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By ANNE-GERARD FLYNN

aflynn@repub.com

“It is an open invitation from the Somali community to learn more about Somali culture, the Somali Women’s Project and the collective that is emerging from it and to support the community and enjoy live music, food and performances,” said Andrea M. Assaf of the Walaalo! Somali Community Festival.

The festival, which will feature handmade items for sale, traditional rice and meat dishes and the recitation of poetry, is planned for Saturday at Panache Banquet Hall at 827 State St. in Springfield.

Assaf is artistic director of New WORLD Theater in Amherst that is host for the event being held for the second year.

The theater is also the lead partner for the women’s project that Assaf said looks at art and culture as a “community asset” that can serve as an “economic basis for self-sufficiency.”

Some 60 families from the East African country of Somali were resettled in Springfield in 2003.

The project, funded with grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, has brought together area artists and Somali women in workshops that Assaf said have allowed the women to engage in the process of “asset mapping in the group and understanding their own culture and knowledge as something of value.”

“The women began as participants in the project and are now stepping into a leadership role and guiding its future direction,” said Assaf.

Explaining that “walaalo” means “sisters” in Somali, Assaf said the women, some of whom she described as accomplished sewers, weavers and embroiderers, are in the process of renaming the project and making it into an economic collective called “Walaalo! The Somali Sisters Collective.”

Assaf said this year’s event will showcase more artists and there will be dancing in which “the audience can join in.”

Musicians will include women from the collective, hip-hop artists as well as traditional singers.

Beaded jewelry, dolls and scented oils will be among the items for sale and food will be sold by the plate from a buffet table.

There is no charge to attend but there is a suggested donation of $10 at the door.

Besides New WORLD Theater and the Center for Popular Economics, both at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, other collaborators in the women’s project include the International Language Institute in Northampton; documentary film maker Julie Akeret of the Leeds section of Northampton; Community Music School of Springfield; and Lean on Me Family Center and Light of Restoration Ministries, both in Holyoke.

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