For almost 30 years, Macalester’s Civic Engagement Center and International Student Programs have sponsored an International KidsFest. The event engages children ages four through ten with different cultures through hands-on games, crafts and dances. This year, about 140 children from the Twin Cities area joined in on the fun and games in Kagin on Saturday, February 25.
A major component of the KidsFest are booths representing different countries. These would not be possible without the excitement and creativity of globe-trotting Macalester students. On Saturday, more than 12 countries were represented, including Russia, Egypt, Japan, China, India, South Korea, Germany, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Vietnam and southern Africa (which encompassed multiple countries). Each booth had a craft or game for kids to play. For example, Rohit Bagda ’20, an international student from India, created a station to make Diya, oil lamps traditionally used for the celebration of Diwali, as well as a hand cricket game. At her booth on South Korea, Angel Sylvester ’20 set up face painting, drawing of the Korean flag and a hacky sack craft. Emma Heuchert ’19 was born in South Africa and was a representative at the southern Africa booth, which included activities on language, flags and South African objects and photos.
For the students who created booths, International KidsFest meant more than providing a fun afternoon for local children. It was also an opportunity to show off their country and to educate kids about different cultures and ways of life. A representative of the Germany booth, Blake Jones ’19, commented, “I think that this event … takes the first step in educating kids about the importance of co-existence.” He added that this education might be most important for non-European countries with which children raised in the United States might not be as familiar. Maria Donahoe ’19 agreed: “This type of event is good because becoming educated about foreign cultures at a young age will lead to a more tolerant, accepting generation.” A representative of Russia, Donahoe wanted to participate in the KidsFest in order to present Russian culture as separate from the Russian government. Similarly, Christina Cai ’20, an international student from China, decided to create a booth for the event because she wanted to portray Chinese culture as less “exotic” with activities such as practicing Chinese calligraphy and creating traditional, Chinese dragons from cut-out paper hands. Selma Osman ’20, who represented Egypt, commented events like the International KidsFest could help counter intolerance: “I think this exposure helps prevent a lot of problems like the one’s we’re seeing today, such as the Muslim ban.”
Osman also said that participating in the KidsFest was a good reminder for herself and other Macalester students to get out of the “Mac Bubble” and engage with the broader Twin Cities community. Heuchert agreed that the International Kidsfest was a great opportunity to interact with local youth, as well as connect with the community outside of Macalester. Overall, she appreciated the KidsFest as an occasion for excitement, curiosity and understanding.
Heuchert learned a little more about the Twin Cities community by working with kids from the area, and the children were taught about new places. She said, “Learning even a little bit about different countries means that kids can better see that inhabitants of these places lead full lives with their own traditions and customs — but that the people are a lot like them. There are tons of similarities and connections from one place to another.”