Traditional Jaipongan dancers and a performance featuring the angklung—a bamboo instrument played for centuries by the Sundanese people of Java—marked the May 25 inauguration of the Washington Educational & Cultural Attaché Association (WECAA) at the Indonesian Embassy.
Nearly 100 people attended the event, including 56 officials of 45 embassies ranging from Albania to the Philippines. Besides the host, three ambassadors were present: Ali Serbini of Brunei Darussalam; Ashikbayev Yerzhan of Kazakhstan; and Manasvi Srisodapol of Thailand.
“Today, Indonesia is honored to be chosen for the launching of the WECAA,” said the country’s ambassador, Rosan Perkasa Roeslani, noting that for the first time, Indonesia also holds the rotating presidency of the G20. “Universal education and cultural diplomacy are a key part of our efforts, and we will continue to work closely to promote mutual understanding and friendship within the diplomatic community.”
The organization, three years in the making, is the brainchild of Popy Rufaidah, education and cultural attaché at the Indonesian Embassy. A former professor of marketing and strategic management at Bandung’s Universitas Padjadjaran, she is WECAA’s president and one of its three co-founders.
The other two co-founders are veteran public relations consultant Jan Du Plain and Victor Shiblie, publisher of The Washington Diplomat.
“This association has been a dream of Popy’s for years. You’re the reason we’re here tonight,” Du Plain said. “We have almost 200 embassies here in DC, and what you do here makes a difference all over the world. It’s the cultural and educational attachés who make this town’s diplomatic community come to life.”
She added: “I, like many of us who work in the field, had thought about putting an association together. But it’s one thing to think about it, and another to make it happen.”
WECAA, which consists of cultural attachés, schools, businesses and universities, was incorporated earlier this year and is awaiting 501(c)(3) status as a tax-exempt nonprofit organization. Its stated purpose is to encourage professional and cultural ties, as well as strengthen relationships with the US government.
The three-hour gala featured traditional Indonesian dance performances by Alya Lawindo, Allesia Weintraub and Stephanie Lee Paendong, as well as an interactive angklung demonstration led by Ari Peach in which the entire audience participated—each person playing a bamboo angklung tuned to a specific note on the musical scale.
In addition to the embassies, several dozen organizations will be active in WECAA, including George Mason University; the Future Teachers Institute; US Institute of Peace; Meridian International Center; Smithsonian Institution; the Asian American Music Society; George Washington University; International Student House; and Cultural Tourism DC.
State Department official Ethan Rosenzweig is deputy assistant secretary for academic programs within the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. He assured his audience that “the exchange of ideas matters.”
“If we can touch people emotionally, we can touch lives as well,” he said. “Are we making an impact through what we’re doing? I can assure you we are. Meeting with students, seeing the doors of the world reopen as we navigate covid—that’s what this is about.”
Added Kimberly Bassett, secretary of state of the District of Columbia: “It’s your duty to increase exchanges of academics and culture between the US and your respective countries, fostering greater understanding of one another. For your work, we are so thankful. The resources of my office are here at your disposal.”