Walk into Club Passim on "Culture for Kids Day," and you might not recognize the rustic folk club known for its good food, warm atmosphere, and roster of excellent folk musicians.
On this day, kids are busy in the kitchen of the Cambridge, Mass., cafe, whipping up dishes which they probably can't pronounce the names of. Others plug away at making toys well-loved by their counterparts in that day's country of focus. Clothing not regularly seen on local streets is strewn around the small tables. And to keep everyone in the swing, entertainers sing or play the music that would typically accompany such food and attire.
Once a month, Club Passim, working in conjunction with the nearby International House of Blues, turns into a portal to another country through food, music, and play. It's part of an effort to teach local kids about the wealth of world culture that they see in their neighborhoods.
The children explore a wide variety of traditions. At the Irish culture day, for example, step dancers taught kids Irish dance steps, while another group of children learned to make "Blarney Stones." On Bolivia's day, kids made ponchos out of crepe paper and learned to cover drums. West Africa is soon to get its special day.
Most recently, children learned to make the South Korean toy jae-gi, similar to what Americans call hacky sack, and danced in full Korean dress.
Maryann O'Connor brings her young daughter, Janellen, a Vietnamese child whom she adopted, to Passim each month, and says she wouldn't miss a single program. "Every school should have a program like this," she comments. "They're teaching a tolerance and understanding of people's differences."
To Betsy Siggins, Club Passim's executive director, the key is that the effort "not only brings to kids cultures that are right around them, but brings kids together who wouldn't usually hang out together."
Of course, different parts of the day hold different appeal for the young participants. One boy who came with a group from the local YMCA sat eating his Korean meal and shouted to his sister, "Try the sauce, did you try the sauce? You got to try the sauce." At the same time, Sandra, who came with her godmother, seemed in her own world as she danced about in a bright Korean outfit.
By the end of the day, all the children had learned a traditional dance. Holding hands, and singing, the group circled around the room. Two of the adults then broke from the group to clasp hands and create a bridge. And then the kids followed suit, adding their own touch to the song by starting a limbo contest while continuing to sing, circle, and laugh.
Ms. Siggins, who has spent 20 years in the non-profit business, says she feels good knowing that her program has allowed children to try something new. It's a rare opportunity for some of the children, to whom a trip out of their neighborhood and across town is truly like a trip around the world.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society