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Making a Difference

"Ambassador, have you got something for the silent auction?" Salote Waqanisau, wife of the Fijian Ambassador, asked her husband.


"What are you expecting?" he replied.


"Something valuable. For example, I have asked my friends in the art industry for donations of Chinese landscape paintings," said Waqanisau.


As the president of the Commonwealth Society of Beijing, Salote Waqanisau is having lots of conversations like this, plus meetings, phone calls, visits and emails prior to the biggest event in her term: the Commonwealth Society of Beijing Charity Dinner.


Thanks to her experience of running a hospital with 700 staff back in Fiji, she knows all about management and what it is like to organize a function. However, she still feels it's "a truly complicated process" to make sure everything is in order.


"To organize a charity event individually is difficult," she said. "But, I'm very lucky to get a lot of support from the other wives in the organization, and people in the community."


Waqanisau has found the Chinese business community very supportive and generous. Every time she went out to the companies for sponsorship she was willingly received and they always helped out with some sort of sponsorship. The Jingguang Center Hotel has even offered their ballroom for free and allowed them to bring in their own wine.


"This is not really because I am the wife of an ambassador," believes Waqanisau. "I feel charity is inbuilt in the people here, which is quite like the culture of the Fiji Islands where we look after our extended family."


Within the Commonwealth Society of Beijing, there are approximately 60 diplomats' wives as members, with half of them helping in all the preparation work. They meet every week, share the responsibilities, sell the tickets and collect the cash. After their monthly meeting on May 16, they will stage a complete rehearsal.


"Now is the busiest season for us. We have a lot of functions to attend, delegations to receive, as well as looking after the children and family," said Waqanisau.


She also hopes the function works out for charity as well as for cultural exchange. For the charity dinner, she expects all guests to wear their national costumes and some 30 diplomats' wives to walk on the T-stage.


"When doing a fashion show, we don't have to spend any money on the clothes because we already have them. The national costumes from African countries, Asian countries and those countries across the Pacific are all different, and all beautiful."


There are also performances prepared by almost every embassy of the Commonwealth countries. The Fijian Embassy alone has prepared two dances and two songs for the night.


So far everything has gone smoothly. The organizer has sent out the message to the press, embassies, schools, and even put up posters in supermarkets so that everybody who supports charity can come. In the next two weeks, she expects all tickets to have sold out.


"By adding items like the silent auction, raffles and door gifts, we are trying our best to make it as attractive as possible this year, in the hope that we can get at least 300 people this time," said she.


The Commonwealth Society of Beijing held an international bazaar in 2003 and 2004, she said, and an international dinner at the Brunei Embassy in 2005, all of which were serving the purposes of charity. This year, the charity dinner will benefit the Huiling and Langfang orphanages. Last year's event collected 20,000 yuan (US$2,500) for Huiling, Waqanisau said, who hopes they can give them a bit more this time.


"Any organization that looks after the interests and welfare of children will get our support," she said. "We are all mothers and we want to help the children."


Since its founding in the early 80s, the Commonwealth Society of Beijing holds the idea of bringing diplomats' wives together and to support charities looking after the welfare of children and making a difference in their lives, she said.


"As wives of ambassadors or diplomats, we were given preferential treatment from the moment we arrived at the airport, receiving the most hospitality in the world."


"If we are asked 'What did you do when you were living in Beijing?' We can happily say 'I learned the language, I made friends, I traveled, I went to different functions, and best of all I made a difference through fundraising to help charities, and made a difference in lives of the children.'"


"If nothing like this happens, life can be very boring in Beijing," admitted Waqanisau.


The Commonwealth Society of Beijing Charity Dinner 2006 will be held at 6:30PM , May 24 at Jingguang Center Hotel, Hujialou, Chaoyang District. 200 yuan (US$25). Ticket hotline: 6532-7313.


(China Daily May 12, 2006)

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