Although Peace Corps volunteers are best known for their work in agriculture, business, education, and health, they also play an active role in fostering traditional music, dance, and theater around the world. In some cases, volunteers are assisting music organizations and companies with marketing and business development. In other cases, they are working with youth groups, community centers, and local festivals to help produce public performances. In still other cases, they are using various forms of music and dance (including ballads, rap, and hip-hop) as creative tools to augment some of the more conventional methods of education and health awareness.
The lively performances of music, dance, and theater on our World Stage in the Peace Corps program area offer a representative sampling of current Peace Corps projects from Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Please come out to enjoy these presentations!
The Garifuna Collective featuring Umalali, Belize City, Dangriga, San Ignacio, and Stann Creek, Belize; Livingston, Guatemala
The Garifuna Collective was co-founded and led by Andy Palacio (1960–2008), a musician dedicated to preserving the unique Garifuna language and culture. Today this group of accomplished, multi-generational Garifuna artists continues to tour and perform in Palacio’s memory and with his commitment to keeping Garifuna tradition and language alive against their threatened extinction. The hybrid culture of the African-Amerindian Garifuna communities, located on the Caribbean coasts of Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras, is influenced by West Africa and indigenous Carib, as well as the Arawak Indian language. Garifuna music has gained a following in the form of a less traditional style known as punta rock, but the Garifuna Collective focuses on the roots of Garifuna tradition, adding contemporary elements to traditional forms to bring the soul of this music into a modern context. Through their music, the Collective aims to portray what it means to be Garifuna. Peace Corps volunteers have worked with the Music Industry Association in Belize and with the Garifuna Collective’s record label on small business development and graphic design.
Naro Giraffe Dance Group, Ghanzi, Botswana
The Naro Giraffe Dance Group was created in 1996 in an effort to showcase and preserve the culture of the San people, who have been forcibly relocated from hunter-gathering communities in the Kalahari Desert to government-run settlements. The Naro Giraffe Dance Group has traveled both locally in Botswana and internationally to demonstrate cultural activities that are important to the San such as making fire, shooting bows, using plants for food and medicine, playing traditional games and musical instruments, and dancing. They have participated in cultural exchanges with other indigenous groups such as the American Indians and the Sami people of Norway. An important ritual of the San culture, which dates back thousands of years and is still practiced today, is the healing trance dance. Four of the Naro Giraffe Dance Group’s members are attending the Folklife Festival, representing the twelve to fourteen total members of the group. Accompanying the dancers is Kuela Kiema, a teacher and musician. Kuela wrote Tears for My Land: A Social History of the Kua of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Peace Corps volunteers have worked in the resettlement communities of the San people and have helped organize the annual Kuru Dance Festival where the Naro Giraffe Dance Group performs.
Opika Performance Group, Perechyn, Ukraine
Perechyn, the small Western Ukrainian town where the Opika Performance Group was founded, lies at the crossroads of traditions from the Ukraine, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Germany, and Poland, as well as from the local Lemkiv and Roma people. Since its formation in 2000 by Iryna Sydakova, a music teacher at the Perechyn orphanage, Opika has performed, preserved, and celebrated the transnational heritage and traditional music and dances of this diverse region, helping orphaned youths throughout Transcarpathia reconnect with their unique heritages and the greater community through performance. The all-volunteer staff at Opika also works to combat misconceptions about orphaned children in Ukraine and to promote lasting friendships and mutual understanding between youth and the local community. With the support of Peace Corps volunteers, Opika produces original plays designed to educate the community about pressing social concerns. Opika has prepared an original play for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.
Peru Gozando, Falls Church, Virginia
Peru Gozando is a five-piece band consisting of bass, bongo, cajón, piano, and vocals. It plays a diverse repertoire of Peruvian folk music, which readily brings audiences to the dance floor. All members of Peru Gozando have many years of experience playing this style of music in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.
The Rehoboth Children’s Home Dance Team, Camiling, Philippines
The Rehoboth Children’s Home dance team has won awards on the island of Luzon for its renditions of the tinikling, the national dance of the Philippines. The dancers reside at Rehoboth, a center for abandoned, neglected, or orphaned youth where dance and other creative outlets help residents develop into well-rounded adults. Peace Corps volunteers Leah and Tom Ferrebee collaborate with Rehoboth staff on youth development projects that prepare residents for independent living. Leah uses her background in horticulture to develop an eco-learning farm; and Tom holds a position at a local college and works to foster a partnership between the college and the center to address literacy needs through service learning. The Rehoboth Children’s Home dancers have been looking forward to flying on an airplane for the first time and sharing their award-winning dance with this year’s Festival participants.