by Hong Thuy
Charity begins at home. And for many expats, a busy schedule, the language barrier and a lack of local contacts are among the obstacles likely to stop them from doing things abroad that they do on a regular basis at home.
But some ladies of the diplomatic corps who have accompanied their husbands to posts as ambassadors to Viet Nam wanted to preserve the status quo in their community. They have stepped forward with the idea of holding an annual charity bazaar that serves as a get-together for expatriates in Ha Noi and a fund-raising event for underprivileged women and children in and around the city.
They set off on the journey in 1992 after the Diplomatic Ladies Group evolved into the Ha Noi International Women's Club (HIWC). The club then organised the first charity bazaar that gave personal items and small donations from private contributors to poor ethnic minority students of a boarding school in Yen Bai mountain province.
From its humble beginning, the bazaar has grown to become one of the biggest fund-raising events in Viet Nam, attracting as many as 10,000 participants this year and fetching an yearly average income of VND2 billion (US$100,000) in a unique one-day activity.
Most people will say the Annual HIWC Charity Bazaar is always a good and fun day. Even one who has come here for the first time will definitely come back again without a second thought.
So what appeals to bazaar participants? I believe it springs from countless motivations, from deep-rooted empathy to a more calculated desire for public recognition or network expansion.
A participant Kay Wood said the bazaar provides a venue for participants to catch up with friends, provide children with a play environment, buy special Christmas gifts and taste food from around the world, as well as generate sales from new customers, give locals a chance to meet people from other cultures and increase intercultural understanding, to name a few.
Members joined the bazaar as shoppers and vendors of unique products such as special Christmas cards, candles with Christmas themes, herbal tonics and trendy new clothes, as well as an exquisite Huong jewellery collection and a range of cakes and pastries.
"This is my fourth bazaar that I have been in Ha Noi. It is an awesome day. Different countries go here as representatives. Money then go to women and children throughout the city while I can go shopping for Christmas," said Tamya Guthrie.
Though the motivation to keep attending the event every year varies among different people, I know for certain that they all share in the spirit of giving and want to make a difference.
By selling gaily decorated cupcakes, charging small amounts of money for games children play and setting up a donation box to raise funds for children with heart ailments, 14-year-old Linnea Niklasson and her friends raised more than VND6 million ($286) in this year's bazaar.
Having experienced a heart ailment herself when she was born, Linnea says she could have died of the ailment if she were born elsewhere, including Viet Nam, but not Sweden, where heart surgery is free for everyone. The life challenge she had faced compelled the brave little girl to come up with the idea of helping Vietnamese children with heart ailments receive free surgery.
In the early part of 2010, Linnea began her school project by sharing on Instagram photos of herself when she was still a newborn baby, lying in a hospital bed with a respirator to sustain her and undergoing several surgical operations before she could drink on her own for the first time, at the age of two.
The sharing of photos along with the selling of cookies, toys and second-hand clothes had helped Linnea and her friends raise about $28,000, enabling them to pay for the heart surgery of 10 Vietnamese children, each of which cost $2,500.
"When I saw them running around having fun with us a few weeks after their surgery, I thought to myself: 'Well, we have really made a difference,'" Linnea says, her face aglow with happiness.
Helping others takes countless forms, including paying VND180,000 ($8.5) per ticket to attend the bazaar. Donations in kind are offered as items for the Silence Auction. The cash is added to the bazaar income.
Playing a key component of the bazaar, representatives from 40 participating countries showcase their cultural identity with national costumes and icons and set up stalls to sell their food, drinks, arts and crafts. All proceeds, which account for three-quarters of bazaar income, are donated to HIWC.
Being fans of the All Blacks, New Zealand's most successful international rugby team, all staff and volunteers working at the New Zealand table wear black. They sell ice cream, pies and wine to raise money for the event.
"The bazaar is always a fun day. We were able to surpass last year's sales and as always, the money is going to a great cause," says a senior staff, Kristina Van Dijk.
Last year saw as much as $127,000 raised from the bazaar. The money has gone to philanthropists and charity organisations aiming to improve the lives of disadvantaged women and children by providing health and education services as well as community aid.
It is not surprising that the outcome has inspired the enthusiasm of many participants, including Ngo Thi Thu Huong, owner of a jewellery stand who has been attending the event for the past six years. Although her shop experienced a drop in sales this year, she remains altruistic.
"It does not matter that I did not sell well this year. What is important is that all fees that I have paid here will go to charity, and new customers have discovered my shop," Huong says.
Often, most people will say they are altruistic and want to make a difference. Others are more sympathetic and likely to donate when charitable appeals come from victims with sad expressions on their faces. The sadness the donor experiences upon seeing the victims evokes the kind of sympathy that leads to charity.
The reasons for giving are varied. But one thing is certain: the bazaar has become a joyful festival for expats and locals who look forward to being there to share their good will. — VNS