By the Kurds for the Kurds: Kurdish Youth Festival
By Ava Homa:
The Kurdish Youth Festival (KYF) along with many similar festivals are the Kurds’ way of searching for identity and independence, a cultural resistance that Kurdish Youth is trying to replace the traditional ones. KYF is held 6-8 January, 2012 in Washington DC and provides a great opportunity for the Kurdish Diaspora to mingle, network, celebrate their roots and feel connected to and supported by their community. “The Annual Kurdish Youth Festival is powered by the youth for the youth,” say the founders of this organization. This large festival is a result of the devotion of energetic youth who work all year round to organize a compelling three day event.
The programs vary from dance and a “Kurds Got Talent” competition to featuring movies and panel discussions such as “From the Mountains to Twitter.” An Essay Contest is part of this Festival’s goal to promote and encourage education. The participants, however, do not take sides with any political agenda “other than a deep commitment to a bright future for our youth.” Nuha Serrac, one of the active volunteers of this group talked to Ava Homa, on behalf of the KYF. “The committee members are students, young professionals, aspiring leaders, and talented artists with a passion for community development. The organizational structure is highly democratic with an emphasis on exchanging ideas in a supportive and positive environment”, she explained.
Ava Homa: Who are the founding members of this festival and what inspired them/you?
Nuha Serrac: The idea of a youth festival was conceived less than three years ago by members of the Kurdish Youth Club. They envisioned a platform for the promotion of the vast range of cultural, educational, and artistic talents of the Kurdish youth. With this vision in mind, they networked with other passionate Kurdish youth across the United States. Their collaboration, enthusiasm, and hard work led to the First Annual Kurdish Youth Festival held in Atlanta, Georgia in January 2010.
The first festival’s impressive attendance rate, positive reception and feedback by the community helped inspire and energize many others to get involved. It has been an exciting and promising journey since.
AH: What do you expect to achieve through this festival? How has it been going so far?
NS: The Annual Kurdish Youth Festival is a celebration. At the least, we want to acknowledge the young generation of Kurds in Diaspora. We want to recognize their impressive accomplishments and encourage further advancements. It is also homage to our identity as a stateless people and a reflection on the challenges our parents and ancestors faced. However, our vision is far greater than just a celebration.
The festival is an assembly of ideas. It is meant as a jumping point for further community participation and mobilization. We believe that by creating networking opportunities and a stage for the exchange of insights and solutions, we will help our youth cultivate their best qualities. They can in turn empower their communities. An educated, healthy, and productive youth can become agents of change and help build a successful presence for Kurds in the global arena.
So far, the Annual Kurdish Youth Festival is a great success story. In a short period of time, this festival has become the event to look forward to all year.
Participant testimonies speak volumes about the positive effect of the festival. One concrete example of the festival’s results is the establishment of a Kurdish-American Youth Organization chapter in Los Angeles. They were energized at the Kurdish Youth Festival in January 2011 and went back to their city to form an active group.
AH: How has the turn out been?
NS: The turn out has been amazing. Attendance has exceeded the expectations of the organizing committee every year. We can credit the popularity of this festival with the great success of the first events in 2010.
We received wonderful feedback. That is why we believe that our single most effective form of promotion is through word of mouth of the previous attendees. The stories, photos, good memories and education they take back to their families and friends encourage others to attend.
The 2011 Festival brought close to one thousand attendees throughout the three day event. Many of those who attended were from the local Dallas community but many more were out of state participants.
This year, we anticipate a much larger attendance rate and hope to once again be pleasantly surprised.
AH: What are some limitations/restrictions you have had so far to achieve your goals?
NS: Like any organization operating in difficult economic times, funding is a challenge for us. More resources would mean we could invite more renowned scholars, artists, and activists. It would also help us provide more scholarships to participants who are not able to attend due to monetary challenges.
We have tried to tackle this issue by utilizing volunteer strengths, social networking, and better fundraising efforts. We are fortunate to say that it has been going well despite the hard times.
Another area of challenge for us has been the need to create an inclusive space for participants who are non-Kurds or Kurds from non-English speaking countries.
This festival started by Kurdish youth in the United States catered to the youth here. We soon noticed that people from across North America, Europe, and the Middle East showed interest in participating. This was an encouraging sign but also challenging.
In the past year, we have worked diligently to develop quality programs that will be useful and interesting to Kurdish and non-Kurdish participants from various backgrounds.
AH: How do you get funding for the festival?
NS: The Annual Kurdish Youth Festival is funded by the generous donations of companies, organizations, and individuals. We want to stress that the organizers of this festival are committed to remaining an independent non-biased not-for-profit committee. For this reason we are very transparent about our funds and provide names of our sponsors to those who are interested.
To make things easy for our sponsors, the committee has created various sponsorship levels. There are also many benefits to being a sponsor of our Festival. We have a very enthusiastic audience who are eager to support companies who have sponsored us. We publicize and advertise for businesses and include their names in our publications. Supporting this festival is a sure way to build a loyal customer base while investing in the future of this generation.
This year’s festival would not be possible without the monetary support of Iraq’s first mobile telecommunications company, Asia Cell. They are our first Diamond level sponsor.
Other notable sponsors include SENK Group and Pinnacle Web Services who have generously donated every year. We are also grateful to several Kurdish Organizations operating throughout the United States.
We want to emphasize that regardless of the amount, donations go along way so we appreciate those who give.
Please visit our website for more information on how you can be a partner.
AH: How do you hope the festival will improve in the future?
NS: The Festival’s organizing committee is heavily invested in making improvements to our operations and programs. We strive to become a model for other events held throughout the year. Therefore, we respond to the needs of our community. All of our efforts and resources are focused on creating a truly unique cultural and educational experience for the Kurdish community. We rely heavily on feedback provided to us by those who have or will attend the festival. We have mechanisms such as online surveys, written questionnaires, face-to-face interviews, social media, and participant enthusiasm to measure our performance. We are also open and available to suggestions from seasoned leaders and older community organizers.
In the future we hope to build a mentorship program to pair up experienced community leaders with younger members who will be taking a more active role. In order to make this festival sustainable and successful for many years to come, we would need training workshops regarding leadership and non-for-profit work. We also hope to have subcommittees dedicated to fundraising and advertising.
Another possibility is to create opportunities to work with non-Kurdish youth festivals or international conferences in order to build alliances through meaningful joined efforts.
AH: Thanks for your time Nuha.
For more information, please visit: http://kurdishyouthfestival.org/.
This and similar festivals have a positive social, cultural, political and psychological impact on the Kurdish nation.
To Kurds’ prosperity and happiness!