The Lions Club Maastricht Mondial: Charity and International socialising
May 21, 2008 Leave a Comment
The annual May Fair of the Lions Club Maastricht Mondial is just around the corner. This year, on 25 May, expatriates living and working in South Limburg and their families will be invited to practise their skiing talents at the SnowWorld indoor winter sports resort in Landgraaf. Peter van Dongen Torman, who has been organising the event for the past five years, meets with Crossroads’ writer Sina Spohr at a café by the Meuse river to tell her more about the club and the fair.
How was the Lions Club Maastricht Mondial founded?
Mr van Dongen Torman: Most clubs around here are Dutch, which makes it difficult for expatriates to join. Expatriates usually don’t speak Dutch and Dutch clubs don’t always wish to accept them because this would mean that their Dutch members would have to switch to English.
The Lions Club Maastricht Mondial was founded 14 years ago by a small group of internationally oriented Dutch people and expatriates who wanted to offer a service club to the international community in Maastricht and, like all Lions clubs throughout the world, to raise money for charity projects.
There are two more Lions Clubs in Maastricht, Lions Club Regio and Lions Club Maastricht, and another one in Valkenburg. We meet up once a year but we don’t collaborate on events. Each club has its own activities and events. These clubs are local clubs for Dutch people, while we are for expatriates and people who are active in the international community. And they are usually gentlemen’s clubs. We also accept ladies!
What charity projects does the club support?
DT: The Lions Club Maastricht Mondial is involved in a variety of projects. We’ve been funding a project in Ethiopia to treat patients with ear diseases for the past five or six years now. We collaborate with a professor from the hospital of Maastricht, who goes there a few months every year to perform surgeries and train medical staff.
We also support a project to treat people suffering from cataract in South Africa. I went on holiday there and used the opportunity to hand our check over in person. This type of direct contact gives us the chance to make sure the money gets where it’s needed and doesn’t get lost in the bowls of some huge organisation.
Sometimes club members bring projects to the attention of the donation committee, and sometimes the club is contacted directly. For example, a Lions Club from South Africa sent an email to all the Lions clubs in the Netherlands asking for help and we were one of the two or three who took the project on.
The donation committee discusses all the proposals before presenting them to the members. Then the proposals are put to the vote. Of course, our funds are limited and we need to decide which projects we accept. We try to support charity projects which are in urgent need of a particular amount of money.
How does the club fund these charity projects?
DT: We organise fundraising events. Our biggest fundraiser is the annual May Fair, which is being organised for the eleventh time this year. And we are currently looking into setting up another regular fundraiser, the Valentines Dinner. We’ve had it the first time this year to test out how it would be received. People were very enthusiastic. Now we can start thinking of adding more activities to raise money, like dances or a raffle.
We can also approach useful business contacts when we are looking for sponsors for particular projects.
Who are the members of the Lions Club Maastricht Mondial and how are they selected?
DT: The word “Mondial” in our name stands for the fact that we welcome people from all over the world. About half of the club’s 25 members are expatriates, a quarter are Dutch people who have lived abroad for an extended period of time like myself, and the remaining quarter are local Dutch people who enjoy interacting with the international community. Members pay a monthly membership fee, which covers the fee to the Lions Club International and the monthly dinner meeting.
People who are interested in joining the club sometimes contact us directly but usually it is a current member who recommends someone they know. There is a careful selection procedure. The membership committee meets with the candidate two or three times, and discusses whether he or she would fit in. It can be problematic to have too many members of the same profession or who work for the same company… We then invite candidates to a dinner so that they can introduce themselves to the members and afterwards we vote on accepting each candidate.
We are looking for people who are interested in joining a service club because they want to give something back to the community. They need to be willing to put time and effort into the club, join committees. That sort of thing… The club also accepts expatriate members who will only stay in Maastricht for a defined amount of time.
How did you become a member?
DT: I used to work for Heineken in Indonesia, Italy, and the Caribbeans, so I know what it is like to be an expatriate. When I came back to the Netherlands after 15 years abroad, I became the general manager of the Ridder brewery in Maastricht, which was also owned by Heineken. The brewery was located right on the Meuse in the heart of Maastricht and produced a premium beer. (He points towards a white building across the river.)
