The WIG Bazaar is a big international charity event that's held every year in Vientiane. For the last 2 years, I've had the privilege of helping to organise it.
I meant to write this post in the lead up to the bazaar on 11 November but the preceding week I was so sick with the flu I could hardly get out of bed. I'd managed to recover by bazaar day but I'd lost my voice almost completely! I was croaking the whole day, it was very annoying.
Most falang, especially women, who arrive in Vientiane, join WIG. Formerly known as the Women's International Group, WIG Laos is a not for profit group that raises money for various charitable projects throughout the year. They also have coffee mornings, field trips, cultural studies, trivia nights and a whole bunch of social activities to meet new people and learn about Laos.
So, when I first arrived in Laos, I joined up too and went along to a few of their events.
But then, in mid 2016, I got involved in the bazaar planning. Actually, it happened by accident: I went to the wrong meeting.
This is something I do from time to time, as a result of misreading an email or misjudging a social situation. It's why I occasionally arrive at a government event in a dress when every other woman is wearing a traditional sinh. I'm now told what to wear beforehand.
In the case of WIG, I showed up at the bazaar organisers' meeting, thinking it was a casual lunch meet up. There were just a dozen women, all enthusiastically committed to organising this huge annual event. They looked at me a little strangely because I'd never been on the organising radar before. I sheepishly took a corner seat and stayed anyway.
But as the meeting progressed, I realised that I did have something to contribute.
Through writing this blog mainly, I've met a lot of people in Vientiane. Restaurant and spa owners, hotel managers, small business owners, CEOs and others. And I thought, I can organise the raffle.
So, I put my hand up and said I'd do that. I never organised a raffle before. But I did. As a freelancer, I'm pretty organised. I love spreadsheets and folders and labelling things. I created a very comprehensive spreadsheet (of which I'm very proud), a few email templates, and started contacting people.
And together with a couple of helpers, we produced an amazing raffle that raised thousands of dollars.
I also helped with sponsorship, as the raffle and sponsors are very closely tied. And I supported the team and helped out where I could. And it was fun. Okay, sometimes, I was pretty stressed. I may have swore I'd never do it again.
But I'm so glad I did. The WIG Bazaar is such a worthwhile cause and the whole experience was really rewarding. It's definitely one of the best things I've done in Laos.
The WIG Bazaar is WIG's biggest fundraising effort. It draws crowds of about 15,000 people in a single day and features almost 200 stalls including embassies, restaurants, businesses, schools, not-for-profits, and others.
There's all day stage entertainment, a kids corner, a Lao handicrafts section, a huge second hand section, a cake stall, free workshops and more. It's a really fun day out for the whole Vientiane community.
And the whole point of the bazaar is to raise money for WIG's medical and educational projects in Laos. Every cent that WIG raises from the stall rentals to the raffle tickets to the bottled water at the WIG tents goes to this cause. It's a completely not-for-profit, accountable event.
Early in 2017, I helped out on one of WIG medical projects - supporting the Interplast team at Mahosot Hospital. This is a group of Australian and New Zealand volunteer doctors and nurses that come to Laos every year and perform life-changing surgeries at one of the local hospitals.
People from some of the poorest provinces of Laos come, sometimes travelling several days, and often with babies and children. The surgeries are completely free of charge. You can read about Interplast's visit to Laos here.
It was the first time I saw the real, tangible impacts that raising this money can achieve. It's thanks to the WIG Bazaar that we can support this incredible work. And I felt really proud to be part of that, even in a small way.
This year, in 2017, I was back at the helm of the raffle. With my trusty spreadsheet in hand, I extended the raffle donations and it was another big success. We sold all 3,000 of our tickets and raised a lot of money.
I also helped with sponsorship again and I took over social media and the WIG Laos Facebook page. Those posts you may have seen every day on Facebook? That was me, and still is. And thanks to upping our level of engagement on Facebook (the biggest, and perhaps only social media platform in Laos), we managed to reach a huge number of people in Vientiane.
If you haven't yet followed our page, please do and support a great cause.
Our next upcoming project is supporting another international medical team at Mahosot Hospital. The Dutch Bridge The Gap specialists arrive in early January. They're here for 2 weeks and will work almost around the clock. Again, WIG will support them with registrations, food, toiletries and clothes for the patients, interpreting, money for transport, and other essential support.
Want to know more? WIG is holding its December coffee morning on Wednesday, 6th December at 10am at Once Upon A Time cafe. Come along, have a cuppa and hear about this great project that transforms the lives of some of Laos' most disadvantaged people.
Being part of WIG's work is a really memorable experience for your time in Laos.
All images by photographer Gerhard Mutz, for the 2017 WIG Bazaar.