International Festival – Student Volunteers Celebrate Global Culture

Stacie Larsen
Managing Editor
@SLarsenWriting

From Sept. 22-24, members of the Lawton community came together for the 38th annual International Festival held at Elmer Thomas Park.

Bobbi Whitson, who has been a committee chairman for the International Festival for the last ten-years, said the purpose of the event was to introduce people to different cultures and help them realize that diversity doesn’t have to be a blocking point that prevents people from getting along with each other.

“I know this sounds really sappy,” Whitson said, “but we want everyone to get along. You’re not going to get along if you don’t understand each other’s cultures.

“We believe that if we understand each other, there’s better communication. If there’s better communication, then there’s less stress and violence. Most of the time, it’s just a common misunderstanding. It’s about teaching and trying to make the world a better place.”

Whitson said the event first took place in the Lawton library; however, due to the expansion of public attendance and participation over-time, the event has moved to multiple outside locations including the library plaza and Elmer Thomas Park.

Billie Whip, the administrator for The Arts and Humanities Division, said this is her fourteenth year being involved with the planning of the event. She noted that every year, the event begins with a Naturalization Ceremony.

“It’s where the local residents become U.S. citizens,” Whip said, “This year we had eighteen residents who became U.S. citizens […] and the oath was administered by Judge Shon Erwin and they represented eleven different countries.”

Whip added that the International Festival is made possible through a tremendous amount of team-work from a variety of different sources, including City of Lawton employees, the International Festival committee, The Lawton Arts and Humanities Council, as well as many sponsors and volunteers.

“We truly could not pull this off without our student volunteers,” Whip said. “Maybe we could but it would be really hard. They are very helpful.”

Whitson added that student volunteers help with various parts of the festival, including information booths and stages. They also drive the carts to pick up the attendees with disabilities
“We generally have around three-hundred volunteers for the three-day festival,” she said “and a majority of those volunteers are the kids.”

Cameron freshman Michael Jeantet, who helped sell t-shirts and balloons at the information booth, said this was his second-year volunteering at the event. Last year, he volunteered as a member of Key-Club during his senior year of high-school, and this year, he helped in order to give back to the community by fulfilling service-hour requirements for a Native-American college scholarship he received.

While growing up in Lawton, Jeantet said attending the festival has become a yearly tradition.

“In my opinion,” Jeantet said, “I think with everything going on in the country right now, I think it’s really good for stuff like the International Festival, where people from all cultures can come together and just enjoy a festival together, watch performances from other cultures, [and] try foods from other cultures.

“There was a lot of different booths from different cultures with people selling stuff. I noticed a lot of things from different cultures, from the little henna tattoos, to the people selling dream-catchers, to little flower bands.”

Jeantet said that beyond the various activities, while volunteering last week, he was impressed with the way people were interacting with one another and how well they got along.

“These cops came by,” he said, “and they bought a lot of balloons. They spent like twenty-dollars on balloons and the balloons are only fifty-cents each. Then, they [the cops] said to hand them out for free.

“Everybody was really friendly. There was nothing bad about it. I didn’t come across one bad vibe.”

Sophomore Rayquan Lewis, an Allied Health major and member of Cameron’s Circle-K International organization, said he has volunteered with the event numerous times. He remembers volunteering with Key-club during his senior-year of high-school.

This year, Lewis said he helped hang banners and lights prior to the event starting. He also noted how important community involvement is to him and how much he enjoyed seeing the community come together to make the event possible.

“On a personal level, it’s meant a lot since I am from Lawton,” he said. “It does show a lot of pride, like when I see a whole bunch of people helping out to make this all come together and run smoothly.”

“Service has been a big part of me and made me who I am today and kind of set the foundation of what I want my life to be like inside my major actually—because I want to help people.”

Lewis also said he thinks the event is significant in terms of the opportunities it offers and the way in which it can set a path for trying new things in the future.

“For the people involved, I think it offers a lot,” Lewis said, “because it’s a different variety of things that you get exposed to that many people don’t get exposed to if they don’t travel.

“It basically opens up their horizons. There’s many things they can venture out to and travel and see the different types of things and see if its actually what they expected when they had it at the fair—if it’s the same.”

Whitson said, as event coordinators, they are always looking for ways to improve the event, which is made possible through participant evaluations made available during the event.

“We have to know what the public wants in order to improve,” Whitson said. “One of our main issues is that we don’t want to become stagnate. We want change.”

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