Chongqing International Women’s Group 重庆国际妇女社

The Chongqing International Women’s Group (CQIWG) was founded in 2005 as a charity organisation aimed at supporting underprivileged children in Chonqing Municipality. It was founded by Lucy Chan Summers, the wife of the British Consul at the time.

Back in 2017, I was fortunate enough to personally meet and talk about the women’s group with the chairwoman of the time, Edurne Benavides. We met one morning in a cafe close to Blue Lake County fitness Centre in Yubei District.

Chongqing Citylife Magazine重庆渝报 invited me to prepare a guest column about the organisation by conducting an interview with Edurne. Fortunately, I still have a recording of the interview from that year, and I’ll directly quote excerpts of her answers.

Part one – Personal background

‘My name is Edurne Benavides. I’m from Mexico. I have lived in Chongqing for four and a half years. I have three kids, and my husband works for a Mexican company.’

‘As soon as I arrived, I received an e-mail from a friend saying there was going to be an IWG lunch meeting that I later attended. I said that I would be willing to help out with upcoming events.’

‘My Chinese is not good. You might expect me to better, as I speak Spanish, French, some German, and even a little Czech from when I was based in Prague. Here in China, most of my friends are foreigners or Chinese who speak English, YCIS (Yew Cheung International School) is the same, too. So, without regular practice, it’s difficult to improve.’

Part two – The organisation

‘In the beginning, I was a member of the committee. It’s a voluntary organisation, so as long as you are willing and agree with the activities, there isn’t any major application process to join. In my second year, there was an opportunity to become chairwoman of the organisation, and after a committee vote, that’s how it happened for me.’

”A typical month involves holding a committee meeting where we discuss events to be held the following month. We also check the status of current projects and distribute our tasks among the members.’

‘We cooperate with whoever wants to cooperate with us. We decide on the events and programs we want to hold, then hotels, venues and chambers sometimes contact us because they would like to participate and help out.’

‘I’m not busy working with IWG every day. When there’s a big event like the annual fundraising gala, we’re normally busy all day long contacting sponsors, designing the event, tickets, invitations, work that we have to do ourselves.’

‘As a matter of fact, we actually have some male members. It’s mainly women, as the name suggests, but inclusion is important to our group, so anyone who wishes to be part may be part At the moment, there are around 250 members, of whom six or seven are male.’

‘CQIWG was started in 2005 by Lucy Chan Summers, the wife of the British Consul at the time. They started as a way to bring expatriates together, but as the group expanded, they decided they wanted to do something for the local community and foster relations between the two.’

‘We have a lot of Chinese members. Some of us are in Chongqing for just a short time, like one or two years, but there are programs we want to run long term, so we need the local community to embrace our work.’

‘Since we try to foster cultural relations, we want to learn as much as possible about local culture, and also dedicate programs to give something back, like underprivileged children in rural Chongqing. We have noticed that whenever foreigners are involved in these activities, they receive more attention and help from the media and government.’

‘When I first arrived in Chongqing, I saw the organisation as more of a social group who get together for lunch, but as I learnt more about their programs and activities, I was amazed by the money they had fundraised in the past six years, and the number of children they had reached. Joining the group certainly exceeded my expecatations.’

Part three – Out and about

‘The tourist industry has improved over the past four years, but as a foreigner, I still find it a little difficult to visit all the nice places in Chongqing. There’s a lack of detailed information in English or other languages on travel directions, and once there, it’s difficult to find the right hotel or a restaurant that caters to western needs. I eat anything, I love spicy foods, but my kids can’t for a few days on end.’

‘I have visited Wulong武隆, Changshou Lake长寿湖, Dazu大足. I have been to a lot of places, and have also taken the Three Gorges cruise. In the city, I often go to Chaotianmen朝天门, Nanshan Botanical Gardens南山花卉园. I also like walking along Beibin Lu北滨路, Nanbin Lu南滨路, taking the cable car along the way. In other places, it’s fun to just go and explore, and not follow any set route. I have been out a little less the past year, perhaps I’ve been a bit lazy, and there’s also so much construction going on, too.’

‘When exploring the city, I have found galleries in almost every district with modern art that barely anybody visits or knows about. There is a gallery and a small children’s theatre behind IKEA, plus a traditional Chinese qipao museum旗袍博物馆 near the Crocodile Park鳄鱼中心 where the family has made qipao dresses for 150 years, keep original artifacts. You can a portrait of the great grandmother knitting a dress by hand. I found these places mostly through word of mouth in the women’s group, and sometimes we decide to visit when we have the opportunity.’

Part four – Rounding up

‘The most lasting impression of our work so far is with ‘Left behind children留守儿童’ (Rural families were both parents live and work permanently in major cities, and leave their children to grow up at home with other family members). The grandparents look after the children, but they are often in ill health, and have little money to provide for them adequately. We try to subsidise them, help provide medical treatment, go and spend time with the kids. These experiences have left a deep impression on me.’

‘At the moment, we are having elections, and are encourage locals to chair the organisation and provide their ideas. There are more members and partner organisations coming to Chongqing, and we often share the same objectives, so we want to work on improving our communication channels.’

‘We are usually the first point of contact for families new to Chongqing. We try to make life easier by guiding them on arranging accommodation, utilities, entertainment, food, and integrating them with other women, both foreign and local. I have met women in the past who had lived in Chongqing for two years, but never realised there was a social group with activities for them to join. CQIWG is certainly a good platform for residents and newcomers to integrate into life here.’

‘Almost all of our events are open to the public, but we sometimes have capacity limitations, so we sometimes work on a first come first serve basis where members have priority. Members do have some benefits, such as ticket prices to events, discounts in city restaurants.’

‘You can apply to join CQIWG by sending us an e-mail, or have a friend who knows the organisation bring you to a meeting or event. We only ask for basic personal information, and what general expectations the applicant has.’

‘We use all kinds of venues for our events, like hotels, restaurants, golf courses. A lot of our members are Chinese, so we also like to promote venues they run or are involved with by holding events there. When a developer is ready to open a new mall, they might approach us and say they want to organise a fashion show for our members. When a new music school opens, they might offer our members free trial lessons, and we go along to participate whilst also offering them publicity. The biggest venue we need is for the charity ball, where we need a large capacity, good catering and service. Our Halloween party is also a big event. In the past, we have held it at Chongqing Tiandi重庆天地, and one year, we even held it on a ship docked near Chaotianmen! We are just a voluntary group, so there’s no official commitment to any particular venue. We try our best to get the best deal with partners who are easy to work with. As long as we find a venue that suits our needs, we can do it.’

‘We have an e-mail database of our members that use to send out monthly newsletters and invitations. We also have separate Wechat groups for communicating in English and Chinese, as that works more efficiently.’

‘Finally, I would to tell Citylife readers that even if they don’t have the time to join IWG, they are welcome to volunteer for charitable programs. What we need most is people who have time to invest in our activities, rather than financial support. A lot of the schools we sponsor just ask us to visit and spend time playing with the children, practise English, or read them stories from different parts of the world. Everyone is welcome to join in these activities, you don’t need to be a member.’

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