WOW was created and continues to be developed through the commitment and energy of volunteer expat ladies living in Wuhan. Every person who contributes is helping the well-being of others. Below is a first hand account of the beginning of WOW by Elsa Gade, followed by a brief timeline outlining the main developments. It doesn’t however list everyone who has contributed and continue to contribute – through arranging activities, translating, replying to website postings, sharing opinions and supporting the main organizers. You know who you are – and we thank you!
A Short Story of WOW
Being a “lao wai” (foreigner) in China is not easy. Not now and not in 2000 when my husband and I came to Wuhan. At that time it was very unusual that women followed their men who came to China to work and there were very few non-Chinese women in Wuhan. In the many universities there were foreign teachers from especially USA and Canada, but Wuhan is a huge city and therefore there was not any co-operation among the universities. The only real group of foreign women in Wuhan were “the French” – the women who lived in the French compound and whose husbands worked for the French car producer.
The work place for my husband was very much pampered by the Chinese government and therefore I was invited to many official dinners and activities. Here at these dinners I met Marjolein Le Maitre, who worked with setting up a representation office for the Netherlands. We decided to create Wuhan Lao Wai in order to help and support foreigners and give possibilities for meeting other “in the same boat”. Whenever I was out in town – shopping or just strolling around – and noticed a “lao wai” I addressed the person, tapped him or her on the shoulder and presented the purpose! Mostly people were very happy with the chance to meet other people with similar problems concerning language, culture etc. We used the internet by mailing. We also tried hard and many times to build a website, and in 2004 Wuhan Time was a reality but it never really was a great success. Too many obstacles and preventions by that time.
I am a freelance writer and some of my works were read by local government officials. One of the articles focused on difficulties with living in Wuhan and it all ended up in a contest “Wuhan in Foreigners Eyes” where foreigners could write their suggestions for improvements to the local government. This resulted in a book, a TV-show and actually changes and improvements to Wuhan. This was in 2003. Those meetings with other foreigners in Wuhan gave the possibility to extend the Wuhan Lao Wai. It was a very loose organization which was mainly a social support for foreigners but indeed also a great source of information about life and events in Wuhan. The internet was growing so I still e-mailed people about the meetings and dinners in the Lao Wai Newsletters. Out of all this there was a growing desire of meeting regularly with the women. In the same time and this must have been in 2003 – 2004 some other women in Wuhan, Isis Hahn, who came from India, and British Helen Booth, created a club of women from abroad and somehow this melted together with the women in the Wuhan Lao Wai and WOW was born! American Ginny Minninger suggested the name – WOW – Women of Wuhan – and as you surely know it also means something is extraordinaire and very special.
The exact year of when WOW started we do not really know, but it must have been around 2004. We met for coffee mornings around in Wuhan and each time between 20 and 40 women participated. Our intentions was to do “something good” for the city and British Margaret Lovejoy suggested “the Shoebox Project” which she knew from Great Britain. So we visited several schools and brought toys and goodies to the children. We also started Christmas Bazaars in order to collect money for charity and we held Crafts Fair in order to let women show and sell their handicraft. We donated the money to Professor Gui to his fantastic help to the AIDS children in Hubei.
We who started and worked for WOW are very pleased that foreign women still can have the possibility to meet other women, get inspiration and encouragement in living in Wuhan.
So, long live WOW and the women who now work for it! – Elsa Gade (September, 2013)
2004-2010 – WOW is founded by Elsa Gade, Isis Hahn & Helen Booth, with Ginny Minninger suggesting the name “WOW – Women of Wuhan”. They hold Coffee Mornings, Christmas Bazaar & Crafts Fair to raise money for the educational fees of Hubei children who have been affected by HIV/Aids; a project organised by Professor Gui and David Wilmots. A “Shoebox Project”, suggested by Margaret Lovejoy, starts and continues until 2011.
2010 – Elsa leaves Wuhan. Monthly fund-raising breakfasts continue being held at New World Hotel by Lynne Burrows & Lena Troelsen. The “WOW Craft Fair” is held at Wuhan Tiandi. Lynne and Lena organize the first fundraising WOW Dinner Dance which is held Shangri-La Hotel with a sold-out attendance of 70 pax. They also start holding non fund-raising activities such as Afternoon Teas at Marco Polo.
2011 –Lynne leaves. Lena teams up with Wanda Heron and continue with monthly breakfasts, now at Jin Jiang International Hotel. Email list holds 60 pax including sponsors. The annual fund-raising “WOW Craft Fair” held again at Wuhan Tiandi which is where Panida Grinneback meets them. WOW website and logo created by Panida in September. Second WOW Dinner Dance at Shangri-La with 110 pax.
2012 –Wanda & Panida start monthly Sunday WOW brunches at The Westin Wuchang in order to include families and partners. They endeavor to increase monthly WOW activities from one to 3 or 4, with the balance being 50% fundraising, 50% social. Annual fund-raising “WOW Craft Fair” is held at The Westin Wuchang. A monthly “Coffee Chat” initiated by Gosia Lalanne. Third WOW Dinner Dance held at Marco Polo with 143 pax. Wanda leaves Wuhan.
2013 –“Family Circle” activities group arranged between WOW and local Chinese mothers. Fund-raising “International Charity Fun Fair” held at French Street Golden Harbour, Hanyang. With the rapid growth of WOW (email list now over 250 pax), first AGM (All Gals Meeting) arranged and WOW structured to outline roles of volunteers. Panida leaves. New organisers step forward – Celine Lorenz & Silja Zhang.