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Photo by: Isaac Babcock - Student Mackie Clarke, left, shows off a name written in Japanese at Maitland Middle's Culture Fest on Friday, May 6, where students celebrated other cultures, and teachers helped entertain visitors.
Winter Park / Maitland Observer Wednesday, May 11, 2011 9 years ago

Cultured for a cause

School raises tsunami money
by: Isaac Babcock Managing Editor

Mackie Clarke dips a thin brown brush into a well of ink and scribbles out a few characters from a continent an ocean away. A few feet to her left, Heather Drewett’s arms, clad in wiry metal bracelets and pink fuchsia sleeves, stretch wide, waving and directing an oddball game of musical chairs as a would-be Michael Jackson moonwalks in front of a karaoke jukebox nearby.

And all around them cultures from half a dozen countries mix together on the courtyard of Maitland Middle School.

Welcome to Culture Fest, a strange mishmash of eclectic food, games, music and fundraising to help victims of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan’s northeastern coast in March.

The odd blend of esoteric appeal came together in less than a month after student Bianca Fazio decided she wanted to help somebody, anybody.

“[Fellow students] had been wanting an after-school activity to do,” she said. She just needed an idea. Then it hit. “When I saw about the tsunami, I knew we had to do this.”

And so began a wild race to put together an event to raise cultural awareness and money for the disaster victims, while having oddball fun at the same time.

Principal Eric Lundman said the event also helped raise awareness of a different kind: that teens can work to break negative stereotypes.

In a few weeks, there were ad banners everywhere. Two weeks after that, everything was in place. With teachers Drewett and Dawn Dunham helping bring together a cross section as broad as Russia, Libya and Mexico in the same patio, diversity wouldn’t be a problem, but nobody knew how successful the event would be.

“We had just wanted a bunch of booths,” Bianca said. “It just kinda grew from there.”

Mackie volunteered to write students’ names in Japanese, charging 25 cents apiece, and helped convince the chess club (sponsored by the school’s Russian table) to put their trophies up for grabs. If anyone could beat them, they would win a trophy. Clubs brought maracas from Mexico, games from Israel and food from the Caribbean.

Pizzas arrived. Jeremiah’s donated masses of its Italian ice. Spicy chicken simmered on the opposite side of the courtyard. A rainwater collection barrel that had become an artist’s canvas sat on the silent auction table daring anyone to bid above $50.

When more than 100 students showed up unannounced on Friday, Bianca said she was relieved. It was already a success.

Mackie, in a traditional blue floral printed kimono, occasionally flitted from table to table. With an hour left before the cultural stew disappeared from the courtyard, she had already turned dozens of ordinary names into exotic works of art, but she still had her trophy.

“Nobody has beaten me yet,” Mackie said.

By the end of the day, the school had already raised nearly $700. Then a surprise donation of $400 from a parent came in to put the total to nearly $1,100.

And just as quickly, it was over, but not before making a difference for a small country half a world away.

“A lot of people have a negative view of teens,” Lundman said. “This shows they can have a positive impact.”

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