Cultural group aims for education

    At the Students of the Caribbean Association’s cultural weekend, attendees will find free ice cream, friendly competition and a delicious restaurant-catered meal. Starting tonight, SOCA is hosting a weekend of activities to raise money for Caribbean charities while celebrating the cultural traditions of the area.
    “SOCA has been extremely successful in providing opportunities for our community to come, enjoy great entertainment, but leave having learned something interesting about the many cultures represented throughout the Caribbean — balancing entertainment and education,” Center of Student Diversity Director Vernon Hurte said.

    Working with AMP’s Homebrew Committee, SOCA will start the weekend with a unique musical performance by the Mosaic Steel Orchestra. The performers — all local high school students — have taken their act to other Virginia colleges, including James Madison University. But the most creative aspect of Mosaic Steel Orchestra is its use of steel pans.

    “It’s a traditional instrument from Trinidad and Tobago,” SOCA President Janelle Ramus-Jones ’10 said. “If you’ve ever seen an oil drum, it’s kind of like that. You hollow it out, and it’s kind of like an instrument.”

    SOCA hopes the audience will not only have a good time, but also learn something new. The next performance, a student-written play, is similar in its goals and will take place Saturday at 7 p.m. in the Sadler Center’s Commonwealth Auditorium.

    “The play is about a freshman at William and Mary from St. Vincent who struggles with getting acclimated,” SOCA vice president Shanelle Brin ’10 said. “She falls in love with a sophomore from New Jersey and inadvertently invites him home for Christmas break. The play showcases some aspects of the culture of Caribbean people.”

    The play is a typical part of SOCA’s cultural weekend, and the actors work hard to make it an entertaining and amusing portrayal of Caribbean culture. If humor is not enough of an incentive to attend the show, a catered meal will also draw in attendants.

    The show, along with the dinner, catered by Jamaican restaurant MP Island Cafe in Norfolk, VA, costs only $5.

    To wrap up the weekend, SOCA will host its first Caribbean Olympics. Organizations and students will compete in volleyball, blind kickball, chair races, steal the coconut and other games. The Caribbean Olympics is being co-sponsored by the Residence Hall Association, and SOCA hopes it will be a permanent addition to their culture weekend.

    “Our goal is to sign up with groups of four or more large organizational teams,” Ramus-Jones said.
    Proceeds from the $1 entrance fee will go to a school in Haiti that SOCA has consistently supported with money and supplies. The group hopes to raise enough money to expand its philanthropy to hands-on service.

    “SOCA hopes to primarily increase membership so that we will be able to make will be able to solidify our plans for a Haiti service trip.”

    After the recent earthquake in Haiti, the region’s need for support has only increased.

    “The school we support wasn’t affected by the earthquake, but we knew as SOCA, organizations on campus would come to us for information,” Ramus-Jones said. “We offered help to any other organization that wanted to do something in Haiti.”

    Beyond philanthropy and education, SOCA serves as a network and meeting ground for both people of Caribbean descent and those who are interested in the area’s culture. It has also reached out to other cultural groups, such as the Hispanic Cultural Organization, and groups at other universities.

    “SOCA would like to strengthen the African Caribbean Network that was created last year by Tamara Jacques,” said Brin. “This network includes all of the universities in the surrounding states who come together to discuss dilemmas facing Caribbean communities and how they can be resolved.”

    Besides helping other cultural groups on campus, the Center of Student Diversity assists SOCA by facilitating collaboration, providing leadership training and attending activities to show their support.

    “We are privileged to have a rich and broadly diverse campus community,” Hurte said. “Organizations like SOCA — through their programming and service activities — reflect the vast array of experiences, perspectives and cultural backgrounds of our diverse community.”

    Not everyone in SOCA is of Caribbean descent, and the only requirement is an interest in or curiosity for the area.

    “College is a time to grow beyond yourself, and organizations like SOCA seek to provide opportunities for people across campus to explore new cultures and perspectives,” Hurte said. “They have also helped give us a broader understanding of the Caribbean, taking us far beyond the limiting perspective that some of us have that the Caribbean is only made up of a handful of islands.”


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