Beijing Community Pillars: Meet the Movement That Links Expat Women

BY VANESSA JENCKS & PAULINE VAN HASSELT ON 06 APR 2017

Originally appeared on beijingkids website.

Old Clothes, New Clothes

Rebecca Archer, who always radiates a creative and positive vibe, is usually the first mom to come up with great ideas to socialize and interesting things to do with kids. The New Zealand native has been an expat for seven years, the last three years of which she has called Beijing home. She is now a very busy stay at home mom, and has been for the last five years. Archer’s first year as a mother was spent in Nigeria. The experience was lonely and she craved community, but where she lived made getting connected to others in a similar situation difficult, if not impossible.

Archer believes that a supportive community around the family is the key to a successful expat existence. “I realized that if I couldn’t find community around me, I would have to create it,” she told us.

“Out of my lonely time in Nigeria, I reached out to a couple of women I had just met and we started meeting on a weekly basis to journey through the challenges of expat life together.”

She also started connecting with other expat families who were struggling with their teenagers. “I realized that it was just important for expat teenagers to have a solid positive community,” she said. She began investing in these young people’s lives, creating numerous events and social activities, as well as opportunities for mentorship.

“It is the thought of women feeling disconnected that drives me. To be lonely in a place far from home is not a feeling I like to have, and most women I know get the ‘expat blues’ for a number of months when moving to a new place. From my personal experience, the best cure is to try and find ‘your people’ as fast as you can,” Archer advised.It is the thought of women feeling disconnected that drives me. To be lonely in a place far from home is not a feeling I like to have…

She added, “I think it’s awesome that in Beijing there are enough people from all walks of life that there is plenty of potential to make close friendships.” The challenge can often be how to turn these acquaintances into friends, which is part of how the Beijing Clothing Auction Network began. Archer met a few people when she first moved to Beijing who she realized could help her repeat the Clothes Auction social event through their commonalities. “What has happened is that our first event where we had 12 ladies get together has turned into a monthly or bi-monthly event with over 200 members vying for spots in the next social event. The regularity of the meetings has developed and solidified some great friendships,” Archer explained.

“It is the thought of women feeling disconnected that drives me. To be lonely in a place far from home is not a feeling I like to have…

After auctions are held, women stay in these WeChat groups and share pictures of “auction clothing” as they wear them in their normal day-to-day life. Sometimes, women who attended the events, who would otherwise not have met in normal Beijing life, will spot each other out in public. Photos will pop up of two or three ladies standing together wearing auction clothing. The auctions now have three main groups, one based in Shunyi, one in the city, and one in Yizhuang.

The original idea of the auctions came from when her cousin in New Zealand held a clothes auction many years ago. A few things struck Archer: the awesome quality of clothes that people no longer wanted, how cheap they were, and how much fun the auction was. Archer held her first clothes auction in Indonesia when she realized her wardrobe was getting full of clothes she wasn’t wearing, and she was craving a social event. Since then she has spread the auction joy in three different countries, Indonesia, New Zealand, and now China. Her wardrobe is constantly changing, and she creates a ton of new friends along the way.

Charities that have benefited are: Dew Drops Little Flower, Chunmaio Little Flower, Roundabout, Kapuna Hospital in PNG, Nepal Earthquake Relief, Little Adoption Shop, UN Refuge Agency, New Hope, Migrant Children’s Foundation, New Hope, Smile Week and Cleft Pallet Surgeries.  An amount of RMB 36,000 has been raised the last two years.

“I haven’t always run events for charity, but since a teenager, I have been involved with various groups and ran different community events” Archer explains. Depending on the season of her life she created new opportunities. When she moved to Beijing, she could not find an affordable preschool for her kids, so she created a parent and child led class in Shunyi, where families could come together for fun musical movement and socializing. Giving families a chance to create community feel away from home.

Last month, Archer and her friends organized a similar event called The Great Shunyi Kids Clothes Swap. The event was innovative and successful in the community by raising money for charity, and providing children around Beijing with a wardrobe of nearly new clothing.

Photos: Courtesy of Rebecca Archer