SIWA - A Community Building Communities

by Barbara Bai, 02/11/2015

SIWA was formed by a handful of foreign women living in Seoul with the purpose of creating a community. Over 50 years later, the Seoul International Women's Association continues to nurture friendships, spread cultural awareness and help the lives of those less fortunate all across Korea.

As a member of the SIWA Welfare Committee, I have had the privilege of meeting the directors of many of the charities SIWA supports. Many came to Korea at the end of the Korean War in hopes of rebuilding and aiding the country torn apart by civil strife. At that time, there was a large sense of togetherness and camaraderie as everyone endured pain one way or another. Even though some of Korea’s problems do not seem so dire as they once did, those that fall between the cracks are more isolated and vulnerable. .  The stigmas that exist in today’s society are the silent killers. Now, more than ever, the goal of each charity SIWA supports is to build a community of acceptance and nurture hope

SIWA is proud to support homeless shelters that give more than a daily meal but dignity through counseling and vocational training; an HIV/AIDs shelter that provides more than essential medication but a listening ear; orphanages that nurture talent and the human spirit to achieve; after school study rooms serving underprivileged children that are kept open as late as kids want to learn; migrant worker centers that not only teaches essential skills but help provide a small income; centers for disabled children and adults that teach skills to integrate into society and live independently, battered women’s shelters that provide a safe home and counseling for women and their children, hospices that give dignity to their residents last days on earth,  among many others.

They are more than institutions. They are a refuge to those desperate not only for basic needs but a place many call home. Although diverse in the people they serve, every charity SIWA supports depend on countless volunteers and donations in order to survive. There is never enough to make ends meet yet somehow they manage. I have met staff members who are more like angels on earth. There is no differentiation between work and life. They are intertwined. Many live in the centers and are on call 24/7. They see heart break everyday yet somehow find the will to survive and fight for those who cannot. They are teachers not only to the people they serve but to communities like ours. A director of a street children’s shelter said with tears in his eyes, "Life isn't fair.  They did nothing to deserve their situation. They are suffering because of their parents mistakes." When I asked if I could grant one wish to him, what would it be, he replied “to see the children happy.” I have come to realize that we all cannot be Mother Teresas. We all have our place in the equation.  You, me, the volunteers who work hard to put the Bazaar and Gala together, the people who attend the events...we, TOGETHER, make this world a better place.

I am so proud to be part of SIWA and their 50 year history of giving.  With more than 400 women from over 40 nations, including Korea, we form an international community that enriches not only the lives of our members but those in need throughout Korea.  The over 2 billion KRW raised in 50 years has indeed touched and changed countless lives in this beautiful country we now call home. Thank you for your continued support!

The annual bazaar, which is SIWA's  main fundraising event, will be held on Monday 7 November at the Lotte Hotel in downtown Seoul. The bazaar is a collaboration of SIWA and he Diplomatic Community as well as varioius community organisation and Korean charities. For more information on SIWA and other community organisation, see here for Seoul and here for other cities.

Barbara Bai, a Canadian resident of Seoul, has been a member of the SIWA Welfare Committee since 2012.


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