendant. He said he’s also mulling several side projects including writing a book and opening a Malagasy/Hawaiian-themed food truck.
He said he’s learned “we are capable of so much more than we think” through his experience and said he never imagined he’d someday be teaching more than 240 kids and living and traveling alone in Africa.
“I feel like we put limits on ourselves too often and we shouldn’t,” he said. “I have been in a lot of situations here that really tested me physically and mentally. Because of this I feel like I have grown as a person so quickly in the time I have been here and I feel like when I return to the states, nothing will ever be as hard as anything that I’ve done here. I will be ready for anything that comes my way.”
Dias’ blog can be found at https://kamakaflockaflame.wordpress.com
Email Kirsten Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.