On Stage

Cultural Exchanges

Juyungo brings Ecuador to town
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There’s little doubt that the act of traveling, whether it’s nationally, internationally or even just statewide, improves one’s quality of life. In fact, opening your eyes to new cultures—even those that can be found without leaving your current time zone—may be one of the most important things we as humans can do for ourselves.

While the journey itself is the biggest part of the educational equation, what happens after you return home and share your experiences is also an important factor when it comes to getting the most out of your travels.

Experience International (EI), a nonprofit based in Everson, seems to know full well that cultural exchanges are a vital part of uniting the world.

Since 1989, the group has worked with the agricultural and forestry sectors in the Pacific Northwest to engage in a variety of international cultural and technical exchanges. Via training and internship opportunities, Experience International staff have administered programs in production agriculture and natural resource management, as well as organized tours for performers, including Bellingham’s Kulshan Chorus.

In 2007, EI joined up with the longtime ensemble for a singing and cultural exchange to Ecuador. Six years later, members of the chorus will get to return the favor when they perform this week with Juyungo, an award-winning youth dance group from the northern part of the South American country. (For the record, the Whatcom Family and Community Network—a nonprofit that provides programs that build the capacity of our community to support children, youth and families to develop skills and opportunities—is also sponsoring the performances.)

“Juyungo is a living example of how local communities empower youth to change their lives and, through dance, to preserve and promote their cultural heritage,” EI Executive Director Charlie Walkinshaw says. “Juyungo is an effort of the provincial government to preserve traditional Ecuadorian dance and culture. They are part of a larger regional effort to provide youth with alternatives to drugs and alcohol.”
The youth he speaks of range in age from 8-21, and, in performance, are accompanied by at least five musicians on traditional Andean instruments. The dances themselves are also an educational tool, as they portray the legends and daily life of the indigenous people of Ecuador. 

Walkinshaw says last weekend’s performances at Bellingham’s Sterling Meadows Church of Christ and also on the Lummi Nation wowed audiences. He’s hoping for the same reaction when Juyungo performs Wed., Sept. 11 at the Bellingham Circus Guild’s Cirque Lab and Fri., Sept. 13 in Mount Vernon at LaVenture Middle School.

“They have far exceeded expectations in their performances so far,” he says. “It’s an event people really, really need to see. They are absolutely incredible.”

While the free shows will give people a chance to be entertained, Wilkenshaw says what Juyungo represents is much bigger than a night out on the town.

“Juyungo is a living example of how a community has pulled together to provide creative and constructive options for youth and families,” he says. “It is this that we hope to share with our local schools and community.”

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