Across borders – Africa festival finds common ground

What do Manning Valley residents from India, Senegal, Holland, USA and Australia have in common?  This diverse group of women is working together on the second Africa Comes to the Manning festival. 

Together, they established Manning Cultural Connections (MCC), a network of volunteers who seek to promote inclusive cultural exchanges in the Manning Valley. The network has tapped their bounty of resources to create what promises to be a lively festival May 18-25  at the Manning Art Gallery. For program details click here or ring 6553 5121 or 6592 5455.

Auspiced by Manning Valley Neighbourhood Services in Wingham, MCC’s core festival organisers include Anke Peeters (Holland), Amita Krautloher (India), Lucy Hobgood-Brown (USA), Linguere Bischofberger (Senegal) and Australian born and bred Jane O’Dwyer, Beth Fuller and Janeece Irving.

Old Bar resident Jane O’Dwyer as Migrant Settlement Project Worker for Manning Valley Neighbourhood Services, thrives on finding creative collaboration opportunities for local migrants and the community.  “This festival is about community participation, inclusiveness and respect—a time to reflect on where Australia has come from, while also recognising the traditional owners of this land.”

Members of Manning Cultural Connections pictured here represent four countries (Senegal, Australia, India, Holland and USA). Left to right, they are Linguere Bischofberger, Robyn Hutchinson, Kiran Hutchinson, Anke Peeters and Lucy Hobgood-Brown. They are pictured at November’s REAL-Conciliation Camp, held at Saltwater National Park.

Members of Manning Cultural Connections pictured here represent four countries (Senegal, Australia, India, Holland and USA). Left to right, they are Linguere Bischofberger, Robyn Hutchinson, Kiran Hutchinson, Anke Peeters and Lucy Hobgood-Brown. They are pictured at November’s REAL-Conciliation Camp, held at Saltwater National Park.

Amita Krautloher, an educator originally from India who has lived in the Manning for 12 years, is passionate about developing communities. She says, “I hope that we are building a community that is not just accommodating of migrants but welcoming of migrants.”  She adds, “This area can be a shining example for the rest of the country of being a multi-cultural society.”

A Dutch-born artist who has worked in Africa with Doctors Without Borders, Anke Peeters helped initiate the African cultural festival because “it’s a great opportunity to share diversity in the community in a fun way.” When she’s not creating mosaics she tutors and coordinates educational projects for Forster Tuncurry Community College and is a multicultural health liaison officer at Manning Base Hospital.  She makes time to volunteer on the festival, because “it brings people together to achieve a common goal of peace and understanding”.

Afro Moses with Wing Song Choir will perform at the Africa Comes to the Manning Festival

Afro Moses with Wing Song Choir will perform at the Africa Comes to the Manning Festival

With roots in Senegal, Linguere Bischofberger brings a love of dance and fashion to the festival.  Linguere literally sailed into Australian waters on their sailboat several years ago with her Swiss-German husband, and it didn’t take long for them to become active members of their new community. Now the mother of two, Linguere is a charismatic representative for the best of Africa and will share her dancing, cooking and fashion talents at this year’s festival.

American-born and Africa-raised, Lucy Hobgood-Brown now calls Wingham home. A community development consultant, Lucy brings her African migrant contacts to the festival. “So many African migrants are making huge contributions to Australia,” Lucy says.  “The festival committee is thrilled to showcase talented musicians, story tellers and dancers.”

Australian-born committee members are also adding their energy and experience to the festival. Janeece Irving, who grew up in Cundletown, manages Taree’s Wild Fig Café as well as a coffee cart business. Her culinary flair will be appreciated by all at the festival, with African-inspired appetisers at the festival’s gala (May 18) and a Ghanaian menu at the finale on World Africa Day (May 25). She will also perform with Wingsong Choir at 1 pm on May 18 and at 2 pm on May 25, at the Art Gallery. “I love being part of cultural exchange through music and artistic events in the Manning,” she says.

Well-known “community connector” and educator Beth Fuller has lived in the Manning Valley since 1993. The Tinonee resident is busily coordinating children’s activities as well as Zambian story teller Dorothy Makasa’s festival program.  “I believe everyone has something positive to add to our community,” she declares, “and sharing our stories helps break down barriers.”

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