I-WORK Program Helps Students Learn, Lead, Build

Contributed By By Brad Olsen, Church News contributor

  • 2 October 2013

Maklen Kapalu is from Vanuatu and is enrolled as a student at BYU–Hawaii, where she serves as a Relief Society president and works in the Polynesian Cultural Center kitchen.  Photo by Mark A. Philbrick.

Article Highlights

  • Maklen is currently the only Ni-Vanuatu student at BYU–Hawaii.
  • After serving a mission in New Zealand, she feels that she was guided to BYU–Hawaii, and I-WORK made that possible.
  • Maklen speaks seven languages and is studying to become a physical education teacher.

“Heavenly Father really helps me, and I appreciate that. If there is any secret to life, it is faith.” —Maklen Kapalu, BYU–Hawaii student


BYU–Hawaii student Maklen Kapalu is from Vanuatu. Her country isn’t well known, even on the culturally diverse BYU–Hawaii campus. Though the university’s students come from more than 70 countries, the number from any given place can be few. Maklen is the only Ni-Vanuatu here.

But she is not alone.

“Even if I don’t know anyone, I feel like everyone on campus is my best friend,” she said. “I feel the aloha spirit.” Maklen speaks seven languages and is a sophomore at BYU–Hawaii studying to become a teacher. She is the Relief Society president in her young single adult ward, is a recipient of I-WORK student aid, and works in the Polynesian Cultural Center kitchen.

I-WORK is a program designed to help students at BYU–Hawaii become learners, leaders, and builders. It includes a loan, a scholarship, and a work-study program. Students earn money to pay for their education while gaining additional work experience.

“Things are really hard here. I work every day, I have classes and assignments, and I try to help the sisters in my ward,” said Maklen. “But Heavenly Father really helps me, and I appreciate that. If there is any secret to life, it is faith.”

She feels that heaven guided her to where she is today. After she served as a missionary in New Zealand, her mission president encouraged her to come to BYU–Hawaii, and I-WORK made it possible. Donations from alumni and friends of the university fund the I-WORK program.

“I am grateful to those who helped me get here and for the I-WORK program,” she said. “Without it, I don’t think I could be here.”

Be an Answer to Prayer

When Maklen first arrived on campus, she was homesick and in culture shock—everything was so different. “I missed my family,” she said. “I didn’t know anyone here, so I just stayed in my room. I didn’t even do my laundry; I didn’t know how to and didn’t have money. I didn’t want to ask anyone for help. It was really hard.”

Then one dark night she prayed, “Heavenly Father, I know that you are doing your best to help me. I know you answer prayers. And so I’m asking for your help.”

The next morning Maklen went to class, and when she returned to her dorm she found laundry supplies, quarters, and toiletries on her bed. It brought tears to her eyes then and still does now. “No one heard me pray,” she said. “No one saw me pray.”

She searched for her good Samaritan, but her “hall mom” told her to “forget about it and serve others.” Maklen later learned that it was this same friend who had left the supplies. “Heavenly Father answered my prayers,” Maklen said. “He’s been there every step of my life.”

Faith in Every Footstep

Maklen’s journey to BYU–Hawaii began nearly 10 years ago when she, her father, and her brother first encountered the missionaries. Her dad, a leader in another church, initially declined, but when Maklen’s brother persisted, the missionaries set an appointment. In the family home, after receiving a lesson on the Restoration, Maklen accepted the challenge to read the Book of Mormon.

“I knew that this was the truth,” she said. In time her father gave permission, and she was baptized. Six months later the rest of her family joined too. Her dad is grateful for Maklen’s faith and endurance, which brought the gospel to their family.

Maklen was the first full-time missionary called from her branch. After returning home, she moved forward with plans to attend BYU–Hawaii but stayed home an extra semester while her family prepared to go to the temple and then traveled to the temple in Fiji to be sealed. They are grateful for the promise of eternal families. Maklen’s brother and sister are now serving missions.

Maklen is just one person, but her actions richly bless her family, friends, and community.

The Noble Role of Educator

Before her mission and as a missionary, Maklen learned that she loves to teach. “My first calling in the Church was as a seminary teacher, then as a Sunday School teacher, and then as a missionary,” she said. “I just love teaching, interacting with different people, and looking at things in different ways.” To further her teaching qualifications, she is studying to be a physical education teacher. “At home we need teachers,” she said, “specifically exercise and sports teachers.”