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The Conversation: Hawaii Employees' Retirement System on Government Workers' Exodus

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Facing possible furloughs and layoffs, public employees opt to retire; Using the harp for healing; Reality Check with Civil Beat: Rail's terrible 2020; Native Hawaiians make notable firsts at Sundance Film Festival; Farrington High's T-Shirt Theatre documentary can now be streamed worldwide

Facing possible furloughs and layoffs, some public employees opt to retire

The number of government workers who put in for retirement at the end of 2020 is up. We talked to Thomas Williams, the executive director of the Hawaii Employees' Retirement System, in the last week of December. His office fielded a boost in inquiries from many state and county employees. Between the talk of furloughs and layoffs and the realities of working remotely many have certainly been wondering if it was time to retire.

Thomas Williams, executive director, Employees' Retirement System of the State of Hawaii

Credit Harp Therapy by Ruth Freedman via Facebook

 Using the harp for healing

Harp music has a soothing quality about it. Ruth Freedman has played her harp for many on their deathbed. She spent a decade at Kalaupapa tending to Hansen's disease patients after being recruited from a world away. This nurse from Israel hadn't planned on making Hawaii her home. Freedman is now in her 80s. She also played harp with the Honolulu Symphony and discovered a way to spread the harp's healing properties during this pandemic.

Ruth Freedman, harpist

Reality Check with Civil Beat: Rail's terrible 2020

The designs weren't ready. Construction was delayed. The bids were too high. Tax revenue dropped. Federal funds never arrived. The CEO was let go. And despite some rosy predictions, no part of the Honolulu rail system ever opened to the public in 2020 as promised. The rail project has had troubles from the start, but 2020 was such a bad year that it is unclear exactly how the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation will pick up the pieces. Civil Beat reporter Marcel Honore recaps the year's setbacks for the state's largest public works project. Click here to read his and Kevin Dayton's story at

Civil Beat reporter Marcel Honore

Credit Screen capture from PBS American Masters on

 Native Hawaiians make notable firsts at Sundance Film Festival

Later this month, the Sundance Film Festival will break some notable ground for Native Hawaiians in filmmaking. "This Is The Way We Rise" is set to be the first film directed by a Native Hawaiian woman to premier at the prestigious event. In the film, director Ciara Lacy spotlights noted Native Hawaiian poet Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio as she reflects on her poetry, activism and time spent on Mauna Kea. They spoke to The Conversation's Harrison Patino about the film." target="_blank">Click here to watch the film, and click here to see Sundance's virtual and in-person festival schedule.

Filmmaker Ciara Lacy and Hawaiian activist and poet Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio

Farrington High's T-Shirt Theatre documentary can now be streamed worldwide

2020 ended on a high note for a Kalihi high school performing arts program. The national platform Amazon Prime Video started streaming "T-Shirt Theatre presents: 'Kipuka: An Anti-Bullying Project'" in November. It features a diverse cast from Farrington High School. Local audiences may remember the documentary when it first premiered at the 2018 Hawaii International Film Festival. The project was written and performed by Farrington students aged 13 to 18. Their unique stories drawn from personal life and shared with audiences to help counteract the effects of bullying. Click here to watch the film on Amazon Prime, and click here to learn more about T-Shirt Theatre. 

Filmmaker Jeremiah Tayao

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Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at
Lillian Tsang is the senior producer of The Conversation. She has been part of the talk show team since it first aired in 2011. Contact her at
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