Once-homeless family of farmers now nurtures plants, animals, people
November 19, 2023, 1:00 AM HST
A once-homeless family is building a safe space for their community, on a four-acre parcel tucked deep in the wooded farmlands of Wailuā on the east side of Kaua‘i.
There, Christy Wong and her three daughters – Kaiwi, Kaile’a and Leilanna – operate the nonprofit Kaua‘i Animal Education Farm to preserve Hawaiian culture and connection to the land.
The farm is a clearinghouse and home for unwanted animals on the Garden Isle. Wong and her family take in approximately 30 animals per month while trying to find new homes for just as many. They host an average of 170 animals, representing approximately 19 species, at any given time.
The Kaua‘i Animal Education Farm also holds volunteer workdays, tours, school enrichment programs and more. Visitors get to spend time with traditional farmyard animals like chickens, pigs, goats and horses, as well as more exotic creatures like chinchillas, tortoises, rabbits and colorful birds. The property is also covered in dozens of fruit trees and native plants.
It all started on an amateur basis in the Wongs’ backyard over 10 years ago.
“We were homeschooling and instead of getting our kids electronics, we got them animals,” Christy said. “We saw the important connection between the two and how easy it was for me to correlate their curriculum using the animals, using farming, using all of these conversations.”
Word got around and the Wongs were soon the caretakers of 100 cast-off animals. But disaster struck when Christy’s then-husband lost work due to illness.
The Wongs had to rehome the scores of animals in their care. They lost their house and experienced an extended period of on-again, off-again homelessness. At different times they lived out of a van, with friends and with family in Oregon.
“Imagine being homeless, being in your car. You have three little kids and you don’t know where you’re going to sleep that night,” Christy said.
While living in Oregon, Christy witnessed something that changed her life’s direction.
“I saw these 100-year-old farms, and how productive and how efficient they were. The community thrived,” she said.
The seeds of what would become the Kaua‘i Animal Education Farm were planted.
“That sparked the whole idea of, ‘What if we took all the things that we did right, incorporate some new things and do even better? What if we turned it into a nonprofit? What if we created services for the betterment of our people focusing on mental health, focusing on stewardship, focusing on food security?’” Christy continued. “[What if we focus on] all these elements in a way that utilizes the land, saves animals, perpetuates the culture and provides resources for our community?”
Christy then returned to Kaua‘i, determined to make her vision a reality. Her efforts earned her recognition from the crowdfunding platform GoFundMe, which named Christy a “GoFundMe Hero” this past summer. The designation heightens her profile on the website with a dedicated webpage and podcast episode.
“Christy’s story touched us because she has such a profound commitment to looking after her community and using her passions to improve the wellbeing of people and animals around her,” said GoFundMe spokesperson Ari Romio.
Christy’s eldest daughter, Leilanna Bilyeu, is raising her own toddler Keala at the Kaua‘i Animal Education Farm.
“Despite everything that we’ve been through, what we’ve built today, it can never stop,” Bilyeu said. “It must continue. Not only for the animals’ sake, but for our family’s sake and our community’s sake – having that place for people to come to and animals to come to.”
To make a GoFundMe donation to the Kaua‘i Animal Education Farm, click here.