By Zachariah Bryan
Northwest Asian Weekly
For the fourth annual International Children’s Friendship Festival in Seattle, children from 31 countries united in one room, representing their cultures and fostering unity.
“I feel like children can do great things if we all unite,” said one child. Another child said, “That’s the power of children!”
The International Children’s Friendship Festival has a deep history, with roots dating back all the way to 1920, when the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, established the festival as a way to aspire to greater things in the future. In 1979, the festival became international, with Turkey inviting countries from all over the world to send delegates to Turkey and to showcase their cultural heritage.
In Seattle, the premise is largely the same. The organizer of the event, the Turkish American Cultural Association, invited 31 countries from around the world to perform unique dances, songs, and cultural performances. Asia was well represented, with performances including Mongolian traditional throat singing and contortionism; the Filipino Kabaatan Dance Troupe; the Chinese Li Hengda Dance Academy, which blends Eastern and Western dance styles; Cambodian dance troupes, and others.
The event was run almost entirely by children. Though perhaps awkward at times, the children showed they had an awareness of the world around them befitting of any adult.
This was no better displayed than during the children’s forum, where children took on the very real issue of bullying. As the children said, 56 percent of 14-24 year olds reported being bullied through social media, or “cyber bullying.” And three million students miss school every year because they don’t feel safe.
The children asked the audience, “Who has been bullied?” The majority of people, including Councilman Nick Licata, raised their hands. (Notably, Mayor Mike McGinn didn’t raise his hand, but judging from his reliance on the cup of coffee in his hand, he was probably tired and missed the question.)
The children gave a presentation outlining the problem of bullying, its effects and possible solutions. While they didn’t have any immediate, world-wide cure, they did have simple answers that could have a great effect: Go out of your way to show people you care (a high five was demonstrated as one way of doing this), spread the word that bullying is not OK, and make sure to not partake in bullying yourself. The children giving the presentation said they already made a resolution to go back to their respective parents and talk about the issue more.
“Everyone says children are the future. I’m here to remind you that children are leading us today,” Royal Alley Barnes, executive director of the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, referring to the Children’s Forum.
Mayor McGinn, who was a keynote speaker, talked about how essential children were to the success of the city. He touted Seattle’s cultural diversity and, since the event was held at the Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center, the city’s commitment to arts as two major points.
“We’re outward looking, we’re diverse, we care about arts and culture and we care about each other,” he said.
Indeed, throughout the event, children showed that the International Children’s Friendship Festival was more than just cool cultural dances — it was also an opportunity to spread peace throughout the world and to show that they care about one another.
“The main idea is peace at home, peace around the world,” one of the children said, echoing the words of the original Children’s Fest founder, Atatürk. (end)
Zachariah Bryan can be reached at email@example.com.