Festival of Cultures fosters acceptance

2014-06-08T17:23:00Z 2014-07-14T06:14:20Z Festival of Cultures fosters acceptanceBy CHRIS CIOFFI ccioffi@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

International music and the smell of foods representing every corner of the world wafted over the campus of Rocky Mountain College during the Festival of Cultures under practically cloudless blue skies on Sunday.

“We’ve had two perfect years in a row, so we know we’re pushing our luck,” said Cindy Kunz, coordinator of the festival and director of the Institute for Peace Studies at Rocky.

This is the 21st year of the festival.

The goal is to emphasize global acceptance by presenting performances by world artists on the main stage and inviting people to try unique foods.

“Our focus is introducing Montana’s children to the world’s cultures,” Kunz said.

As Munirah, a group of bellydancers, performed for a crowd of kids and their parents, Kunz was pleased.

“Look at them, they’re just captivated,” she said.

Lessons from afar

It was also a chance for exchange students and others at Rocky to teach guests about their home countries. Several tents, manned by volunteers and exchange students, led children in activities that highlighted various European, African and South American cultures.

Peterson Fussaint, an exchange student from Haiti and a senior at Rocky, gave people a warm greeting when they visited his booth.

“Welcome to Africa, my friend,” he said with a big smile as he helped kids make necklaces or color pictures.

While Haiti is located near the United States, he pointed out that many who live there are immigrants from Africa brought over during the slave trade.

“We’ve always been part of Africa, even though we’re in the Caribbean,” he said.

For Fussaint, it’s important to teach people in Montana about his homeland.

“Sometimes I tell the kids I’m from Haiti and they don’t know where that is,” he said. “Many do not know that much about Haiti.”

Teaching kids

Kenyan exchange student Noah Kiprono said he enjoys teaching young students about his culture during the almost 70 visits he makes to elementary school classrooms around Billings.

“We them how we speak in Kenya,” he said. “We go to classrooms, we show the colors and teach them in Swahili.”

It’s important because humans, no matter what their country, are the same, Kiprono said.

“We come from different places, but we are also the same, he said. “We share a lot of similarities.”

Traveling the world

Emma Church, 10, found that jewelry making in the African booth was really interesting.

“In Kenya, they make their own beads,” she said.

As she chomped on an Icee and watched the bellydancers, Church said the event definitely got her thinking about other cultures.

“You get a chance to travel around the world without getting in a car or going on a plane.”

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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