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NCIC is the 2021 ‘Friend of the Festival’

Longtime festival collaborator honored for its involvement

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Soom Chandaswang (red shirt, center right) operates a Taste of Laos stand while getting assistance from others during the 2017 International Festival. Chandaswang is the coordinator of the Nobles County Integration Collaborative, which is being recognized this year by the International Festival committee as the 2021 "Friend of the Festival." (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — The 2021 “Friend of the Festival” honor goes to the Nobles County Integration Collaborative (NCIC).

A supporter of the International Festival from its earliest days, the NCIC has been unwavering in its involvement with the annual community get-together.

“The International Festival is a celebration of diversity and that’s what we at the NCIC are about,” said NCIC coordinator Soom Chandaswang, speaking on behalf of the organization.

“Part of our mission is to bring cultural awareness to our community and into our schools, and to learn from and with one another, and the International Festival promotes those goals.

“It really offers a way to acknowledge and celebrate our neighbors.”

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Chandaswang, an NCIC staff member for 11 years, said she was surprised but happy to receive the news that NCIC would be honored as the “Friend of the Festival” this weekend.

“We’ve had to cut back on some things in recent years, due to the state legislature’s funding regulations, but the NCIC continues to support the International Festival each year in other ways,” said Chandaswang, mentioning the NCIC’s practice of providing volunteers and offering a schedule of lively children’s activities during each festival weekend.

“And the [seven] NCIC staff members all plan to attend the festival and do as much for it as we can outside of our jobs,” she added.

This year, the NCIC will again sponsor activities for children during the Friday evening program. Their booth will include a ring toss game, face painting and a few other crafts, Chandaswang said.

“We recruit high school students to volunteer and lead the activities, so they in turn serve as mentors for the younger kids,” she said.

“They get to be an example to others while helping celebrate our differences.”

Like the NCIC, the International Festival is a vehicle for promoting what Chandaswang believes is a true local advantage: diversity.

“Overall, when the question is asked about what assets Worthington has, the answer is always our diversity,” said Chandaswang.

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“The International Festival is a symbol of that and an acknowledgment that, hey, diversity is an asset to Worthington and we are going to celebrate that and use it to help attract people here.”

Chandaswang, who recently achieved full U.S. citizenship, came with her family to the United States from Laos about 32 years ago. Besides the roles she has played as an NCIC employee in contributing to the International Festival, she and her family operated their popular “Taste of Laos” food booth there for five years.

“We wanted people to experience firsthand what Lao food was like, so we made everything fresh — egg rolls, riblets, sticky rice, chicken and papaya salad,” she listed.

She easily rattles off the tantalizing list of various elements comprising papaya salad: shredded green papaya, tomatoes, lime, fermented fish sauce, sugar (sometimes palm sugar), Thai chile peppers, fresh garlic and optional MSG.

“Those are the main ingredients,” said Chandaswang.

As with people, the papaya salad’s diverse, even unexpected, ingredients mix together to create something refreshing, new, memorable and satisfying.

“The NCIC is honored to be named the ‘Friend of the Festival,’” assured Chandaswang.

“And we’re very excited because this is going to be one of our community’s first big celebrations since the pandemic.

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“I’m hoping for great weather, and that many people will come out to take this opportunity to get to know their neighbors while still being [COVID-] cautious in the best way we can.”

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