Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Barbara Klein.
And I’m Christopher Cruise. This week, we visit the Minnesota State Fair for its Giant Sing Along. We also learn about a program that helps young people get involved with nature. And later, we hear about a Pakistani woman who is one of the top chefs in New York City.
The northern state of Minnesota is home to one of the nation’s largest and oldest state fairs. It has farm animals, home-made foods, carnival rides and, for the second summer, a Giant Sing Along.
Children ride around and around on a merry-go-round…
Farmers demonstrate equipment, including old tractors…
And in an educational building called “The Miracle of Birth,” crowds can see baby chicks, big-eared, newborn pigs, and even newborn lambs learning how to walk.
It is all part of the tradition at the Minnesota State Fair.
A new addition to the fair is the Giant Sing Along, where nearly one hundred people gathered recently to sing together.
High school student Rachel Fadina and her friends performed the Michael Jackson song, Thriller.
RACHEL FADINA: "I like how you can just sing however you want, and mess around with your friends or whatever, and, it’s just fun."
Rachel and her friends like the sing-along, but would any of them like to sing on their own?
RACHEL AND FRIENDS: "No! No! No!"
We are listening to newlyweds Kelsey and Sam Lepa singing “Brown Eyed Girl.”
SAM LEPA: "It’s fun for a whole group to do and you just jump in when you see a song that you like."
But while they just performed at the Giant Sing Along, will they sing for VOA?
SAM LEPA: "The showerhead’s usually my biggest audience!"
Many people are nervous about singing in public. So, when the sing-along became part of the Minnesota State Fair last year, the Fair’s deputy general manager, Renee Pearson, says she was afraid no one would step forward.
RENEE PEARSON: "You know, in Minnesota, we refer to 'Minnesota Nice,' where people aren’t always willing to put themselves out there and do something that maybe is out of their comfort zone. We were a little concerned at first about whether Minnesotans would actually engage and actually participate."
But the event has been a huge success.
Melissa Mongiat is part of dailytouslesjours, the Canadian team responsible for the Great Sing Along.
MELISSA MONGIAT: "We strive for collective experiences, where we have people come together, be more aware of each other, and aware of what they can do together. Sing-along is many people singing together. It’s like the crowd is singing, and it’s more about the magic of singing together. The power of it."
To persuade people to sing in public, the magic has to be powerful for many Minnesotans, including Dick Nelson. He once performed as part of a group, but will he perform solo?
DICK NELSON: "No, I haven’t sung for awhile. My voice isn’t what it used to be."
Yet Mr. Nelson and his wife Ann were performing at the Giant Sing Along. Ann says that is because singing with someone is more fun than singing alone.
ANN NELSON: "Everybody feels free to get up there and just belt it out! There’s guys up there dancing. It’s like it doesn’t matter. You just get up there and sing!"
As a large screen shows words for the next song, the Nelsons return to the microphones. The success of this Giant Sing Along has led other states to ask Melissa Mongiat’s team about designing similar events for them.
Students around the United States have been learning about nature in a program organized by the group The Nature Conservancy. Some young people from Los Angeles spent time on an island off the California coast.
Santa Cruz Island may be a short distance from home, but it is a world away from the city. A little more than an hour off the coast by a boat, Santa Cruz is a nature preserve. Farmers brought their cattle here in the nineteenth and twentieth century. But today, seven teenage girls are helping to bring wetlands back to the island.
At twenty-five hectares, Santa Cruz Island is the largest of the Channel Island group. It was once home to Native Americans and ranchers. Student coordinator Irene Bailey says people brought invasive species and changed the island’s ecosystem.
IRENE BAILEY: “So we are trying to get the invasives removed from here and then plant native grasses and other native vegetation that will be good for the plant community and the birds and stuff that are coming in.”
The students are able to see animal species native to this island group, like the island fox. The students come from the Environmental Charter High School near Los Angeles. They are taking part in a program called LEAF -- Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future. The program is operated by the Nature Conservancy, which owns most of the island.
Student Keira Adams says she and the girls are learning about natural diversity.
KEIRA ADAMS: “Like sometimes we will drive through a patch and it feels like the Amazon, and then it will feel like the desert, and then it will feel like a tropical rain forest. So it is very interesting going through this island and feeling different types of environments.”
Student Glenda Sanchez says some of the girls are getting excited about careers in environmental work.
GLENDA SANCHEZ: “I think our generation, where we are learning more about the environment, is crucial because now we have learned about it and we know the problems, so we need to find a solution to them.”
Few women are among the top rated chefs in New York City. It is even harder for women who are not United States citizens. But one young Pakistani woman has broken this barrier.
Fatima Ali is the sous - or assistant - chef at the famous Café Centro Midtown Manhattan. She is also one of the very few Pakistani women to graduate from America’s top culinary institute, the Culinary Institute of Arts.
But what makes her even rarer is that she may be the only non-American female chef in any of seventy top New York restaurants.
Fatima Ali grew up in Pakistan. She says there is so much for her to take back to her home country.
FATIMA ALI: “There’s so many things that I've been exposed to in the U.S., that I may not have been exposed to in Pakistan. Like the plethora of ingredients that are available here.
In July, Ms. Ali competed with other chefs on the Food Network TV show "Chopped." Her mix of Pakistani spices and Western cooking won her the top prize of ten thousand dollars.
JAN HOFFMANN: “She has great potential, and I give her another two to three years, and she definitely will be a master chef.”
Jan Hoffmann is the executive chef at Cafe Centro.
But Fatima Ali is not just thinking about her career in New York. She wants to make a difference through her cooking. She was first influenced by poor children at her mother’s charity organization.
FATIMA ALI: “I think I was twelve or fifteen when I set up my first food stall at one of my mother’s festivals to raise money for these kids the fact that I had made even a small amount of difference cooking for somebody, I think that’s what just sealed the deal for me.”
Ms. Ali hopes to return to Pakistan and set up subsidized kitchens where poor families can enjoy low-cost, organic meals - and where young people can learn cooking and other job skills.
Our program was produced by Brianna Blake, with reporting by Shelley Schlender, Mike O'Sullivan and Azhar Fateh. I'm Christopher Cruise.
And I'm Barbara Klein. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.