The Kalaupapa community is seeking $5 million from the state to build a memorial for the thousands of leprosy patients once isolated on the Kalaupapa Peninsula on Molokai.

A panel of senators on Monday passed Senate Bill 3338, which would allocate funds for the design, plans and construction of a permanent memorial to commemorate the nearly 8,000 patients who were isolated in the Kalaupapa region during the mid-1800s due to leprosy, now called Hansen’s disease.

Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa, a nonprofit organization of Molokai citizens raising awareness for Kalaupapa descendants, have designed a memorial that would be located in Kalawao County on a vacant lot where the Baldwin Home for Men and Boys stood from 1894 to 1932.

Kalaupapa, Molokai. January 2021
Residents are asking lawmakers for $5 million to help fund a memorial for Hansen’s disease patients quarantined at Kalaupapa. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Kahaulani Lum, a director and designer on the Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa board, said the total cost of the memorial is about $10 million. The state funds of $5 million would be matched with donor support.

Lum said that if people were willing to donate about $650 for each patient who passed away, it could cover the cost. 

“I think it is small compared to the price that they paid, so that others could breathe free,” she said in testimony.

There are currently no appropriations from the state for a Kalaupapa Memorial, and the bill would direct funds to the Office of Community Services, an agency of the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

During a hearing Monday, Sen. Brian Taniguchi, chairman of the Senate Labor, Culture and the Arts Committee, amended the bill to put the state Department of Health in charge of any funds for the memorial instead.

The Office of Community Services sent in written testimony saying that while it appreciates being considered to oversee the memorial, it has little background in Hawaiian affairs.

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