Friday, July 17, 2015

International Day - the FoD perspective!

International Day once again - this year, with a twist - this year, I was part of the FoD committee, the organizers of the event. And however did I miss writing about last year's International Day - completely fell through the cracks, that one! - I guess I'll just have to do back-to-back ID posts now!! Not that this one is very timely - keeping up with the tradition of this blog - it's already been 2 months since the event - oh well!!

Anyway, where was I - ah yes, FoD. The new FoD committee is elected during the AGM in February. I had enjoyed being the Secretary since August, and I did plan to stay on the committee - but I had no wish to take any other position - I was quite comfortable as Secretary. Our Treasurer was unable to continue, and by the time of the AGM, a new Treasurer had yet to be identified. I was asked to take over as Treasurer - I didn't really want to take on the responsibility - but as a stop-gap, I agreed to fill both roles until we found a new Treasurer. Yeah, that was real sensible - taking over as both Secretary and Treasurer!!

And then the kicker - as Secretary, I was the lead for the International and Founder's Day event. Wait, what??!!! Is it too late to accept the Treasurer position?? What have I got myself into??!!! I had been lead for the India booth for 2 years, but to be in charge of the whole shebang - yikes!! Absolute panic at first - much to the amusement of my friends (yes, TW and MW, looking at you!) - but then as I slowly got used to the idea, I found myself quite excited, actually looking forward to it!! Nothing ventured, nothing gained - right?!!

First on the list was a meeting with the country reps - well, a kickoff meeting to request volunteers to be country reps. And although there are quite a few who volunteer year after year, there are always a few new faces - so the initial meeting involves quite a detailed run-through of all the activities scheduled on the day. Public speaking has never been my forte - so running the meeting was probably one of the most difficult tasks for me - but managed to get through! Deep breaths now, in and out, in and out!!

Once the country reps were identified - most of them, anyways! - I had to send them a list of parents from their countries, so that they could start forming their teams and planning their individual booths.  Not quite as easy as it sounds. What I got from the school was the entire list of parents - sorted according to country, thankfully! I had to break this list down into country specific ones and send them off to the correct rep, along with country booth information from last year. In hindsight, would have been probably easier to email the list of country reps to the whole school, and then ask interested parents to contact their reps directly - something to remember for next year!!

And then the booth requests started to pour in - I was quite literally inundated with all kinds of concerns - issues from last year, requests for larger booths, more tables, better locations. Why IFD always works better when it is outdoors, how the gym is going to be too small - and the alcohol related questions!!! Yes, wine and beer is allowed, no hard liquor - that means no shots - and does Irish coffee qualify as liquor or not!! I was quite happy to pass all this onto our esteemed FoD chairperson, RG - must say, she had quite a bit on her plate, as she was in charge of the entertainment for the day too!! The lists and Excel files were endless, though - keeping track of everything, and making sure all communication was completed on time!

Slowly, things started to fall in place. The booth layout plan was completed, approved and finalized. Subsidies were handed out. Entertainment programs were being sent in by different teams. Posters went up in school, and on the buses. Ads were put in the Suzhou monthly magazines - this was a Suzhou wide event, not just restricted to the Dulwich community. One of the bigger challenges was to identify a charity as beneficiary for the event - after much discussion, the Suzhou Autism school was accepted by the committee. Coupons went on sale - 50,000 were printed - at a value of 5RMB per coupon, and lunchtime sales started in the school - we were selling coupons at a brisk pace, very encouraging!

Ready for the sales to begin!

Meanwhile, there was still the India booth to think about - while many of the Indian ladies were willing to participate for the booth, no one wanted the responsibility of being the country rep - writing emails, co-ordinating all activities - basically, all the grunt work. That finally fell to me - kind of a default option - 3rd time in a row. Decorations, country basket, food - all patterned on last year's. Paneer and chicken rolls, mint lemonade and gulabjamuns - fewer items, but larger quantities. Country basket, of course, works mainly on donations - and along with few other items that we bought from the contributed money, our India basket was quite impressive!! Take a look!!

India basket

For the entertainment, we were able to put on quite a show - Bollywood dances are hugely popular, and Team India was happy to oblige with a spectacular number performed by 10 of our girls - a mix of Dulwich and SSIS students. Our choreographer, RS, put in a lot of work with the girls - especially as it was difficult to get everyone together to rehearse - I have to admit, I was probably the worst about taking Manasi!! Looked into having costumes made - but SL found this incredible costume rental place, and all of us fell in love with these gorgeous, swirling skirts - the costume decision, for once, was unanimous!!

Dress rehearsal - the troupe with RS

The day before the event was frantic - as expected. The whole committee was in the school to finish sorting and numbering the gifts donated for Tombola. I was handling last minute queries from country reps - anything from requests for extra tables, to parking and unloading details!! At the last minute, the school had requested all the booths to display a 'Country fact' - to help the kids with a project on Internationalism later that term - all facts had to collected and submitted to the school - more emails, more lists!! And then there was the prep for the food for the India booth - the chicken filling had to be made, as well as the mint sauce - not that I was much help with any of that - I was still writing emails while SH, VH and Ajey did all the work!!

Finally, 9th May - ready or not, IFD was here!! I was at the school early - the staff had been setting up the tents and tables for the booths from the previous evening, so the gym was a quite a pretty sight!! I didn't really have any specific tasks that day - well, just had to make sure everything was running reasonably smoothly, make sure all teams had the booths they had requested, and take care of additional requests, if any - oh yes, keep an eye on the ticket sales, check if the Finance office had everything under control. Ended up walking around all day - my feet were absolutely killing me - really, whose idea was the high heels?? There was no way I could have taken any pictures, so many thanks to CE for sharing her photos with me!

A sea of festive red!

Country baskets

Tombola setup

The India booth looked gorgeous - thanks, MW, for that awesome elephant - made our booth stand out beautifully! Even with the larger quantities, our food was sold out in a couple of hours - I guess, next year we make even more!! Again, my contribution at the booth this year was negligible, so thanks to all - especially, MN, SH, VH, SL and Ajey - as always, the India booth was a huge, huge success!! And our sarees are always a big attraction - I had my picture taken with so many people - I was seriously considering charging a coupon per picture!! The dance, too, was a hit - all the girls performed beautifully - and the costume change bit brought the house done!!

What an absolutely incredible day!! By the time we wrapped up and headed home, I was ready to crawl into bed and sleep for a week - maybe get a foot massage - and then go right back to sleep!! I did get a day off, but a huge task still loomed - no doubt, the most important - counting the money!! By the time all the money came in - from the Finance office and all the committee members - I had almost quarter million RMB in cash with me. Was counting money in the SS Parent Lounge - literally, the entire coffee table was covered with bundles of cash. Too bad, my nerves were completely shot - would have made a really great picture!! My hands were shaking so badly as I checked and rechecked, and then again - all this money, and I was responsible for it??!!! Almost had a heart attack when I thought I misplaced an envelope with 1600 RMB - thanks BH for keeping me sane that day!!

240,000 RMB raised in a day for charity - definitely worth all the hard work, all the blood, sweat and tears - well, no blood, of course - but you get the point!! I don't think I have ever been so stressed in my life - definitely one of the bigger challenges I have handled so far - and I hope that I proved myself equal to the task. Lot of things I could have done better, lot of issues that could have been side-stepped, lots of lessons learnt!! Proud to be a part of FoD, to be a member of this incredible team!! Ready for next year? - absolutely, bring it on!!!

"What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger" and "All's well that ends well!" - IFD in a nutshell!! Signing off - will be back soon with last year's IFD!!

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