Diplomatic Christmas Charity Bazaar to Raise Cheer and Money

ASTANA – The Diplomatic Christmas Charity Bazaar , one of the biggest events of the holiday season, is just around the corner and bazaar Organising Committee Chairperson Jane Etienne is up to her ears in prize donations. Literally.

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Jane Etienne, chair of the organising committee of the Diplomatic Christmas Charity Bazaar, poses with raffle gifts in the French ambassador’s residence on Nov. 24.

At the French ambassador’s residence, next to a table laden with raffle prizes from around the world, Etienne, wife of French Ambassador Francis Etienne, spoke with The Astana Times about this year’s bazaar, to be held at the Radisson Hotel on Dec. 7, and the work behind it.

The baskets of national products are a bazaar tradition. “This is a tradition that is continuing – that each embassy provides a raffle basket with their products, and those baskets will be part of the prizes for the raffle,” Etienne said in the Nov. 24 interview.

The raffle is a major fundraising tool. Five thousand tickets will be available for this year’s raffle, at a cost of 1,000 tenge (US$5.52) per ticket or a book of 12 for 10,000 tenge (US$55.25).

Raffle prizes go beyond gift baskets: this year’s top prize is a round-trip, business-class trip for two to Paris via Air Astana, plus two nights in the Radisson Blu Disneyland hotel. A trip to Georgia and three nights at the Hotel Old Tbilisi are also up for grabs, as are two round-trip tickets to Vienna, a round-trip ticket to Istanbul, a Baltic cruise with the Tallink company and other restaurant, spa and housewares prizes.

Air Astana is a major supporter of the event, but embassies and many businesses in Kazakhstan’s capital contribute their products and services as prizes. Astana’s Radisson Hotel has hosted every Christmas bazaar so far, a major contribution. “They not only provide the space, but they provide equipment, tables, and they clean it all up afterward. It’s a huge donation on their part and we’re very, very pleased to be able to work with them yet again,” Etienne said.

If the event keeps growing, however, it may outgrow its current space. This will be the biggest Christmas bazaar yet, with a total of 62 stands, up from last year’s 53. A number of countries will set up stands for the first time this year: Austria, Iran, the Kyrgyz Republic, Estonia and Lithuania, who will run a group stand with Latvia, Palestine and South Africa. So many countries are now involved – 18 from Europe, 10 from Asia, seven from the Middle East – that the bazaar stands have been grouped geographically, so visitors can tour different global food zones as they wander through the holiday market.

Kazakhstan, too, will have an official stand for the first time this year, and the event will be opened with traditional Kazakh music.

In addition to food, items ranging from inexpensive souvenirs to luxury gifts – Switzerland’s stand will have Chopard wallets and neckties, Etienne said – will be for sale.

Charitable organisations including SOS Villages and the group Silent World, which works with deaf children, will also have stands describing their work.

Last year’s event raised 12 million tenge (US$66,311) for charity, and Etienne says she hopes to make 20 million this year (US$110,518). “Just the raffle itself will make 5 million, and the raffle always sells out,” she said. “Every year it seems to get more support; more people are interested.”

A committee of 10 chooses the charities to fund, which always include both governmental and nongovernmental organisations. Many members of the charity committee are new to Astana and joined the committee to get to know the country better, she said. “They’ve visited organisations as far away as Pavlodar and Karaganda. They’re supporting charities working with children, including those with special medical needs, and single parent families, large families and elderly people.”

Seventeen institutions are currently being reviewed as potential recipients. “There is a selection process – the potential recipient has to provide very precise information on its projects, and these projects can be very short term, like winter clothing, or they can be long-term benefits like vocational training or language courses,” Etienne said. The final selection will be made after the event, when they know how much money has been raised.

Organisations make specific requests to cover specific needs, and all correspondence and assessments are recorded, in order to ensure a transparent process, she said. The committee is also planning follow up visits, both to check on how the donations are spent and to maintain ties with the communities they help.

“This is part of our role as ambassador’s spouses,” Etienne said. “I think we should, and we need to, give back to the community that is welcoming us. This event is a good way to do that.”

The bazaar takes months of planning. A committee of 14 has done all the work of coordinating this year’s event. “We first convened the committee in July – and then we all went on holiday,” she laughed. “We came back in September and we’ve been going strong since then. There is a lot of work involved, and my role is just one of many.”

“It’s a good opportunity for the diplomatic corps to do something together – it’s probably the only opportunity where we actually all work together,” Etienne said. But there is room on Astana’s calendar for more.

“We hope to do other things in the future – to organise a Diplomatic Charity Ball, for instance, with the business community. That would be a fun way to raise money. There are lots of venues out there that are magnificent. So we’ll see how we go.”

This will be Astana’s seventh Diplomatic Christmas Charity Bazaar.