The day started out normally. Partners in Development Foundation’s Tūtū and Me Traveling Preschool staff in East Hawaiʻi got up, went to work, drove the vans to their site, and unloaded to prepare for their families. It wasn’t until they were halfway through the introductory song when they heard the first explosion.
“It was a shock,” said Harlan Intendencia, a Lead Teacher with Tūtū and Me. Intendencia couldn’t believe it was a volcano, saying it hadn’t erupted for many, many years. There had been a build-up during that time with predictions coming in daily about when the volcano might finally erupt — and what might happen after.
Tūtū Yvonne Martinez has been bringing her grandchildren to Tūtū and Me for over 10 years. She calls her family’s ordeal during the eruptions a “whole different experience.” The Leilani Estates family ended up having to evacuate their home, but continued coming to Tūtū and Me.
Martinez described the explosions they heard all day and night, feeling the earthquakes tremor beneath them. They hardly slept, saying even the family dogs struggled to cope. “[The preschool] was really good to have, because it got us away from that experience, and it was a distraction,” said Martinez.
The Tūtū and Me Traveling Preschool was created to meet the developmental needs of children ages birth to five. Its unique approach aims to support the entire family from keiki to kūpuna, helping primary caregivers learn the best practices to support and teach their children. Its creators probably never could have imagined the meaning it would hold for families affected by the 2018 volcanic eruptions.
“We have such compassion for [the families], and when we found out that certain areas exploded, we called them to see if there was anything we could do for them,” said Intendencia. “We sincerely cared for what they were going through, and… I think the families felt that.”
Tūtū and Me staff continued classes despite the chaos as the eruptions wore on. For about two months, the Tūtū and Me Pāhoa site was temporarily relocated to Hawaiʻi Paradise Park. Six of the site’s families were affected by the eruptions, evacuating their homes and some even moved to the mainland. Three families lost their homes.
“The staff is tremendous,” said Hawaiʻi East and Hilo Site Manager Caroline Hayashi. “They were all willing to continue to work even when air quality was bad so that families would have some normalcy (especially for keiki) and have a safe place to gather.” She says there were many tears at first, but that the families comforted one another.
When asked how the children coped with the eruptions, Martinez said they were curious about what was happening. The Tūtū and Me staff helped them to go about their regular routine.
“It made our days much easier for us to get through.”