About 12 years ago I was approached to join the Lions Club Maastricht Mondial. I looked into it and liked the idea. Maastricht’s culture is very place bound and I missed the opportunities of an international community.
Over the years I have held every possible position within the club: I’ve been the president, I’ve been the secretary, I’ve been everything in the club! Each club member is expected take his or her turn filling each of the positions once. This means that no one holds a position longer than one year. I have also been involved in organising the May Fair ever since I joined.
What is the programme for this year’s May Fair?
DT: The May Fair has been organised for almost as long as the Lions Club Mondial exists. Up until now it has always been hosted in castles in the Maastricht area but by now we have run out of castles. An event like this needs some changes every now and then or it will get boring.
Essentially the May fair is the same every year. It’s always on a Sunday afternoon, always between 13 and 18 o’ clock. It’s always supposed to be a fun day for the whole family. But the activities on offer alter every time. We have had inflatable castles for kids, a hot air balloon ride, a helicopter ride, bowling last year. In addition to that the regular May Fair programme includes a bring and buy bookstall for English adult and children’s books, Chinese name writing, a cake stall, a bring and buy bric á brac stall with second hand items, and of course the auction.
We have two charming ladies, one Scottish and the other American, in charge of the auction who make sure we have enough interesting and appealing items to auction off Our club members help out in collecting the items. Most of us are very active in the business world. We try to convince people and businesses we know to donate catchy prises for the auction. A member might for instance ask his wine supplier to donate a box of six nice wine bottles.
And so the various pieces come together. A hot air balloon flight, a pearl necklace, paintings, antiques, record collections, and a golf club set are just a few of the items lucky bidders have taken home over the past years.
SnowWorld Landgraaf just opened a hotel. They donated a voucher for a weekend for two in that hotel including free skiing and a dinner. We hope that this voucher might bring in as much as EUR 250!
All profits from the fair will go into our club’s charity fund. The money will firstly go to the Sisters of Mercy Ear Hospitals in Ethiopia. The club has been donating EUR 3000-.4000 every year for the project. If there is any money left we will donate to Stitching Lobstar, which helps children suffering from cancer, as well as their families. There are two more initiatives, one dealing with the modernisation of a hospital in Cambodia and another project in Kazakhstan, that we would like to support again this year. The scope of the donations will of course depend largely on the result of this year’s May Fair.
The May Fair is sponsored by the city councils of Maastricht, Heerlen, and Sittard, which is great for us. The way we usually proceed is that we enquire at the designated venue for fair how much it would cost to hold our event there. From that price, we make an estimate of the total cost of the fair and ask the cities if they are willing to support us again. This allows us to hold the whole event for free. This year, only the BBQ will be charged.
When we were discussing this year’s location for the fair, one of the councillors in Heerlen proposed SnowWorld. I checked the venue and thought: “This is such a marvellous place! Snow everywhere. It feels like an authentic Austrian ‘Stube’ (which means living room). Not just for the May Fair but also to spend a rainy day with the family.”
This year, in addition to the regular activities, we will also offer Nordic walking and Skiing lessons. We handed out a bunch of questionnaires last year to see what the visitors would like to see changed and we found out that there was interest in more activities. Another consequence of the survey is that a baby-sitter service will be offered this time so that parents with small children can enjoy the fair more freely and the little ones can also enjoy themselves.
Who is the target group for the May Fair?
DT: Even though the Lions Club Mondial Maastricht has about 500 families on its mailing list and constantly tries to include new expatriate families it has had a pretty constant turn up of about 200-250 visitors each year. People tend to register rather late. This means that I will only notify the SnowWorld kitchen in charge of the BBQ a week prior to the event of the expected number of visitors.
The club doesn’t do a lot of marketing to promote the fair apart from our email list. We notify the hospital, the university, and the international school, because most expatriates’ children go there. The LIOF industry bank, which has a lot of information about international businesses in our area, enters new international contacts directly into the club’s email list. It wouldn’t make sense to advertise via the VVV for instance. We want expatriates, not day tourists.
The target visitors of the May fair are expatriates, and people linked to the international community. What they seem to enjoy most is simply meeting people with whom they have something in common. Have a good time and maybe make arrangements to meet over a beer sometimes….
By Sina Spohr
Sina Spohr was born in Berlin, Germany. She is now a third year Bachelor student at University College Maastricht and focuses on Psychology.