IWC Charity Bazaar: Mindfulness together with good works


Present in various forms, charity is part of everyone’s life. Supporting people in need is not necessarily a matter of money, but is always a matter of something very simple: opening you heart and just lending a helping hand.

Teodora Petkova met Fatma Senem Ustun , the coordinator of the Annual Charity Bazaar in Sofia, to gain insight of the way onе of the biggest charity events in Bulgaria works. Enjoy this sneak peak behind the scenes of the preparation for the event.

When I saw all the activities of IWC  on your site, for a moment I thought I should just make a separate directory at Events in Bulgaria for them. You have that many activities, shall we start with them, before we talk about the Charity bazaar?

That would be a nice section,and yes, sure, we can start with that. We, on the one hand, have a foundation and, on the other, we have IWC  [International Women’s Club of Sofia]. The foundation organizes everything, and the club  also organizes events, but it is for our members. And we have many members, international ladies, ambassadors’s wives (ambassadors) , or other people who came to Sofia to know more about the city, the language, the customs. These women want to know where they can find nice restaurants, hotel or doctors, whatever they need. And also to find friends and get to know the city. So we  organize many events. Once a month they can join and they can share with the  old members, who know better  than the new ones and ask them for guidance (to lead them a little bit).

Also once a month we have our Coffee morning. The first Tuesday of every month, if it  is not a holiday, we are getting together  at NDK, and sharing, drinking coffee, talking to each other and generally there are groups, for example Spanish, Turkish or let’s say American, who also share.

IWC Coffee Mornings

The International Womens club of Sofia meets every first Tuesday of the month at Matt’D, 10.30 p.m. Everyone is welcome to join the ladies, read more about their Coffee mornings here.

In addition once in a while, there is a special lunch for non-members,new people, who come and see what we do and join us at this lunch. And also we  make cooking demonstrations, British cooking demonstration, Bulgarian cooking demonstration, different kinds of national cuisines. We have local coffee mornings, we get together, for example, we have the Lozenetz coffee morning.

What do you mean by local, across the country?

No, this is in the neighborhoods, ladies gather in various parts of Sofia.

Do you have any events around the country?

Yes, we do have charity activities all over the country. Not just Sofia. Every month we visit one or two Bulgarian cities, for example Stara Zagora, or Varna.

We also have rose time, and we  go to Kazanlak, to the Rose museum, to see the Rose valley and enjoy the activities over there. And also,  in Sofia, sometimes we  organize event evenings, for example, with food or a movie night. We  gather at one of our members’ apartments or houses and around 10-15 ladies, with kids sometimes, we watch movies and then enjoy the night. And also this month we are having golf, ladies with their husbands, getting together, not golf, sorry, bowling it will be this month, but we also have golf. Ladies getting together nearby Sofia, Pravetz,  with many other activities, for example wine tasting.

You are a really united community, close to each other, aren’t you?

Yes, because we know each other.  But at first, we don’t know many people and we start making friends for real at IWC. We also have English conversations group and Spanish conversations and Bulgarian, also. From time to time it’s not just conversation, because many people, they do not know Bulgarian at all, and start  with a little bit of grammar, a little bit of words. And what else?  We  organize some exhibitions and get together at this exhibition, we inform our members and other people who want to join us.  

How many members do you have?

Now, I am not sure exactly how many, but around 100, I think.

Lot of people!

Yes, however, 2 years ago, we were 200-230 members, but as embassies started to cut jobs , but  we still have many members, including Bulgarian ones, not just international.

I am sure. That’s because you need teachers for the Bulgarian native conversation lunches, right? : – )

 Not just that, but yes. It’s also important to have local people  

I see, what about the charity events, how do you choose whom to help? Is there a specific procedure you stick to?  

Yes, of course, we have that. To give an example, every year the charity foundations  report to us. It’s very important, because if they do no report, if we don’t know  what they are doing, where they are spending the money, we are cutting their budget, we are not helping them.  We are generally selecting causes related to kids’ issues and women’s issues. They apply, and after that we have charity committee and this committee decides who to help. And also everything depends on our Bazaar success, if we raise a lot of money, we have greater opportunities to help more, if not, we have lesser.

So, you have something like a list and the more you have, the more people from the list you can help?  

