HONOLULU (KHON2) — Imagine longing to see the world and wanting to travel to see what life was like on the other side during a time without internet… but you couldn’t leave.

That was the reality for thousands of people who were diagnosed with leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, and were sent to Kalaupapa to live in isolation as an effort to curb the spread of the disease. What was once a prison is now a refuge for less than 10 patients who live on the remote peninsula.

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Last June, Gov. David Ige designated January as Kalaupapa Month to serve as an annual reminder of the importance of Kalaupapa and the significant sacrifices and contributions of its residents.

To celebrate the month, Kalaupapa National Historical Park is inviting everyone to send a postcard to their patients who enjoy tracking the cards on a world map. Make sure to write something interesting about where you are from!

In 1950, residents of the community formed the Kalaupapa Stamp Club as a means to overcome separation. Writing letters helped connect patients with the world, and they began collecting stamps from letters they received from local keiki in school and people from around the world.

Park Ranger Miki’ala Pescaia says the collection seemed to have stopped growing in the 1970s, some time after the repeal of the Law of Separation in 1969 and patients were no longer required to stay in Kalaupapa.

“Like many clubs and past times in Kalaupapa, there really isn’t an end date,” Pescaia explained, “more like a slowing down as people moved away, passed on, or for whatever reason, no longer participated.”

Although the Kalaupapa Stamp Club is no longer, the collection of thousands of stamps remain at the Park’s museum that volunteer groups have dedicated hours of time sifting through and organizing. Pescaia adds that it will require quite a few more volunteers to complete the sorting of the collection.

“Iʻm not sure exactly how many trash bags full we started with, but I can say I’ve facilitated the first two rounds of sorting for at least 12 trash bags myself, and dozens of hours of groups working on third and fourth round level sorting,” said Pescaia. “There are thousands of stamps.”

The project hasn’t moved in two years since the pandemic began. The Volunteer-In-Parks program remains suspended until Kalawao County access restrictions change.

“We are far from completing the sorting, and the future of the collection is still being explored, as we discover what is actually in the collection through the sorting,” Pescaia said.

Pescaia explains that there are four rounds they are going through:

  • Round 1: Separate loose stamps from those still attached to backings.
  • Round 2: Separate stamps into foreign and domestic categories. (Pescaia adds that there are even stamps from countries that no longer exist.)
  • Round 3: Sort the foreign stamps by country and sort the domestic stamps by type. For example, if the stamp features presidents, places, events, holidays, organizations, etc.
  • Round 4: Keep sorting the stamps down to their individual types until each unique stamp is sorted.

Pescaia says they are almost done with the first and second rounds of sorting, but the next two rounds are lot more tedious and time-consuming.

Though the postcards being sent now will not be part of this collection, it keeps the tradition alive — it’s also one of the only ways to participate during Kalaupapa Month.

The Park hasn’t held live events since the pandemic began in 2020.

“Though we had planned and hoped for live events in the Kalaupapa community, unfortunately we have had to postpone or modify most of them,” said Pescaia.

Get more coronavirus news: COVID vaccines, boosters and Safe Travels information

People are encouraged to follow their Facebook page for any virtual event announcements. In the meantime, send a postcard to the patients at Kalaupapa at this address:

Kalaupapa Care Home
PO Box 3333
Kalaupapa, HI 96742