Last weekend international communities in Seattle came together to celebrate kids’ education, multiculturalism, and leadership at the 4th annual Seattle International Children’s Friendship festival.
The event, Organized by the Turkish American Cultural Association of Washington (TACAWA), is in its fourth year and it’s now the biggest children’s festival of its kind in the U.S.
It all started with a Turkish holiday called International Children’s Day, celebrated on April 23. TACAWA decided to expand the holiday and make this a truly international event incorporating different cultural communities around the city. The goal is to instill respect and understanding of different cultures in children at a young age.
Video from the festival by Valeria Koulikova
“This festival started four years ago but the dream to have it was conceived much before that,” said Jeanene Mitchell Comertoglu, TACAWA president. “We wanted to turn [the Turkish holiday] into an international event and bring children representing all different cultures and have a chance for them to sing, dance, get to know other cultures and celebrate their own heritages.”
The first day was the main event, showcasing 33 different cultural performances and booths where the children and visitors could learn about different countries presenting at the festival, from Austria to Zimbabwe.
The second day was a recreational day that featured over a dozen stations where children were able to try out different sports. Sounders soccer, Seahawks football and Evergreen Karate Jujitsu were all part of the festivities.
But one of the most interesting parts of the festival was the children’s forum. The topic this year, chosen by the children themselves, was bullying. The forum members discussed how bullying affects millions of students every year, and even visited the Washington State Senate in Olympia to share their views on bullying and how it can be prevented.
The festival’s motto this year is “Peace at home. Peace in the world.”
“If the kids have a chance to come together and celebrate multiculturalism at a young age it will lead to international peace and understanding later,” Comertoglu said. .
The festival keeps growing every year. With just 10 participating countries in their first year, they have expanded to over 30 this year.
Besides the local communities with global ties, this year they were able to fly in two children’s delegations, one from Mongolia and one from the African island nation of Seychelles.
Surprisingly, the festival itself was hosted and planned by children. The hosts’ quartette was cute and charismatic as well as very passionate about the festival. Lara Yildiz, a Turkish-American 10 year old, was one of the hosts and performers. She has been a part of festival since its inception in 2010.
“I think the festival is really important,” Yildiz said. “It’s fun with all the countries coming and making new [international] friends and not just Turkish. I really enjoy it and I enjoy doing all the activities.”
Scheduling and planning such a big event might seem like a difficult task for many adults, but it wasn’t for this year’s program manager, 11 year old Zeynep Soysal. She was responsible for making the schedule and coordinating with potential performers.
“In the first three years, I have only been performing, but this year I was the program manager,” Soysal said. “It was kind of hard. People kept sending in applications and then revising and cancelling.”
She was very excited about the two delegations flying in and being able to meet new people and build international connections.
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and a councilmember Nick Licata came to honor the festival and TACAWA organization for their efforts.
“One reason why our city is so great is the fact that all these communities are able to come together for a great cause and it’s amazing,” McGinn said. “That makes the city so much stronger. We are outward looking and we look out for each other, training our kids to be leaders.”