Magnificent Business: Ai Love Nalo & the Hā‘ehuola Program By Dr. Malia Smith

Dr. Malia Smith started her new year on the beach with the traditional Hawaiian chant “E ala ei!” to greet the rising sun. Significantly, her work in Waimānalo has the effect of bringing the light of knowledge to a community open to reawakening.

Coming from the academic world, where she was a professor and department head at Hawaii Pacific University for eight years, Malia determined she needed to make a change in order to make a difference. She needed to take her classroom out of the thralls of bureaucracy and into the world.

Malia prioritizes us becoming more sustainable, for the sake of the earth, its creatures and the people living upon it. Seeing the needs of the state of Hawaii to become more agriculturally self-sufficient, of Waimānalo farmers to find more markets for their produce, and of Waimānalo people living in something of a “food desert” with little access to fresh fruits and vegetables, Malia left her position at HPU and opened ʻAi Love Nalo restaurant in August of 2015.

“You can’t do that!” was the universal chorus from her business friends and colleagues when they heard her plans to open ʻAi Love Nalo. Nobody thought a vegan restaurant in the very “local” town of Waimānalo would be successful. This is where you get coffee, cigarettes and a packaged doughnut at 7-Eleven for breakfast and plate-lunch at L & L Drive-Inn open daily up ‘til 9 pm.

Guess what? They were wrong. People adore this place! In fact they come from all over the island and even from off island to enjoy the view of the Ko’olau and eat hearty, healthy, well-prepared food, largely grown on local farms. It’s been a hit!

Meanwhile, Malia is marching on with far bigger plans towards a sustainable environment and healthy Hawaiian people. Since the restaurant hit its stride, Malia has been able to leave its daily workings in others’ hands to focus on her Hā‘ehuola Program, improving the health of native Hawaiians. This is where she considers her kuleana (responsibility) to lie, having Hawaiian lineage herself, as well as clear insight into the culture and into the current needs of its people.

The program was birthed in this way: Several years ago, a very heavy young Hawaiian man came to Dr. Malia asking for help. He needed to have open-heart surgery, but his excess weight made it too risky for the doctors to operate. This young man comes from a group typically living in food deserts, suffering high levels of heart disease and diabetes.

Dr. Malia agreed to take him on with the understanding that he was willing to make significant life changes. She began to teach him the basics of healthy food shopping and cooking, then provided him with 2 vegan meals a day for 3 months from ʻAi Love Nalo. Within 2 months he had already lost 26 pounds and was able to undergo surgery successfully. He soon brought a friend of his to Dr. Malia for help… and then another friend.

In taking on this challenge, Dr. Malia began to formulate the 7 Levels of Health as the basis for the Hā‘ehuola Program that she is now taking to larger groups of people, in an organically growing manner.

The 7 Levels of Health concept radiates from “Me” to “We”. It’s comprised of two sets: First, personal health: Physical (including lomilomi, yoga, meditation – all offered on the ʻAi Love Nalo premises), Psychological (both mental and emotional), and Financial. Second, community health: Ecological, Socio-Cultural and Economic, She weaves all 6 of these levels into the most significant aspect, the Spiritual.

The program focuses on native Hawaiians, significantly drawing upon local Hawaiian values, principles and practices. Malia recognizes and teaches that our individual behavior affects the world, so that working with any one group will naturally and inevitably have a spillover effect that will impact the whole.

One of our local kumu hula (hula masters), Leimomi Kiyona – hula ‘sister’ to our kumu hula Mālia Helela – approached Dr. Malia Smith asking whether she would lead Kumu Leimomi’s entire hula halau (school) through the Hā‘ehuola Program in 2019. Dr. Malia agreed! Leimomi and her halau then set to work doing fund-raising to eventually pay for the healthy meals that would be part of their health journey.

With Leimomi’s strong co-leadership and example, Dr. Malia took the 27 halau members through the program, with classroom and kitchen time, teaching a plant-based diet, the Hawaiian practice of conflict resolution called ho’oponopono, sound healing, walking meditation, and personal financial planning and investment. There’s a spiritual (not religious) side of the program that reaches the whole person.

Dr. Malia began by preparing and assessing the participants’ readiness to make changes in their life-style, without which the program cannot succeed. Once they had proven themselves ready for change, program participants received 12 weeks of ʻAi Love Nalo meals, preceded by and followed by blood testing.

Over a year’s time in the program, Leimomi’s group of 27 made huge strides, collectively losing 450-550 pounds so far. Three people reversed their diabetes. Two are looking promising in their reduction of insulin. The Hemoglobin A1C count has decreased significantly. Hypertension, across the board, is null. When I spoke with one of the senior members of their halau recently, she was absolutely delighted with how much better she feels these days, lighter, moving more easily, and in better overall health.

The Hā‘ehuola Program continues to expand its reach, with Kaiser Permanente already, and potentially with the Waimānalo Canoe Club and one of the Hawaiian immersion schools. And it continues to partner with many community members, such as Kumu Ramsey Taum doing ho’oponopono, a lomilomi practitioner trained by the late Uncle Alva of Waimānalo, and many others.

Three cheers to Dr. Malia Smith for her ongoing efforts to spread light and enlightenment with her community in Waimānalo for the sake of a better world for us all to live in.

E ala ei!


  • By Leiola 04 Jan 2020

    As one of the halau ohana, it was a fantastic journey. My body feels so much better when I eat healthy.. it’s not a diet it’s a way of life now. We’ve experienced so much thanks to Dr. Malia and Kumu Leimomi.

    • By Marta 06 Feb 2020

      Mahalo for the message! I am so impressed with your kumu Leimomi as well for enrolling your halau in Dr. Malia’s program and for all of you for jumping it feet first.  

      Aloha nui, Renée Tillotson

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