The Gala Effect

This year, the International Students Association (ISA) is introducing a new component to its widely anticipated, annually held International Gala – community awareness. Although Gala has always had attendants from the Worcester community, it has not actually created connections with local Worcester organizations. With the scale that Gala has expanded and grown into since its first time, ISA is then reaching out towards community organisations in the hopes of continuing to celebrate and appreciate diversity and cultural differences.

I was fortunate enough to be a part of the ISA team initiating this exciting collaboration. Just last week, we visited the African Community Education Program (ACE) and the Southeast Asian Coalition (SEAC) to talk to them about their attendance at Gala and film their daily programs.

(Source: ACE)

ACE is located in the basement of the Fanning Building near by City Hall. We were welcomed by a cheerful Brianna, who is actually a Clark alumni herself. She showed us the after school program, where we were greeted by curious students. These kids come from all over Africa, from Liberia to Uganda, and have had life experiences beyond their ages. ACE serves as a valuable space for them to connect and make friends with people of similar stories, and to receive support for their transitions into life in the US. Besides the tutoring program, we also witnessed games being played in the gym and leadership skill-building activities.

(Source: ACE)

SEAC is located even closer to Clark, in the Denholm Building just across City Hall. I visited SEAC on a Friday evening, and was surprised to see the space completely packed. A wide room was full of kids in little suits, learning a form of martial arts. There were 3-4 elderly people following an older woman’s Tai Chi moves. SEAC’s programs, like ACE’s, are directed to assisting immigrants, refugees, and other residents to transition into the Worcester community. Its educational activities include, among many, English as a second language (ESL) classes for students aged 13-87, SAT prep, and tutoring sessions. As it was a Friday evening, the atmosphere was more laid back. We got to casually talk to a couple of older kids and watch them practice a certain performance (that you will see if you come to Gala, tonight! [April 1st at the Kneller Athletic Center]).

(Photo by author, Charis Smuthkochorn)

As a Southeast Asian, I can share with you firsthand how it feels to have a space like this – it feels like home. To be honest, I hardly expected to feel like that because I have had quite an international background (I went to an international school in Bangkok and have been studying outside Thailand for several years now). Yet being surrounded with people of faces similar to yours does create quite the effect. An old lady who ran the program, and commutes to Boston every day to help out, actually reminded me a lot of my grandmother. The kids especially made me miss my siblings.

And of course, it really wasn’t just the faces. It was also the way the kids treated the adults and the kinds of jokes they said. It made me miss home, but it also gave me a feeling of warmth to realize that spaces like these can exist thousands of miles away.

It is not hard, then, to imagine how valuable these spaces are for those who have not had preparation as I did to move out of their country, or those who didn’t even have the choice to do so. Community-based spaces like these constitute and foster the diversity of the Worcester community. In both ACE and SEAC, I heard students tell me of the friendships they got to make in these organizations.

Tonight [April 1st], we welcome ACE, SEAC, and CENTRO to our campus. They will be sharing their stories, as well as tabling and telling us of potential opportunities to help them fulfill their missions to serve the community. I highly encourage you all to attend the event and/or visit their website. The opportunity to help others should be considered a privilege, and we are in this case extremely privileged to be living so close to these opportunities.

Although I didn’t get to visit CENTRO, other ISA members visited it this week and I am sure it is fostering the kind of positive community-building that ACE and SEAC are doing as well. CENTRO is, in fact, the largest minority led nonprofit organisation in Central Massachusetts. Although it was first established by Puerto Ricans for Puerto Ricans, its work today serves clients all the way from the Americas to Asia.

See you at Gala!

– Charis

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