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A cozy club with a global reach


On a chilly December evening off a narrow lane in Amsterdam, about two dozen people sit around a huge table fashioning Christmas tree ornaments from cardboard tubes and jam jar lids. The smell of mulled wine and freshly peeled clementines hangs in the air of the community center as they chat and snack on homemade chocolate chip cookies. Conviviality is a hallmark of events by the Rotaract Club of Amsterdam Nachtwacht International, Club President Oliver Crazzolara explains as he paints a toilet paper tube as Santa. He glances around the room, glowing with strings of lights. “I think tonight is particularly cozy.”

This Rotaract club isn’t characterized only by its friendly vibe. Its members have developed something of a specialty in hosting festive fundraisers to support causes around the world from South Africa to Lebanon to the Pacific. The small club’s international reach is a product of its diversity: Most of the roughly dozen members are expatriates whose careers or studies have brought them to the Netherlands. “It’s, I think, the strength of our club,” says Jerson Ganza, who moved from the Philippines. “Everyone’s coming from different places, different perspectives, different ideas.”

Chartered in 2007, the club has benefited from the energy and ideas born of this cultural exchange and friendship among its international members. Other Rotaract clubs in the Amsterdam area function in Dutch. The Amsterdam Nachtwacht International club operates in English to serve the community of young expats, many of them drawn by the city’s universities and businesses. The metro region is a global hub, with more than 300,000 residents born outside the Netherlands.

Members of the Rotaract Club of Amsterdam Nachtwacht International, including (from left) Oliver Crazzolara, Carolin Vetter, Jerson Ganza, and Subhodip Banerjee, have developed a specialty in hosting festive fundraisers to support causes around the world.

Image credit: Ozan Yilmaz

At the holiday party, which attracted a crowd of club members and visitors, Romanian and Bulgarian crafters chat while painting paper towel tubes. People who grew up in Spain, the Netherlands, and Austria sip tea and mulled wine. The three organizers — who are Turkish, German, and South African — arranged for the group’s homemade decorations to festoon a Christmas tree donated to a care home in Amsterdam for older people.

Some of those who join the club have previous Rotary experience in their home countries, like Ganza, who was a Rotaractor in the Philippines and a member of the Rotary Club of Manila Bay before he moved to Amsterdam. He says the mix of past experiences and skills that members bring from around the world shape the initiatives the club takes on.

When the club hosted a charity comedy night in 2022, Ganza drew on his background organizing events to find a slate of comedians. And he learned from a fellow Rotaractor about the cause he suggested supporting, the Give Every Child a Future project. The childhood immunization campaign across nine South Pacific island countries and territories is led by UNICEF and Rotary Zone 8. The 860 euros (about $890) raised through the comedy night sponsored vaccinations for 32 children.

The club holds about three main fund-raising events a year, usually benefiting timely causes that are often connected to a member’s home region. An annual summer boat party has raised money for people affected by the war in Ukraine and for earthquake recovery in Syria, and a 2023 tournament of the racket game padel supported earthquake recovery in Turkey. Members also teamed up with Rotaractors in Lebanon to raise money for the only suicide prevention hotline in the country.

“We look for a project that is happening somewhere on the globe where we feel like, OK, the money we’re putting into it is really benefiting maybe a small group of people, but those people really have a big benefit from it,” Crazzolara says.

One of the club’s biggest fundraisers of 2023 went toward a cause that Past President Natasha Bailey knew of from South Africa, her home country. The Baby Box Project provides vulnerable mothers with essential items to care for newborns. The June party event, held in collaboration with other local Rotaract clubs, raised about 1,700 euros (about $1,800), enough to supply 64 baby boxes.

Bailey became involved with the club in 2021, having recently moved to the Netherlands and looking for a way to make friends and contribute to charity events. After the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it took a while for the club to find a stride, she recalls. Many previous members had left, and formal meetings every other week saw low attendance. So, the club swapped half of its meetings for social events, like dinners or bowling nights, which attracted more people. Bailey sees the connections forged through fun events as an engine for the club’s service projects. “If you start making friends and you get on with everyone, it’s easy to put teams together,” she says.

The club also helps members navigate life in the Netherlands. Members help each other find apartments in Amsterdam’s competitive housing market and offer early career advice. Speaker events also support professional development. Alexia Fontalvo, a Rotaractor in Madrid before she moved to the Netherlands to study European law at the University of Amsterdam, got tips from a recent speaker on applying for internships to start a career in diplomacy.

For Crazzolara, who is half Dutch and grew up in Germany, the vibe of the group is well-captured by a Dutch word, gezellig, which roughly translates to “cozy.” “It’s just the feeling that you’re in a place where you’re not being judged, a place that you like to come back to,” Crazzolara says. “It has something to do with friendship as well. It’s nice people around you.”

How to put the ‘fun’ in ‘fundraiser’

Every year, the Rotaract Club of Amsterdam Nachtwacht International holds about three fundraisers, ranging from comedy nights to padel tournaments to summertime boat parties. The club strives to combine important causes with fun events. “Everybody likes to do good in the world,” says Club President Oliver Crazzolara. “But people also really like feeling good while doing it.” The club has these tips.

  1. Keep an eye on the money

    Make sure event costs don’t eat into the funds for the charity. Finding a company to sponsor the event is a big help.

  2. Work with club members’ strengths

    If members are interested in certain tasks, like marketing or coordinating, let them take the reins. “When a person is in the role that they really like, then things suddenly go so quickly, and the results are so astonishing,” Crazzolara says.

  3. Choose a cause that members are excited about

    “Organizing fundraisers and activities is not easy,” Club Treasurer Jerson Ganza says. “So you need to have some motivation.”

This story originally appeared in the March 2024 issue of Rotary magazine.

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