The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Local News

April 24, 2012

Diversity Fair

Students learn about other cultures

DANVILLE — Of all the unique items displayed at Liberty Elementary School’s Cultural Diversity Fair, a white deer hide Native American dress is what caught first-grader Lexi Ellis’ eye.

The authentic Crow dress was one of dozens of Native American items Danville Election Commissioner Barbara Dreher brought to the second annual fair.

“I like the dress,” Lexi said, shyly pointing to the garment on the dress form.

Liberty School students had the opportunity Tuesday and again today to experience and appreciate many different cultures from around the world.

The idea for the fair originally was hatched by Principal Eliza Brooks, and English Language Learner assistant Sandy Shillo ran with the plan, making it a two-day event.

“It came out well last year and the kids really enjoyed it, so I hope they’ll be just as happy and surprised at this year’s fair,” Shillo said.

“People live so many different ways around the world, and this fair exposes the students to different cultures,” she added. “A lot of our kids don’t ever get the chance to leave the area around Danville.

“Our kids also come from many different backgrounds. There are 17 (foreign) languages spoken in our district, with Spanish being No. 1 and Arabic coming in second,” Shillo said.

Helping Shillo to organize this year’s event were teaching assistants Stacey Rolinitis and Kursheed Rahim.

“There are three of us who go out and get support and donations from the community,” Shillo said.

“We also have volunteers and parent volunteers who help,” she added.

This year’s fair showcased clothing and foods from different countries, including China, Africa, Mexico, India, Libya and the Middle East.

Libya native Mahmoud Zwawi, the dad of a Liberty School student, said, “I’m trying to encourage kids to go to the library and learn about other countries so they’re not afraid to explore other languages and other cultures because that will be the future.”

Zwawi, dressed in authentic clothing from his homeland, showed students a clay water jug — the same kind that has been used for thousands of years to cool water — as well as colorful fans, baskets and food covers — to keep the flies out — made of woven palm leaves.

“It’s very hot in Libya, so they wear light-color clothing,” Zwawi explained, pointing to the lightweight garment he was wearing.

Many of the articles of clothing on display at the fair — including a kimono, sari, Mexican wedding dress, headdresses from the Middle East and embellished scarves — came from Shillo’s personal collection.

“My husband goes to the Middle East every six months and brings back a headdress or clothing item for me,” she said.

Shillo showed the children a tiny 24-karat gold cup that coffee is sipped out of in the Middle East, a camel statue carved from olive wood, sparkly prayer beads from Saudi Arabia and an ornate brass container from which eyeliner powder is applied.

The display from India included coins, bindi jewelry and henna art illustrations, and Mexico was represented by sombreros, piñatas, maracas and a purse made from woven chewing gum wrappers.

First-grader Gianna Winston said her favorite item at the fair was the gum-wrapper purse.

“I learned a lot about different countries,” she said.

The students, however, possibly learned the most about their own home country during the fair.

Dreher, who admitted she had “tables full of stuff” for her Native American exhibit, said, “A lot of children have taken notice of the buffalo hides.

“The hide becomes a bed cover as well as the cover for the teepee,” she said.

Dreher’s display also included moccasins, a man’s headdress made of porcupine guard hairs and a deer tail as well as fully beaded bags, footwear and leggings. She explained to the children that before the European culture introduced colorful beads to this country, Native Americans made beads from porcupine quills that were dyed different colors.

The children were in awe when Dreher slipped a breast plate made of carved animal bones over her head.

In addition to the white deer hide dress, Dreher also displayed an elk-tooth dress.

“The man’s family would make a dress for the bride using 400 eye teeth from an elk, which signified that the man would be a good provider for the woman,” she said.

After viewing all of the displays at the fair, each child received a goody bag containing a fortune cookie, banana chips, corn tortilla chips and a Native American food, popcorn.

“Kids will get a little bit of everything to try,” Shillo said.

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