by Vo Le Hong
The Consular Club in HCM City, founded in 1994, consists of wives of consul generals and foreign female staff who work at consulates in HCM City.
Care from above: The wife of the American Consul General, Madame Tam Le (wearing ao dai) poses for a photo with her friends at the Consular Club's Charity Bazaar last year. — VNS Photo Sunny Rose
According to Tam Le, wife of An Le, US consul general in HCM City, and also president of the Consular Club, the club members are bonded by one goal: to positively affect the lives of local Vietnamese men, women and children by helping them meet their most basic needs.
Each year, the Consular Club hosts two signature fundraising events, the annual Charity Bazaar in November, and the Art Auction in early March.
The Charity Bazaar displays the diverse cultural heritage that defines the diplomatic corps here in Viet Nam, and in the name of charity, gives attendees the opportunity to shop and bid on quality goods, with all proceeds going to charities supported by the Consular Club in the areas of social welfare, education and health care.
It takes at least five months to organise the Charity Bazaar. All members get together to decide on a venue then book the reservation.
"Next, we divide up the work and each Consul General's wife makes a request to the companies in their own country, or wherever they have a contact, for support in terms of goods and money to be contributed to the bazaar," said Tam Le. "In addition to food and merchandise, we also sell entrance and raffles tickets for additional revenue".
The raffle prizes, which also come from donations, include a variety of goods, from electronic equipment, to restaurant vouchers, airline tickets and four and five-star resort hotels in Viet Nam.
"All of this happened after I was here barely a year. Last year's Charity Bazaar was a resounding success; we raised more than US$130,000. The Consular Club's success is dependent on the hard work and dedication of its members. But our work of helping those in need cannot be done without the generous support of local leaders, and from the business community here in HCM City," she added.
Playground of discovery
According to Tam Le, many expats find it impossible to drive themselves anywhere here in Viet Nam and have to depend on taxis or hiring a chauffeur. The majority of the population travel by motorbikes and most streets are narrow with very few traffic lights, so traffic jams are a part of life. In addition, there is basic medical assistance, but advanced medical capacity has yet to be established.
"Life in Viet Nam offers numerous cultural and linguistic differences," she said.
"Reaching for a sense of identity as a family, we have immersed ourselves in the land of our ancestors' past. Viet Nam has become a playground of discovery, self-searching and adventure. We have participated in Vietnamese rituals, festivals, music, and traditions."
"As we began to explore more of the city after our arrival 16 months ago, we really began to enjoy it. It's a city full of energy and vitality. People from all age groups are out strolling, and young couples pack the cafes. Even though construction cranes are rising all around the new HCM City, the old Saigon has not disappeared. Beneath the steel and glass, the low-rise French colonial city flourishes," she said.
Over the past year and a half, Tam Le has had the opportunity to travel with her husband throughout Viet Nam. A day in Ha Noi with old houses beneath shady roads, smooth green lakes, lovely parks and museums reminds her of Paris. She has also visited Ha Long Bay, Hue, Hoi An and the Mekong Delta. Each place left her with unforgettable memories.
"Viet Nam is a country with so many sites to see and enjoy. The fact that it is small enables people to go to the beach or the mountain easily in a few hours, away from all the hustle and bustle of the city. There is a great variety of food, which is excellent, everywhere you go," she said.
As for the food, Vietnamese chefs are accomplished in international cuisine as well. "The best aspect is that visitors can enjoy many features of this country even if they don't speak Vietnamese," she said. — VNS