A wholesome community event of staggering scale and range, the PTA Friendship Festival of the American School of Doha (ASD) soared even higher in its 19th edition, last weekend.
The eagerly awaited culmination of collective celebration for kids, parents, teachers and the community at large, the festival, like every year, hosted more than 4,000 people in the five hours — 12pm to 5pm – that it lasted. What began nearly two decades ago as a fund-raiser for school projects, has gone on to become a community event “bringing together the school’s students, staff, parents, local business owners, and visitors to enjoy a fun-filled day of market shopping, inflatables and games, live entertainment, and a variety of food”.
A major fundraiser for the PTA, the festival is organised by ASD’s Parent Teacher Association, and supported by many volunteers from the school community. Children and parents alike scoured through what certainly appeared to be Doha’s largest one-day market featuring over 140 vendors selling anything from arts and crafts, to clothing or merchandise, and of course, a whole lot of food, games and a long line of fun activities.
Lino Korah, Committee Secretary, Friendship Festival said, “I’m a newcomer this year. The reason I joined the team is because of how much PTA has given to the school. I have three kids studying here at ASD. They do a lot of after-school activities, most of which are donated by the PTA. This makes us parents want to give back. The PTA does an amazing job in putting out this festival.”
To know more, Community sat down for a chat with Dr Thomas Hawkins, Director, American School of Doha (ASD), Nikki Routledge, ASD PTA President, and Lori Meszaros, ASD Festival Chairperson.
What about the Friendship Festival happens to be the most fun for kids?
Routledge: We have been trying to expand the festival to make sure there are fun events for all age groups. So if you go around, you will see the inflatables and the games being allotted for the younger lot. Now, this is also for the older kids and the adults, allowing them to participate. What also makes it fun for the students here is that this is a fund-raising event for all the student groups. Although it’s a PTA Friendship Festival community who organise and run it, it’s more of an opportunity for the individual student groups to do their own fundraising. For instance, it’s the students that are running all the inflatables and the games, and are getting involved in it. All of this makes it more fun for them.
Hawkins: One of the big hits at the festival is Catch & Release, which is basically putting kids in jail. Kids love that. A couple of girls came and took me to jail today. One girl paid to get me out, too! So I said she is good all the way through High School.
Meszaros: The Toxic Drop is fantastic. There are huge queues for it and I haven’t been able to try it myself! I think this a great event for families because there are picnic blankets out there and people are just enjoying being outside for a day and taking in the environment. Kids have a lot of stuff to do while parents can make it to a central meeting point and relax. The kids are running, having a good time, and enjoying lots of good food all through the day.
How do you make Friendship Festival a success each year? Is there a formula to organising it, and then something more?
Hawkins: I think a lot of it is the PTA saying this is what we do. The PTA has done it for so long. It’s always been successful and it kind of builds year on year. Also, to logistically have this many people on campus and all of the games and vendors is a lot of work that goes on for months leading up to it. Yes, there is a bit of a playbook, and people build on it every year, saying we need to get this done in December and get that done by January. There are lots of moving pieces involved in this festival but everybody works together with a lot of planning. Success builds success. So every year it keeps getting better and better.
Routledge: I think offering all the other groups and the individual groups and from different communities within this school, inviting them to be involved, just creates one big community event, and people love it. Quite a lot of the food vendors and some of the sales vendors are parents or parents involved with the businesses. So by word of mouth, it just expands and expands. If you see, there’s a lot going on under one roof here. Whether you want to do some shopping or you want the kids to run around and get rid of some energy; everything from painting to racing to shopping, the variety on offer is phenomenal. Also, for the safety aspect, just to be sure, we have put mum’s and dad’s phone numbers on wristbands on children. The other thing we have introduced this year is expanded it to student groups, like environmental club and robotic club. So groups that are student-led initiatives, for the 11th and 12th graders mainly, are coming in and sharing what service they do. Also, it gives them a chance to not just raise funds for the charity but also to spread awareness about different initiatives that are going on in the school.
Meszaros: I think it’s the fact that the school works so well together. It’s not just the PTA but it’s also all the faculty and staff that work with us, donating their time. They take an entire weekend out to be here to support the event. And they enjoy doing it every year. They wouldn’t keep coming back if they didn’t. It’s a great way to bring the community, the staff, the teachers, the parents, everybody, together. The number of visitors is growing every year. Now that all the construction work is done, we have got access to new areas in the school. So we can spread out a bit more. The facilities available are stunning and accommodates this festival so nicely.
What are the best compliments about the festival that have come from the students thus far?
Hawkins: The kids usually say it’s just nice to hang out with friends on the campus without school. It’s a festival with one intended purpose of bringing people together to have fun. The byproduct is that you raise some money to put back into school. People are here with their families, and the older kids don’t want to be with mom and dad but want to be with their friends. That’s what drives them. My high school kids look forward to this. They get to work at it but they also get to hang out with friends.
Routledge: I have two teenagers who are doing different shifts in different areas. The build-up is phenomenal and so is the excitement that the kids get. I think it’s just because there’s so much to do under one roof.
Meszaros: I see a lot more high school kids out there this year, which is a big plus for us. Usually this festival caters to little kids. I think we finally made the festival cool enough for the high school kids to come in. As a committee, we are trying to make sure we are including the whole school in the festival.
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