The steady drone of African drums fills the air and pounds the senses as painted dancers stomp their feet and arc their arms to portray traditional stories of the hunt and the struggle to survive.
At first glance, an African village. A closer look reveals some dancers are African, but others are Mediterranean, Asian, and American. The musicians are from Ghana, Jamaica, and Virginia. Members of the audience, who soon join in with screams of delight, are children from around the world, all participants in a special summer-camp program nestled in the mountains of southern Virginia.
When Legacy International Summer Program near Bedford, Va., opens its gates, as it has for the past eight years, it opens paths to a world of cultural awareness - offering an opportunity for youth from age 9 to 18 to discover new horizons together.
Legacy is a camp for boys and girls from all over the world and every walk of life. Sons and daughters of officials, ambassadors, and heads of state of ''have'' countries live, play, and learn hand in hand with youngsters from ''have not'' countries. However different their national backgrounds, their experience camping together promotes togetherness and a broader world perspective.
''I've learned to have more respect for other people, people from all over,'' volunteered camper Mitchell Pagerey. ''I like it here because I'm friends with everybody, and not just certain people.''
Marcy An said: ''I learned that people are the same, no matter what their color is. Everybody is the same inside.''
Some of the campers and staff this year are from Peru, Haiti, Brazil, Nigeria , Greece, Taiwan, Lebanon, Jordan, Denmark, Germany, Gabon, and India. Many other nations are represented by children of US citizenship who have ''roots'' in other countries. Also, two Israeli Jews and a Palestinian are members of the Legacy staff, which is deeply concerned for the world and committed to helping children learn to be peacemakers.
Each of two 3-week sessions offers the same opportunities. Many campers stay for both.
Among the daily skills offered Legacy campers are pottery, weaving, arts and crafts, creative writing, journalism, newsletter production, dance, puppetry, drama, sign language, noncompetitive sports, computer training, ham radio, video production, carpentry, and vegetarian cooking. Music is featured as a global language and a tool for world understanding
The camp grows much of its own food, and many campers participate in harvesting it.
A foreign language is also taught at the camp by a method called ''accelerated learning.'' This method develops a high retention level in the language in a short period of time. English as a Second Language is offered to campers needing it.
Each weekend Legacy focuses on one particular culture. For two days, everyone immerses himself in the chosen culture. The emphasis is never primarily on differences but on similarities between cultures.
The children don the clothes and eat the food of the country, following its customs even when it means sitting on the ground and using finger bowls. They experience the dances of the land and play and sing its music. They learn its games, hear its folktales, admire and try to reproduce its crafts. This year, starting July 9, two weeks are focused on the Middle East. During the first week the camp is taking an indepth look at Israel - its culture, religions, life styles, and traditions. The second week is devoted to Lebanon and Jordan.
Through grants from various organizations interested in cross-cultural understanding, Legacy is bringing a dozen participants from the Mideast to the camp. One special guest is Dr. Viquar Hamdani, a representative to the UN from the World Muslim Congress.
Although no children came to Legacy this year from Lebanon, Israeli Jews and Palistinian children participate.
Legacy annually sets aside one weekend for a topic that concerns the world. This year's topic will be ''Youth Responsibility for the Environment.'' It will be emphasized through movies, presentations and original skits.
Legacy campers practice governing themselves through a weekly Camper Council meeting. Here problems, grievences, and experiences are openly shared with the entire camp. Honesty and openness are encouraged at these meetings, and campers often write back later that being able to discuss problems and find solutions together was a highlight of the summer for them.
The camp selects its participants for what they have to give now and what they may be able to give the world as they grow. Its aim is to make these youngsters socially responsible and globally conscious.
J. E. Rash, founder of the program, says: ''It's not that we are training leaders, it is that we are trying to provide an atmosphere where the optimum potential of individuals can come forth. Incidentally, that's leadership training.''
According to Mr. Rash, the camp strives to make individuals ''aware, perceptive, self-respecting, self-determined, secure, and dignified.''
For more information about Legacy, the camp can be contacted at (703) 522- 1407 in Arlington, Va., or 297-5982 in Bedford, Va.