From nervous newcomer to confident contributor to Hanoi Community
I never thought I'd be standing on stage in front of hundreds of people, giving a speech and enjoying it. But on a sunny Sunday afternoon in November, I found myself clutching the microphone as I thanked the many people involved in the 2005 Hanoi International Women's Club (HIWC) Festival Charity Bazaar.
To my utter amazement, I wasn't scared. I didn't shake or quiver, stumble or stutter. In just two years of being involved in the HIWC, I’d found not only enjoyment working with a great group of women, but also the surprising satisfaction of stepping outside my comfort zone to do things I'd never imagined myself doing, including working in unison with a lot of people from a vast array of cultural backgrounds and experiences. It was only two years ago that my family and I stepped off the plane to start our new life in
I can't remember exacdy how I heard about the HIWC, but when I did , I decided to take the plunge and attend their Newcomer's Coffe Morning. My mother-in-law, who lives with us, also came along. I remember shaking at the knees when I was asked, along with other newcomers, to do a small introduction. For 10 years I had done nothing but look after my children, and was convinced I would be a total bore.
I stood in disbelief when a month or so later I was asked to help the coordinator arrange the Newcomers' Coffee Mornings. Coffe mornings are a monthly event hosted by a HIWC member at her home. It is a great way of meeting new and existing members. You learn, through informal conversation, what is going on in and around
I remember walking in wearing one of my formal Asian suits trying to look businesslike, carrying a handbag and a pile of papers, only to find them relaxed in jeans talking, disagreeing, and drinking coffee.What struck me on entering was their overwhelming acceptance of a newcomer into their circle.
That first Newcomers' Coffee Morning seems so long ago, and much has changed for me. From a nervous newcomer, I am now the HIWC President, but I remember what it was like to be a new person in
Shortly afterward, Laurie Reece Evans, then president, asked me to be the Corporate Sponsorship Coordinator for the Festival Charity Bazaar 2004. That's when things began to change for me: my confidence grew. I sent more than 250 leners to donors, and the moment I got my first response I called Laurie and literally howled down the phone “I’ve got my first donation!” I was ecstatic, determined, and eager for more. Yet when Laurie asked me to become her Vice President, I recoiled again - sure there was no way I could take on the feat. Or so I thought.
Sometime after accepting the title ofVice President, the Community Aid Canminee (CAC) invited us to accompany their coordinators to the
Would I have been able to experience this joy had I not become involved in HIWC? Probably not. To reach out to people and help, even in a small way, and to see how that help is received, is a truly magnificent feeling. It's a feeling HIWC members experience as they become involved in our many projects that help communities and individuals overcome adversity.
This past year, the Community Aid Committee (CAC) Coordinator, Kalpana Scholtes-Dash, joined me in taking on a charity project called "For Your Eyes," funding 57 eyedamaged children who were medically fit for surgery. We made daily trips to the
The young patients were overwhelmed with the flashing of cameras, television, and presents. It was clear that they were thinking "What is going on... is this what happens when you have an operation?" Now I understood that joining the HIWC and CAC was turning out to be one of the best decisions I'd ever made.
Even my husband's perception of the HIWC was changing. He thought, as I am sure many do, that women in the HIWC just sat around over lunch and coffee gossiping. Yes, gossip we do-but a lot more as well: we make a marked difference in the lives of women, children, and small communities.
I became President of HIWC in September this year and, although it has only been three months, I've attended numerous ceremonies, openings, and, of course, the Bazaar-where approximately 4,000 people from the expatriate and local community come together for a day of fun. The Bazaar represents just one way in which we in the Hanoi International Women's Club, and indeed the entire expatriate community in
The Bazaar also represents the unity of the foreign community in
In two short years, I've found companionship, challenges, and enjoyed achievements that I never thought I'd experience. I've learned so much about myself, my host country, and indeed people from many other countries, that I now feel comfortable talking to anyone from anywhere. The HIWC can bring out the best in a community, but it can also bring out the best in individuals./.