by Sharon Chin and Jennifer Mistrot
PLEASANTON (KPIX 5) — Come play with me. Those spoken words are more than a common request among children. The phrase is also an East Bay woman’s invitation to an enriching cultural experience.
Catherine Ndungu-Case has made it her life’s work to bring a taste of her native Africa to all Bay Area kids.
Recently in a cavernous gymnasium at Vintage Hills Elementary School in Pleasanton, Ndungu-Case taught kids like Bailey Drennan how to play the djenbe African drum. As the class banged away, a slow smile spread across Drennan’s face. “On a scale of one to ten, I’ll give it a ten,” gushed Drennan. “Or if I could a hundred.”
To even the casual observer, it’s clear Ndungu-Case and her drums are a hit with this crowd.
It’s the kind of praise Ndungu-Case hopes her celebration of African culture and diversity will bring. Hence the name of her non-profit, Cheza Nami, Swahili for “Come Play With Me.”
Through music, dance and play, Ndungu-Case has reached thousands of children a year, in Bay Area schools, community groups and her annual “Taste of Africa” festival in Pleasanton. A young mother herself, Ndungu-Case started the non-profit when her own twins were just three years old, driven by a deep desire for daughter Elah and son Aren to know and experience the rich culture of their mother’s native Kenya.
“It’s a way for us to elevate those cultures that are very often forgotten,’ explained Ndungu-Case.
And it was also a way to help cure her own homesickness, by recalling favorite childhood memories, and transforming those into drum beats, dance and song.
“That was to gather around the fire as my grandmother cooked and tell stories and sing songs,”recalled Ndungu-Case.
In her programs, Ndungu-Case introduces traditional instruments but she also raises grant money to fund Bay Area based artists who want to share their African heritage. And she is focused on expanding Cheza Nami to more schools and community groups. And while she her heart remains with celebrating Africa, Ndungu-Case says her new dream is to organize a multi-cultural fair.
“That’s so beautiful, said Ndungu-Case. ” It means the world to me.”