Come Unity: Far-reaching benefits
If the holiday spirit puts you in the mood to give instead of receive, and you'd like to celebrate by familiarizing yourself with other cultures, then head up to Chilmark this Saturday.
The African-themed festival, Come Unity Feast (a play on the word "community"), will include drumming, dancing, a communal sing, an African meal, a movie and a non-profit fair offering food and various African crafts. Part fundraiser and part awareness raiser, it was organized by Islanders Indaia Whitcomb and Lila Fischer, both of whom spent time in Africa pursuing charitable work.
Ms. Whitcomb, who was raised on the Vineyard, will be heading to Namibia at the end of the month to spend a year volunteering for an organization called WorldTeach. Previously she was involved in community service work in Kenya, where she helped build a school and participated in AIDS and HIV education in a rural area. She also visited Tunisia and studied with agro-pastoralists in the mountains of Morocco.
Photo by M.C. Wallo
Ms. Fischer, a Vineyard native, studied abroad in Ghana. She returned to help develop contacts for another local woman, Marsha Winsryg, who sells African crafts to benefit disabled and orphaned children. The 24-year-old Fischer plans to study midwifery and use her skill towards establishing a career in public health somewhere in East Africa. "I'm thinking of the Sudan," she says, explaining, "They have the worst infant mortality rate in the world."
The two young women met while working as landscapers together, forged a friendship based on their common interest, and discovered many others on Martha's Vineyard who have involvement in causes benefitting African societies.
The motivation for the Come Unity Feast was Ms. Whitcomb's effort to raise funds for her upcoming year-long project for WorldTeach. She notes that many volunteer organizations today require funding by participants, and volunteers then encourage involvement within their communities.
Ms. Whitcomb needs a total of $6,000 to cover expenses while she teaches English and educates people about AIDS/HIV in Namibia. She has already managed to raise about $2,000 and is contributing another $2,000 from her earnings doing odd jobs.
Ms. Whitcomb notes, "At first I was going to do some sort of fundraiser around my work. Then I realized there are so many people on Martha's Vineyard who do some kind of work for an organization in Africa. I thought how amazing to do something that would benefit all these causes and educate people."
Both women stress that the real purpose behind the event is to raise awareness of the huge diversity found in our second largest continent. Ms. Whitcomb talks about a teacher who introduced her to that perspective. "I told her I was excited about going to Africa," she says, "and she said that when you talk to people you have to be specific. She pointed out that there's not one language or one people. The landscape is very different, the cultures are different."
Notes Ms. Fischer, "One thing that we're hoping to do with this event is to use our experience to open people's eyes to the diversity of the different countries in Africa. There are different stages of development. There are cities in Africa. There are people making films in Africa. We hope this event will allow us to create the spirit that Africa is alive."
Come Unity will present a full program of sounds, sights, and tastes of Africa, starting with Rick Bausman's participatory drumming event. He will provide about 40 drums, and encourages people to bring their own makeshift instruments. Mr. Bausman will lead the impromptu group in a family samba, and Roberta Kirn will teach traditional African songs.
African specialties will be sold by Daniele Dominick of the Scottish Bakehouse, who's done research on the Internet about the staples and spices of various regions of Africa. Some of the offerings include a millet salad, curried chicken thighs, fried plantains and a tropical fruit salad. Proceeds from the sale of food will benefit Ms. Whitcomb's trip.
A networking fair about various non-governmental organizations will take place throughout the evening with various people dedicated to causes such as African Artists' Community Development Project, Africa's Own, promoting development in Africa by Africans, bypassing the need for outside assistance. A friend of Ms. Fischer's, who is a refugee from the Sudan, will represent the COW education organization, which raises money to help build schools by selling hand-sculpted cows.
The evening will conclude with the screening of "Amandla!: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony," a documentary about the history of black South African music and its central role in the fight against apartheid.
Ms. Fischer refers to the Come Unity Feast as "a celebratory night in the spirit of Kwanzaa." and notes, "Kwanzaa is about affirming certain values that are rooted in African culture."
Ms. Whitcomb sums up her intentions for the event, "It will be a celebration of the work and the consciousness that is in our community."
Come Unity Feast, Saturday, Dec. 20, 4-8:30 pm, Chilmark Community Center. Benefits worldwide community projects in Africa. Family samba with Rick Bausman; singing by Roberta Kirn; food; film. Free admission. 508-939-0404.
Gwyn McAllister is a regular contributor to The Martha's Vineyard Times.