BUSAN, South Korea – Celebrating 45 years of philanthropy and community outreach, The Busan International Women’s Association (BIWA) is still the only organization of its kind in Busan and it is run solely by volunteers. Focusing on providing support to needy organizations and individuals, BIWA is more determined than ever to continue its mission of “Charity, Friendship, and Cultural Exchange.”
Started in 1965 by a group of foreign and Korean women, the original members included the Busan mayor’s wife, the wife of the Governor of Kyeongsan-nam, and the wives of some high commanders of the American military base in Hialeah. Now, with 132 women of all occupations representing over 20 different countries, BIWA continues to focus on the goals of the founders.
New president, Lynn Baratta, explains that BIWA was conceived to “foster friendship and cultural exchange among women of different nationalities living in Busan, as well as to enhance charitable activities.” It is an agenda that she hopes to continue after witnessing first hand the role that BIWA plays in the community.
Every month, BIWA supports organizations and individuals that affect hundreds of people. Their contributions help a variety of people in need–from a soup kitchen in Seomyeon that feeds lunch to over 200 people a week, to a student whose only means of support until last year for her and her two younger brothers were from her grandmother who is now hospitalized, and her grandfather who passed away.
The funds raised come from a lot of determination and hard work. Throughout the year, there are several events to raise money–most notably the Christmas Charity Bazaar and the Spring Charity Ball. Last year alone, BIWA raised approximately 50 million won. Although most of the donations came from the annual fundraisers, other unique ideas from members helped raise money as well.
In March of last year, former two-term president, Anna Girsova, spent six months organizing an exhibition of old family photos. The photos included “more than 200 photos from nine countries, and some were aged 100 years,” she recalls. “Not only was it a sentimental project, but looking at the pictures, you realize that coming from different countries and generations, despite the differences we have, we are still the same, just people. Of course, all the donations went to BIWA’s charity fund.”
BIWA is not only known for its community work for those in need, but it is also a valuable a source of information for women that are new to Busan. Both the former and current president are thankful for the resource and helpful community it provided.
When Girsova came to Busan eight years ago, it was her Chinese neighbor that introduced her to the monthly luncheons and coffee mornings. “Even though I didn’t speak English perfectly, I felt very comfortable and welcomed.”
Current president Lynn Baratta couldn’t agree more. “I had so many questions when I first arrived about where to find certain things, where to shop and how to find my way around.”
Baratta encourages women to join BIWA, even if they’ve been in the country for awhile. The goal of BIWA isn’t just for newbies, but it’s also for anybody who needs an outlet to volunteer and help others.
“Please join us for an opportunity to make new friends and the chance to help raise much needed funds to assist those in need in our local community,” Baratta said.
Incoming president Lynn Baratta (left) along with former president, Anna Girsova