Christmas shopping in 51 countries

The Prague Post

Diplomatic Ladies Association reprises annual bazaar at the Hilton

This weekend offers a chance to get into the dual spirits of the holidays: the season of giving and the season of shopping. You can indulge in both at the eagerly anticipated Diplomatic Ladies Association International Christmas Bazaar at the Hilton Sunday.

“We are here for a purpose, we want to do something visible,” says DLA President Helene Fries, wife of the French ambassador. “[The bazaar] is how we can help people in our host country, a way to say thank you.”

This will be the seventh charity bazaar that DLA is sponsoring. Last year, the one-day shopping extravaganza raised 6 million Kc, which was distributed to 48 nonprofit organizations throughout the Czech Republic. The association takes its philanthropic activities seriously, visiting each of the charities throughout the year to ensure that the funding it provides is being used properly.

“The situation in the Czech Republic five years ago is not the same as it is today,” says Fries. “We have to adapt, reevaluate and diversify our funds.”

Final decisions on which charities will benefit this year won’t be made until after the bazaar, when the committee knows how much money it has to distribute. Committee members plan on taking a slightly different approach than in years past by focusing not so much on the number of organizations, but on the degree of need.

“Organizations must reapply every year,” says Rola Al-Ghrair, wife of the Saudi Arabian ambassador. “Many request money for new projects.”

The focus of this year’s efforts will be family programs, in particular for women in distress and children. The money will be distributed in the ten weeks following the bazaar, before the new committee for next year is named.

“We have two main tasks,” says Fries. “Preparing for the bazaar and discussing afterward the distribution to the charities.”

The bazaar attracts many of the same shoppers every year who have their itineraries carefully planned. “People know the countries and what they will have,” Al-Ghrair says. “They head straight for those booths.”

This year, a total of 51 countries will be offering a variety of national specialties: jewelry from the Philippines, maple syrup from Canada, dates from Saudi Arabia and honey and special sweets from Iraq. The gargantuan task of coordinating it all is being handled by Souhad Aldabbass, wife of the Iraqi ambassador.

“The items are very typical of the countries,” she says. “We introduce people to the culture.”

The entrance ticket (50 Kc/$2.75) also serves a raffle ticket. About 50 prizes have been donated, including plane tickets for Air France and Italia, and hotel and restaurant vouchers.

The bazaar’s international flavor reflects the DLA itself, whose membership includes women from 75 different countries. Seven of them organize the bazaar. This year the committee has representatives from France, Iraq, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Luxembourg, Kuwait and Canada — a lineup the United Nations would be proud of.

“It’s a mixed bag of people,” says Fries, “but we all share the same goals, and it gives me energy, because it’s positive.”

The committee is hoping for a positive response to this year’s bazaar.

“Czech people are very generous — they donated a large amount of money to the tsunami relief effort in 2004, for example,” notes Fries. “You don’t need to go far to help someone. Find the generosity in your heart to help the people of this country, and feel confident in DLA’s efforts that we will distribute the money in the most efficient way.”