Yes, and Maria Ilieva, the Charity Chairperson, and our president are the people in charge of that.  They are selecting the charity projects. And it’s not always the same line we are working on. Some of the projects have psychiatrists or physical therapist, teachers and we are just helping them with the salary.

IWC member at Karin Dom

IWC member during a visit at Karin Dom. Image: IWC Archive 

For example, we have eight projects with this foundation, but we are helping only the teachers from each project. And with the other project, let’s say, we are just covering their general needs, e.g. electricity. It also depends on the charity foundation. For what they are asking our help –  for instance, we have a “baba pogram” [ed. in Bulgarian baba means granny] This is, for example, in some social houses, some kids, disabled kids, who need special help, for walking, for changing their clothes, or speaking, they cannot speak, and these babas , they are helping them, with the physical activities, to move, to walk. These babas, they are generally retired ladies from the villages or town.

Thus, you are helping both sides?

Exactly. Giving them salaries. In one project we have 5 babas, or 7 for example, and they  come twice a week. Actually I don’t know exactly, Maria knows more, but they  come and they help these kids to learn to read, they try to improve their skills.  

This is your in-house program and then you have charity partners, right?

Yes, and also we give some students scholarships. We have social integration houses, meaning some kids,  who are in the orphanages and then they turn 18 these homes just let them go. And where are they supposed to go? They have nowhere to go. And they don’t know how to adapt to real life, and they are 3 or 4 in one apartment, we are paying the rent and we are trying to find them jobs and help them integrate. As for the women’s issue, for example, with Zaheria foundation, we  select some villages or towns and we  go there during the weekends and we  do Breast cancer examinations. Also for hospitals, from time to time we  buy equipment or other things. Last time the mayor of Sofia came to one of our coffee mornings and gave 5 000 BGN [ed. On june 4th, 2013 IWC delivered a donation of BGN 5,000 on behalf of the club for the „For Life” initiative] as a charity for buying equipment. And many more. All depends on our sources, if we have more, we are doing more!

And this is where we get to your biggest charity source, the Annual Charity Bazaar Sofia, please share some of its history, the idea and the people behind it.

This year IWC will celebrate the 25th (in February) anniversary of the club. But our bazaar is 19 years old, so this will be the 19th edition of the Bazaar, since the bazaar was started a little bit later  than  the club. This Bazaar, to my knowledge, is the biggest charity event in Bulgaria, and may be on the Balkans.

Annual Charity Bazaar Sofia 2012

Annual Charity Bazaar Sofia 2012, IWC Photo Archive

Around 50 countries are taking part in it, and some of them are getting together and doing one big, huge stall, for example Baltic countries join together. We are at the Inter Expo Centre, and the Bazaar was held at Kempinski Hotel, small places at first. And then it got bigger, they searched for a larger place, and for a number of years now IEC is providing two halls for the Bazaar – one for free and one paid. We are working with them, with sponsors, and they help also with the organization.

Maya Bokova and one of her paintings, part of the the Annual Charity Bazaar Auction

On of the items, sold at the Auction in 2013 – a painting by by Maya Bokova.

Also Sofia Municipality helps us a lot with parking places, with advertising across the city, free of charge, we have posters, and publicity on their website. Our office is now at the Business Park, they, for example, give us the office for free. They  also help

Annual Charity Bazaar Sofia 2010

Annual Charity Bazaar Sofia 2010

us with the advertising. And there is a big community, especially the diplomatic part of it, the diplomats, even the Ambassadors and their wives, they work on the day of the Bazaar. Not with the organization, but at the very day of the event, they help and participate in the organization. There’s also a lot of companies, donating directly cash to our foundation. Or they donate services or food or goods. And it is huge, huge effort for many people. There are a lot of volunteers, from different countries, participating. And also charities with which we work together have their own stalls.  

Are these your charity partners?

Yes, for instance Cedar Foundation [ed. website], Rozdestvo Hristovo [ed. website], you probably know them, Karin Dom Foundation, Light for Life, Star of hope, this kind of charities, as well as various associations. And also cafes, restaurants, they are joining the different stalls, Italian cafes go under the Italian stall, Bulgarian cafes, under the Bulgarian stall.

It is the personal touch that has the most value in charity. How do you manage  not to lose it somewhere along the way with the organization of a charity event of such a large scale?  

Read further at IWC Charity Bazaar: Mindfulness together with good works II