By My-Linh Kunst.
The following speech was read by outgoing AWC President, My-Linh Kunst, during AWC’s 2018 Annual General Meeting. The meeting was held at Berlin Festsaal Stadtmission on December 10, 2018. Approximately 70 members were in attendance.
Eleanor Roosevelt, our champion of human rights once said, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
A bit of background. I grew up in Saigon, Vietnam until I was 12, then emigrated to America at the end of the war. You have heard about the Vietnamese Boat People. I was one of them. We had led a comfortable upper middle class existence until the end of the war forced us to flee our home – in the middle of night, with nothing but what was on our back, hiding under the floorboards while the Vietnamese Coast Guard searched our boat. If caught, we didn’t have exit visas and would have been jailed or at the least sent home.
We managed to escape, traveling by sea for 4 days, landed in Singapore and after waiting in its waters for 2 weeks, we received papers to fly to Washington and began our new life. I arrived on a Thursday, and on Monday, my parents put me in a normal 6th grade class without a single word of English. Sink or swim! I learned English at the age of 12. We survived. We thrived. We learned to love our adopted country, while yearning for our native country.
Sounds familiar? All of you in this room know that feeling. Whether you go abroad at the age of 50 or at 15, you have had to come to terms with a new language, a new culture, a new life. In a way, I feel that my first “expat” journey on that boat guided me to where I am now – standing before you at this podium and speaking to you about making the most out of your situation, your environment, making the most out of this environment.
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
When Angelika McLarren [previous AWC President] approached me in May 2015, handing over the AWC Berlin, which she had been diligently shepherding since 1992, and said, “do what you want with it, let it die or revive it,” I had just come out of four years of being President of FAWCO, our umbrella organization. My dream was to create a mini FAWCO here locally, a renewed AWC Berlin – composed of “thinking women” – kind, intelligent, and empowered women who not only want to “do lunch” (though there is nothing wrong with that and we do a lot of that) but also help others and make the world a better place. We made one major change to the constitution – to open it up to “women of all nationalities who embrace the American Spirit” – then I started calling all my friends.
Now, 3.5 years later, our community is 275 strong.
We have coffee together, we learn together, we share our personal challenges (everything from learning how to use the dishwasher, to going through heartbreaks). We support each other and help those less fortunate. By spending time together, by sharing our joys and sorrows, by structuring our hopes and giving them a voice, AWC Berlin unlocks a gate to our collective future. Some of you have heard me talk about the “Power of the Collective”. Individually, we are pinpoints of light, intense but lonely, individually we might be determined, but remain challenged. Individually we can be vocal, but are often silenced by the noise of life.
The outlook changes when we work together.
When we respect our similarities and differences, recognize our strengths and weaknesses, honor our varied individual passions, and build on the highs & lows of our experiences, we become a collective strength that cannot be ignored.
We also have the great opportunity through our umbrella organization FAWCO for our voices to carry far and wide. Through FAWCO, our hands are joined with others around the globe. Through FAWCO, we can stand on the world stage and our calls echo far and wide.
I have had many poignant moments serving as your President…
…but a few stand out in my mind. I remember how surprised and excited I was when the first membership application arrived from a woman I didn’t know – that first non-friend member was Jennifer Post Dräger. Then the next day, I received another from Nancy Dörbandt (both are here tonight). I remember how proud I was when Karin Janssen (82) and Sarah Maurer (19) both found the AWC on the internet, met us at Kaffee Klatsch and immediately joined the club for 2 years. I remember looking out at the hundreds of Berliners who attended our public events and thought “AWC Berlin is being heard. We are not yet a roar, but neither are we a whisper.” When we raise awareness about an issue, Berliners come and listen. Therefore we have the responsibility to keep speaking out.
In our life abroad, friends often become family.
I am grateful to each and every one of you for the privilege and honor to serve as president of this warm-hearted, fun and formidable organization. You are my “tribe”, my family, my sisters.
I am one link in a very long chain of AWC Berlin history: volunteers, Board Members & past Presidents who have dedicated themselves to the empowerment of women. It was daunting, but with the help of two extremely supportive and gracious boards, I found my way.
I believe in AWC Berlin.
I believe in us: women who strive to support and promote other women, women who resourcefully work through challenges, women who refuse to be victims, women who never say, “I can’t,” women who go beyond borders – to follow our passion and leave our footprints in the sand.
Eleanor Roosevelt also said “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
What is your thing? Go out and do it. I’ll be there right there – beside you.
AWC Berlin President 2015-2018