Alice volunteers at Wokai as the President of our Bay Area Chapter. She can be reached at alice dot wu at wokai dot org
How do you get a frugal old lady in Chinatown to make a donation to help others? You need a patient and friendly volunteer who speaks her language, a fun game, and a true story that touches her heart.
Last weekend, Wokai participated in the San Francisco Chinatown’s Chinese New Year Community Street Fair. We wanted to promote Wokai, bring in donations, and get our team together for a good time. We accomplished all of these objectives and came home with many pleasant surprises.
Photos by Bijal Shah, who volunteers as Vice President of Business Strategy for Wokai's San Francisco Bay Area Chapter. Click here to see more of these photos on her blog.
If you’ve watched the reality show “The Apprentice,” our experience was very similar to that competition. We had two days and limited resources and human capital to raise as much money as we could and spread the word to as many people as we could. We had raffles to win tickets for our future events. We gave out bottled water with any donations. We had Wokai T-shirts for sale. We tried face painting to attract kids, so that we could talk to the parents. And we decorated our booth with balloons, posters, and beautiful blossoms.
None of the above worked as well as our Chopsticks Master Challenge --- a simple game to see how good people are at picking ping pong balls in water with chopsticks. It took a $1 donation to play. If you can pick up 6 balls in 10 seconds, you win a Wokai T-shirt plus everyone’s respect. If not, you still get a small consolation price of your choice. No matter what, you win because you get to donate $1 to help someone in rural China get out of poverty.
As you can see in Bijal's photo album here, everybody had a great time.
About 15 enthusiastic volunteers took turns standing at our booth for 16 hours over two days. We had attorneys, CPAs, bankers, consultants, etc. If all of us had spent the time doing our professional work and billing our clients, we could have made thousands of dollars. The truth is, what we gained from this weekend’s volunteering experience went way beyond what money can measure.
Please allow me to share my most touching moment of the weekend with you. Even though I speak perfect Mandarin, one third of the people at the fair were Cantonese-speaking Chinatown residents. It wasn’t until Virginia, our best-Cantonese-speaking volunteer, showed up, that were we able to correctly communicate to them what Wokai is all about. So when Virginia convinced a Chinese old lady to take out a dollar bill from her completely worn out wallet, and happily donate it to support our cause, I knew we were making a difference. It could be the story of our borrower that triggered something in her memory back home or it could simply be her competitiveness in mastering the chopsticks techniques, but we made her smile and we helped someone in her home country at the same time.
Thank you to everyone who donated to us. Every dollar counts and we will use it wisely. Special thanks to the gentleman who was obviously a chopsticks master but purposely tried not to win so that we could keep the T-shirt. Most importantly, I want to thank our volunteers, led by our events associate Christina Zhao, and special thanks to Liz and August for your generous donations of time and money. You all did a fantastic job with endless enthusiasm. Wokai’s Bay Area chapter will be back next year. By that time, Wokai will be bigger and better and have a lot more chopstick masters for sure!