The El Paso Community College Administrative Services Center took on the identity of a mini United Nations March 1, as the college’s Diversity Program put on its inaugural International Festival and Cultural Bowl thanks to the help of five local cultural groups and several international students from the International Military Student program at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy, Fort Bliss, Texas.
The first-ever event, hosted by the EPCC, combined a two hour academic challenge event with an international fair in hopes of promoting a broader cultural awareness among El Pasoans and the surrounding area.
“We are here celebrating diversity,” said Olga Chavez, director of Diversity Programs for EPCC. “We have two tremendous events going on – One we have the academic side with the culture bowl in which high school students come together in teams and answer questions on different cultures, and we are doing our international festival in which the Sergeants Major Academy and five other organizations from other cultures have come together to show off their country. We hope to let people know what different cultures are, because many of us in El Paso never get out of the district or out of our own cultures. So we want them to explore and learn more about each other [through this event].”
Chavez said the Academy’s involvement in the event was important for many reasons, but mainly because of the fact that there are so many different countries represented through the Sergeants Major Course.
Doropeo Franco, assistant director of Diversity Programs for EPCC, lauded the Academy for being able to provide representatives for 28 of the 33 counties that participated in the inaugural event.
“This festival would not be possible without the support of the Sergeants Major Academy,” he said. “They have been so good to bring the students and the families and their flags. It is just a tremendous thing that they are doing for us. “
Joyce Stophel, the Field Studies Program Manager for the International Military Student Office at the Academy, said the students volunteered to take part in the event and were happy to help EPCC kick off their inaugural event.
“[EPCC] knew about the Sergeants Major Academy having the international program and asked if we would join in with them to expose the high school students to more of the different cultures in El Paso. They wanted to give them the experience to meet each of the countries and their representatives, a sergeant major, and to learn a little bit about their countries [face-to-face] rather than sitting in a classroom textbook-wise,” she said. “This also falls under the field studies program by helping us to get our students out and meet with the local schools. We also get to promote our host family sponsorship program as a way of meeting people throughout the community that might be interested in sponsoring some of our internationals for the next class.”
With table arrangements and audio/visual equipment provided by EPCC, the Sergeants Major Course Class 64 international students brought in their laptops, brochures, artifacts and country flags prepared to talk about their country to any and all who would listen.
“The first thing I try to explain about is which place is best to visit in my country,” said Sgt. Maj. Amran Mohammed of Malaysia. “Then I try to explain to them about my flag, my language, my customs, traditions, everything. So far I really, really enjoy it.”
Master Sgt. Kippei Shiba of Japan had a similar experience.
“Today I talk about my culture and give demonstration of our traditions to everyone,” he said. “They are very interested about the Samurai Sword and Japanese calligraphy, and my son; he is wearing his karate suit so we are talking about that also. This is very awesome, I really enjoy this.”
To encourage visits to all of the international displays and participants, USASMA made up a passport book which students and visitors could take
to each station to have it stamped and to meet with the different cultures. As attendees made their way through the numerous information booths to get their passport stamped they were entertained by various dance and musical groups who performed on the main stage and further cemented the theme of the Spirit of Diversity.The event expected to attract more than 400 people throughout the day.
For more information about USASMA’s International Military Student program call (915) 744-9055 or check them out on the Web at https://usasma.bliss.army.mil/page.asp?id=41 or on Facbook at https://www.facebook.com/imso.usasma.
NOTE: Additional photos of this event can be viewed at https://usasma.bliss.army.mil/archive.asp. just click on the folder EPCC Celebrating Diversity March 1.