Walking into the Kardatzke Wellness Center at Anderson University, the lobby was filled with colorful booths offering games, food and history from countries surrounding the globe. The walls were decorated with flags from faraway lands and the air was filled with exotic music to get people moving. The wellness center was completely transformed for the annual Heritage Festival. Ronke Okeniyi, senior, enticed students to learn about her native country of Nigeria by inviting people to taste zobo, a drink made from the native sorrel plant as well as to sample a sweet cracker called chin chin. Wearing a skirt made of the traditional Nigerian fabric representing her family, Okeniyi shared her heritage with students showing them native jewelry, money and art (Photo: Anderson University Spanish profesor Tim Fox teaches Forest Hills Elementary student Jeanette Groover about a tambora drum from the Dominican Republic during the Heritage Festival—Herald-Bulletin/Don Knight).
“Coming from the outside, I want to share with them how it is at home,” she said. “It’s good for them to see what I do and what’s valuable to me.” As area fourth and fifth-grade children were guided from booth to booth, they were given a boarding pass that was punched after learning everything from how to say hello in German to the basics of bull fighting in Spain.
The festival also offered a program in which young Hispanic/Latino girls from the Anderson Ballet for Folklorico shared traditional dances of their culture. They spun in intricately choreographed dances maneuvering their flowing skirts back and forth to the upbeat music creating waves of colorful movements.
After the dance, Kenya-native Rebecca Odiwuor, freshman, sang the Kenyan national anthem for the students as well as taught them how to say hello. “When I say ‘jambo’ you repeat it, OK?” She shouted “jambo” and the students quickly responded. “It means hello, what’s up,” she said as she smiled.
The festival is only one part of the university’s annual Heritage Week which is designed to promote cultural awareness on the campus as well as in the community, said Allynn Samuel, program assistant for the Cultural Resource Center and resident director of Myers Hall.
“The festival includes international and multicultural students who set up booths of their backgrounds and cultural heritage,” said Samuel. “The different departments get the language students involved to show what they’ve learned.”
Between playing Twister in German and tasting Gazpacho, cold tomato soup, from Spain, the children walked away with smiles and knowledge of different countries. “I like the food,” said Lauren Snyder, 11, from St. Ambrose School, “but I like to see the different people and the clothes they wear.”
“I would have to say the dancing in the gym was my favorite,” said Victoria Clausen, 10, from Forest Hills School. “I also learned about Spanish stuff. They showed us how to say hello.”
Debbie Sebastian, assistant director of student programs, was pleased with the turnout and level of excitement in the children. “It’s a lot of fun,” she said. “It’s a chance to celebrate our heritages and backgrounds we came from."
— Writer Lynelle Miller is a reporter for the Anderson Herald-Bulletin