IWC History

The International Women’s Club started off in 1989 as a support group for foreign women, primarily diplomatic or business spouses who found themselves isolated in ‘socialist’ Bulgaria. With very little to do and obvious restrictions on movements or contact with the local community, the ladies would get together on a regular basis for coffee or lunch at the Sheraton Hotel.

Following the collapse of the Iron Curtain western businesses started to move to Bulgaria, although conditions were still tough. The IWC suddenly had a more significant role to play and membership grew rapidly. By June 1994 the club had over 160 members from 38 nationalities who found themselves very far removed from the comforts of their homes; no supermarkets, no ATM’s, no disposable nappies, no quality milk or butter or instant coffee! And in the markets only seasonal local produce – nothing exotic! There were the so called Dollar shops where one could buy some of these items with hard currency or else it meant regular trips across the border to Thessaloniki.

The first newsletter was published in January 1992. Newsletters were produced courtesy of the Apple Center and distributed through Embassies and the diplomatic apartment blocks. For those not with an embassy the newsletter could be collected from either the Apple Centre or the Hotel Sheraton front desk – on the last 3 days of the month.

During the mid to late nineties the focus of the IWC started to shift more towards assisting the community and saw the launch of the very first Christmas Bazaar (the first charity event, a Tennis Tournament, had already been held in 1993). It was very short notice (2 months) and the members worked together in their regular groups (English conversation, baby, porcelain painting, etc) producing what they could; wreaths, decorations, cookies and cakes, food as well as second hand stalls.

The first Christmas Bazaar and Concert was held on 3rd December in the Inter-Continental (now Kempinski) Hotel in December 1995 together with the Anglo American School featuring Rossitsa Kirilova, Vassil Petrov, Winnie the Pooh Children’s Choir and others. Tickets were priced at 300 leva (Bazaar only 50 leva). Approximately 3000 US dollars were collected for the ‘Tsaritsa Yoana’ Children’s cancer hospital.

In 1996 the Annual Classical Concert and Bazaar was held in the National Palace of Culture Hall 7 for the first time. It was the only fundraising event of the Club that year and the first time that ‘nationality’ stalls were represented: Austria, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Portugal and Turkey. Tickets for adults were priced at 1000 leva. The target was $10,000 for University Clinic of Paediatric Surgery which we achieved thanks to some fabulous last minute arm twisting by Maureen O’ Neill.

In 1998 the first email addresses started to appear, signalling a revolution in communications, the first website was registered in 1999 and by 2000 the newsletter first became available to members via email.

In 2002 the club logo was changed to the present one to give it a bolder and more contemporary look. The club membership continued to go up and charity dominated the activities of the IWC. The Charity Committee (Charity Foundation of the International Women’s Club-Sofia) became the legally registered Charity Foundation of the IWC which enabled the club to receive donations from business and issue valid receipts in return.

In 2007 Bulgaria joined the EU which brought a lot of changes, mainly improvements on all fronts and lots of investments. It is now relatively uncomplicated for accompanying EU spouses to be employed in Bulgaria if they are willing to accept the differences in the salary scale. More and more international companies now can find and hire highly qualified local staff, which in turn cuts back their own costs. Many foreigners in Bulgaria these days are young and single.

The club’s biggest annual fundraising event – the Charity Bazaar – which pulls together the whole international diplomatic and business community for a truly enjoyable event, is still going strong and never fails to surprise with the total amount of money raised!

Extracts from ‘Celebrating 25 years’ by Paromita Sanatani, President IWC 2000 – 2001.To view the full edition of the booklet ‘Celebrating 25 years’, please click here: