중앙데일리

SIWA fundraiser celebrates 30 years

Sept 24,2008
Mary Clarke, SIWA president, details plans for the SIWA and Diplomatic Community Bazaar, the group’s biggest annual fundraiser. By Park Sun-young
The Seoul International Women’s Association, or SIWA, is the oldest and largest international women’s group in the country, with a history spanning over 50 years.

SIWA’s 530 members include businesswomen and spouses of ambassadors and businessmen from around the world. About one-third of the members are Korean women.

This year marks a particularly significant milestone for the organization as its biggest annual fundraising event - the SIWA and Diplomatic Community Bazaar - celebrates its 30th anniversary.

The goal of the organization when it started as a small group of expatriate women a half-century ago was to enhance their lives in Korea.

But its mission has grown to serve much more than that. Their raison d’etre is now to support people in need in Korea.

SIWA’s dedication to this cause would not be possible without the annual fundraising bazaar.

“It was a small bazaar with women from just five countries at the beginning 30 years ago, but it has grown to have about 4,000 to 5,000 participants,” Mary Clarke, SIWA president, said in an interview with the JoongAng Daily last Friday.

“The diplomatic community, along with over 50 embassies, business communities, vendors and charity groups, all come together and take part in this bazaar, selling goods from around the world. Businesses usually donate either cash or company products.”

The bazaar is not just about selling things, according to Clarke.

“As booths representing many different countries bring in items unique to their country, people can enjoy various cultural experiences during the event.”

One of the highlights will be the food court, featuring nibbles from across the globe.

So besides raising money for the poor, the bazaar is a good opportunity for Koreans and expats to get together and learn more about different cultures.

A silent auction and lottery will also make for a very fun day out, Clarke added.

All money raised from the bazaar goes to various Korean charities, and the amount continues to grow each year. Last year’s event raised 260 million won ($232,000) - the largest ever collected.

The money is well used. SIWA has its own Welfare Committee, which is wholly dedicated to charity works.

“Once a month, the Welfare Committee examines who needs our money. They sometimes carry out a sort of on-the-spot survey of potential beneficiaries” to make sure the money goes to those in the most need, Clarke said.

On top of this, the Executive Board counter-checks how the money is used.

Apart from the fundraiser, there are plenty of other benefits for expatriates in Korea who join SIWA, Clarke said.

Twice a year, the organization provides its members with the opportunity to sign up for over 30 classes covering arts, cooking, culture and languages to help expatriates lead a more rewarding life in Korea.

SIWA also organizes tours every month that take its members to interesting spots across the country. The Korean Sauna Tour proved a hit with members and a recent trip to a herbal medicine market was just one of the many fun outings.

SIWA hosts regular meetings, dubbed Coffee Mornings, that feature topical lectures about Korean current affairs and culture.

The organization’s special bi-monthly magazine, Discovery, serves as a platform for SIWA members to share their experiences about living in Korea.

Clarke, who came to Korea in 2002 when her husband was relocated by his company, GM Daewoo, is in her third year of heading SIWA.

“We’ve been building over the years from a small bazaar with just five countries to a whole-day festival bringing people together and offering more cultural events as well. A lot of progress has been made over the years.

“For the future, I would hope that we could continue and keep building on it to support many charities that count on us for money throughout the year. Also, our other major goal is getting new people acclimated to Korea.

“We are not just a fundraising group, we’re here as a group of people offering many different things to do. I hope that we can just continue to change with the times if we need to, and address people’s needs if they change,” Clarke said.

The 2008 SIWA and Diplomatic Community Bazaar will be held at the Grand Hilton Hotel in northern Seoul on Nov. 18.



By Park Sun-young Staff Reporter [spark0320@joongang.co.kr]


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