IWC Reaches Out
Text and photo, John Harrison
This year marks the thirty first anniversary since the first International Women’s’ Club meeting was convened in Moscow. The IWC’s work in 2008 wound up with a tremendously successful winter Bazaar that raised more than the previous year despite the fact that there were fewer volunteers available to work the stalls. The IWC, like the expat community as a whole in Russia, has shrunk as families have moved back home for work or personal reasons. In 1998, membership stood at 1,800; now it is down to 600, plus the 150 ambassadors’ wives who are IWC members by default. Be this as it may, the club’s work; that of providing a way for women to come together from completely different backgrounds and countries of origin, continues unabated. Thousands of people have found friends and inspiration from the club’s work. An uncountable number of people have benefited directly and indirectly from charity work. Instead of winding down, the club is reaching out to new sections of the community.
Two of three co-presidents of the IWC:
Nubia Pirone de Meyer a judge from Uruguay.
Julieta Cervantes, wife of the Mexican ambassador.
Natalie Volkoff, Co-Chair Charities
Two current IWC co-presidents, Nubia Pirone de Meyer, a judge from Uraguai and Julieta Cervantes, wife of the Mexican ambassador explained the current situation:
What are the main activities of the IWC?
The main events are our winter bazaar and the yearly Embassy Dinner & Ball, but our major focus is on charity work. We have about 70 charities now which we support, which use the proceeds from these two events. We work a year in advance, so the money we make in the ball this year will be used for charity in 2010. In this way we are sure that all the projects we are supporting will not be cut in the middle. This is something the IWC has been doing in Russia for 22 years, crisis or no crisis. Charities range from burn units in hospitals, to orphanages, to cancer support groups and animal protection societies.
Apart from our charity work, probably our most important activities are what we call the “interest groups.” There is a huge variety of groups available, from bible study, to bridge and sport. Then there are the coffee mornings, which are becoming increasingly popular.
How is the IWC changing in the face of the crisis and the current situation in Russia?
Originally the IWC was run and geared towards the wives of diplomats. When the Soviet-Union collapsed, membership increased since business with and within Russia increased. Wives of business expats became members too. Also there are more working women with us today. These people are not available to attend IWC meetings during the week, so we have coffee meetings on Saturday mornings which are becoming very popular. In some cases it is the women who are working and the men not. We would like to form an interest group for mothers with children, if there are enough people.
We have even received a few requests for men to join the IWC. So we are thinking about whether we should start some club for men.
In Moscow it is not easy to find another group of people who you can really communicate with when you are an expat.
For women, it is a great opportunity to meet people and ask all sorts of questions. It is a lot easier when you are in a country where you can speak the language. When you arrive here, you need help to simply buy things, let alone make friends. It is very important to have an open door and an open mind for all these people. Everyone, everywhere in the world is going through an economic crisis. But people still need to keep going, to get together, doing things, creating things, and helping people. In spite of all these issues, people don’t want to just sit down at home and watch, they want to participate.
We used to have a 5% stop on Russians, that restriction was lifted about three years ago. There are a lot of Russians who left in the beginning of the nineties, who are coming back. They have learned to move about in international circles, and want to continue this back in Russia. This is all balanced by the fact that diplomatic traditions in the IWC are still strong. We have the ambassadors’ wives hosting coffee mornings and participating in organizational work. In all, the IWC is maintaining its core mission, but no longer only reaching out to just one part of the expat community.