Spotlight on Education: EWC Students Develop Leadership Skills by Organizing Cultural Festival

East-West Fest logo designed by Imon Chowdhooree, an EWC degree fellow from Bangladesh.

Vietnamese students performed a dance from the Central Highlands of Vietnam.

Truna Jaya, or "victorious youth," a traditional dance from Bali, Indonesia.

East-West Center students from Indonesia.

The Tekniqlingz Dance Crew performed traditional Philippine dance mixed with modern hip hop.

The East-West Center student organizers.



People of all ages and nationalities gathered around the EWC’s Imin Center in mid April to enjoy this year’s East-West Fest.  The cross-cultural celebration, organized by The East-West Center Participants Association (EWCPA), centered on the theme “Many Cultures, One World” emphasizing the diversity of cultures within each nation and commonalties across nations. EWC students created 18 cultural display booths ranging from Tibet to Timor-Leste (East Timor) and from Bhutan to a Pacific islands booth.


Performances for the event included award-winning Hawaiian combo Manoa Voices; the winners of the 2008 Tokelau Easter Festival; dances of Bhutan, Bali, Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia; music of Cambodia, Vietnam and Bangladesh; and more.  Several Honolulu community groups joined in the performances including a Philippine dance troop that fused traditional tinikling dance using bamboo poles with modern hip hop.  Children from the community also demonstrated their astounding Capoeira (Afro-Brazilian martial arts/dance) moves to live music that got the crowd on its feet.


Coordinating this large of an event is no small feat.  Each year East-West Center students take on different initiatives to further develop their leadership skills and give back in service to the local Hawai‘i community.  This year’s EWCPA President, Carl Polley, an EWC degree fellow from the U.S., was the main coordinator of the event. “Mainly its success was due to so many people coming together to make it happen, from the organizing committee to the cultural booth organizers, to performers, and so many volunteers,” noted Polley. 


As part of Polley’s support team and a member of the organizing committee, his wife, Man “Beryl” Yang, an EWC degree fellow from China, helped keep everything on track, from the culture and activity booths to the tee-shirt sales. “At every East-West Fest, I learn something from my fellow friends and their cultures,” she reflected.  “I am continuously being inspired and feel proud to live in this enthusiastic and talented community.


Overcoming obstacles in cross-cultural communication and understanding, “together with volunteers, EWCPA board members were very engaged in working together to build a great team,” commented Huy Q. Pham, an EWC affiliate student from Vietnam who serves as the EWCPA activity coordinator. “Each person really jumped in enthusiastically to help with the massive duties of the event!”


EWC degree fellows Mayco Santaella, of Argentinean background and Wassakanit Lakkham from Thailand worked together to coordinate the performances. “Even though it was one of the longest festivals, people stayed until the very end,” Santaella pointed out. “Everyone was involved in some activity, weather coordinating, performing, displaying, selling or giving a hand to whoever needed it. At times our diversity took a different shape, as Japanese helped in the Philippines booth, and Koreans performed with the group…” “I think the success of the East-West Fest this year reflects the strength and beauty of the EWC community,” remarked Lakkham.Bangladesh


Leading up to this event, many EWC students participated in the outreach and publicity.  Part of this included a logo and flyer design competition, in which Imon Chowdhooree, an EWC degree fellow from Bangladesh, received first place for his multi-colored design based on the festival’s theme.


Over the years, the East-West Fest has left an impression on both the audience and the performers. Hyeon Ju Lee, a recent EWC alumna and a regular participant in the festival performing traditional Korean folk music, reflected on her experience:


“I performed with my Tuh-Ool-Lim [band] friends once more and shared the sound of Korea. As I reflect on the day, I remembered a song yet another friend from the past had written called "Remember Me." It was a song about friends and the life in Hale Manoa dorm and at East West Center--how our friendship runs deep…Four years have passed since I joined the Center and I’ve met incredibly wonderful people. They all came in and out of my life and now I realize the little footprints they left in me ... At some point, I would like to have everyone back in my life again and enjoy our times when we sang together in our kitchens.”


Click here to view select photos from the 2009 East-West Fest.


Click here to view a YouTube presentation of photos and hear a musical montage from the event.