Pacific | Hawai'i

Former MMA champion fights for Hawai’i to help victims - and keep realtors away from snapping up land

Ilima-Lei Macfarlane is doing all she can to help her people.

While the death toll from the destructive wildfires on Maui has risen to 103 and the estimated rebuild is said to be likely to take years and cost billions of dollars, a former Bellator champion and Hawaiian MMA fighter has launched her own fundraiser to help.

Ilima-Lei Macfarlane’s efforts have far surpassed her expected goal of US$10,000, with more than US$2 million (over $3.3 million NZD) raised so far and a local donation drive set up in her home of San Diego, California, to deliver essential supplies.

She also helps in more ways than one, in the form of her own foundation, Nā Wahine Toa, teaching women self-defence techniques and more.

“Our focus is to keep the people of Lāhainā on their land,” she says.

“Every day it’s a rollercoaster of emotions for me. It’s a sense of deep pride for how Hawaiians have been taking care of each other and showing the world how to mālama each other. Because when the government is not going to be there for you, the community will.”

For now, physical donations are overflowing to house and store properly on Maui. But more trouble is on its way in the form of hurricanes and cyclones that could affect everything again in the coming days.

Stopping cash buyers

“Monetary donations, either to grassroots organisations or directly to the families is what we are requesting.”

Another problem is keeping the wildfire victims on Lāhainā, as realtors are looking for a land grab.

“There are already realtor vultures and investors coming in, not even giving the people time to mourn.

“They’ve already reached out to families, offering to pay cash for their land.

“Our message right now and what we’re focusing on, what we are raising money for, is to make sure that these families can stay.”

Legislation is underway to put a moratorium on land to make sure nobody can buy it, Macfarlane says.

“Too many Hawaiians have been displaced already as it is.”

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