– Posted by Neeti Virmani, Gala Chair, 2016

Spring is the favourite season for many of us. Come April, SIWA celebrates the onset of the new season with The Annual Gala, one of the most important fund raising events of SIWA.

It was one fine chilly but sunny morning in early January when I went to attend the meeting of Gala planning, with an intent of helping them with the planning. The least did I know that I will be leading the Gala committee along with Courtney Snede. I had to travel back home to India within a few days and realised that I will not be around for a month.

While I had worked on organising lot of events so far in my career, this event was different, as it was targeted at raising funds for the Korean charities and involved the international community in an alien land, Korea. Soon we were a part of the google groups for Gala planning and started our discussions over Decorations, Food, Entertainment, Raffles and Silent Auction and other areas of the event.

Even while I was away to India, we used to connect over skype, as a team and discuss items over items. We would keep going back to the drawing board to visualise how the various aspects of the party would look like. Each time, only one objective came to my mind, ‘Will this aspect create an impact on people and excite them to join our celebration’. Each time the thought was how can we make it better to get people buy tickets and purchase more items, to maximise the funds for the charities. We collected over KRW 40 million of prizes, 27 Silent Auction prizes, 20 Reverse Raffle prizes and over 70 Big Box prizes. 62 companies and individuals contributed to the prizes.

Since, this time around, we had selected an Asian theme (‘An Evening in Shangri-La’), we wanted to get representation from all Asian countries at one place and create a true Shangri-La. I was already thinking of unique decoration items which I could pick from India at lower cost, and yes I did pick a few items and put them in my shipment to Korea. Similarly Courtney ordered Lanterns on an American E-Commerce website, to be carried by her parents on their visit to Korea. That’s true globalisation amidst all the fundraising.

Once I was back from India in February, we got into the huddle together, planning and executing each aspect of the event. Am thankful that so many people whom I had met in my last six months of stay at Korea, were able to help me with the donations for auctions, whether it was a luxury bag, or premium hotel stay or premium champagne.

While we got China into our Shangri-La through Lanterns, we got Japan through the 1000 origami cranes, which are deeply routed in the Japanese history and culture and adopted by the Koreans and the Chinese. Our team of volunteers dedicated hours and hours for folding cranes with lot of enthusiasm and fun. We got the Indian tradition and culture through the ‘Rangoli’ with a huge Brass Peacock Lamp, given by the Indian Culture Centre, in the middle and a huge elephant lantern, given to us by the organisers of the Lantern Festival in Korea. The team of volunteers spent hours to create the ‘Rangoli’. Whether it was colours, food, attire, decorations or entertainment, the Asian theme was adopted. The colours of the evening were Red, Orange and Yellow, the rich colours of Asia.

It was a proud moment for all of us when their excellencies, the Ambassadors of Australia, Israel and Morocco graced the occasion with their esteemed presence.

The pièce de résistance of the evening was the Fashion show by couture designer HEILL. It was very thoughtful and kind of him to offer to conduct a 20 minutes fashion show for Gala and donate his glamourous creations towards raising funds for the charities. The show was exciting and became the talking point for everyone.

With over three months of planning, the various threads of the event came together on April 9th, 2016 at The Gala and the whole force of SIWA was behind execution. It was a fantastic, seamless and smooth work of coordination.

Behind the glamour of the event to raise funds for the charities, I will always cherish the umpteen number of hours which went in planning all the minutest details, the true-multinational and multi-cultural experience, the awesome team work of more than 50 volunteers and partners of SIWA, the enthusiasm, the tireless striving stretching its arms towards perfection, the passion, the ‘can do it’ attitude and the contribution of all the families for sparing their family members to volunteer and later joining in themselves too.

As a school kid, I enthusiastically used to collect donations for children suffering from Leprosy, back home in India. Today, am thankful for this opportunity with SIWA, to continue with my passion to serve the under-privileged.