Drive and determination are often difficult to muster for a typical high school student. When serious issues are added to the mix, it’s even harder for teens to succeed.
Ariel Bunao has firsthand experience in struggling with challenges. She became pregnant with her daughter Morgan in her junior year at Kapaa High School on Kauai but was determined not to let her situation derail her plans for obtaining a good education.
“My future was my No. 1 priority,” she said. “Whether I was pregnant or not, I’d still have pushed myself. I had definite, clear goals.”
Her baby was born Aug. 9, 2010, at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children, three months premature and weighing a mere 3 pounds.
“Having a baby young is hard. Having a preemie is a whole different experience,” Bunao said. “Everything was overwhelming, especially watching all of the things they did to her.”
In the first free months after giving birth, she was unable to attend classes but worked with Hale Kipa, an agency that serves at-risk youths, to set up a tutor who helped Bunao maintain her senior year workload. When she returned to school, Bunao earned A’s and B’s and was accepted into a Kauai Community College program called the Wai‘ale‘ale Project, which offers full scholarships to individuals facing barriers that would prevent them from attending college.
Participants are referred to the program by high school counselors and community agencies. Bunao said she plans to finish her associate degree at KCC and transfer to the University of Hawaii at Manoa to pursue a career in dentistry.
According to Wai‘ale‘ale Project coordinator Kimo Perry, Bunao was a perfect fit for the scholarship program. “We look for compelling stories, for people who have the most barriers that prevent them from attending college or succeeding,” he said.
For now the project is offered only on Kauai, but Perry said officials are looking to start programs on other islands.
The scholarship was especially a blessing for Bunao since the money she had saved for her baby was used to pay for flights from Kauai to visit her daughter at the hospital.
She goes to school part time, works at Bubba’s Burgers in Kapaa, maintains her mommy duties and balances everything out with hula classes.
“It’s a lot to handle and I’m busy every day, but I like it,” Bunao said.
“I never doubt myself. I have a lot of faith in my dreams.”
On the Net:
» For more information on the Wai‘ale‘ale project, visit info.kauai.hawaii.edu/ resources/lc/waialeale.html.