PORTLAND — Portland Adult Education hosted its first community get-together in 12 years on July 1 with large amounts of food and cultural spirit.

Students, teachers, family and friends came together to put on a talent show of sorts in PAE’s gymnasium on Douglass Street. With 1,700 students enrolled at the school, and nearly 1,200 of them from more than 50 different countries, there was plenty of spirit to go around.

The celebration began with an Okbari-traditional Turkish and Middle Eastern group featuring one of the school’s teachers on the bass flute. As everyone listened to the music and dined buffet-style on platters brought in by families, old and new friends got together.

“It’s a great way to get to know the people in your classes and to mix all the levels together to see the continuum,” said Kate Butler, a math, reading and spelling teacher at the school.

And how did the school get performers? As Rob Wood, the co-director of PAE, said, “we went around to classrooms and asked, ‘Who’s willing?’ Not surprisingly a lot more offered to bring food.”

There were plenty of performances though, including a rousing, collaborative Somalian national anthem, since July 1 is also Somali Independence day. Mako Hussein Aden, a Somalian singer popular in Somalia and Egypt, led the anthem in an impressive, sparkling blue dress.

A group of young Burundi dancers came next, then Britta Pejic, a teacher at the school and coordinator of the celebration, got the crowd riled up again with her performance with “les Frenchmen” and their rendition of popular French song, “Gigi L’Amoroso” by Dalida.

Daniella Runyambo, 18, a member of the next group, Club Umuco, a traditional Rwandan dance ensemble, said her group began last year with an idea from parents and members of their community to do something to teach the younger generation their culture.

The group meets every Wednesday to practice and teach a large group of younger kids. Tharcisse Mzisabira, president of the group, also leads Burundi and Congo dance groups.

Runyambo is from the Congo, but is able to dance with the Rwandan group because her tribe is originally from Rwanda, so they share the same background and dancing history.

“When we dance, we feel like we are home,” Runyambo said. “In America it is good to balance everything. Dancing is a way to communicate and have fun; and teaching kids that dancing is a fun thing is something we have to do. We are proud of our country.”

Runyambo is headed to college next year and said she hopes that the torch will be passed to the next generation to continue dancing, teaching and celebrating their culture.

“In a class of 25 people you could have 20 different languages, so this is a great way to bring everyone together,” Wood said. “We hope to make it an annual celebration.”

Victoria Fischman is the The Forecaster news intern. She can be reached at 781-3661.

Sidebar Elements

Club Umuco, a traditional Rwandese dance group, performed at Portland Adult Education’s celebration July 1. Pictured are Sandrine Umutoniwase, 20, left, Lyndz Tuyishime, 21, Daniella Runyambo, 18 and Bijou Umuhoza, 16.

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