SHOM: Spouses of Heads of Missions
Story by Kathleen Pokrud
Spouses of Heads of Missions (SHOM) Bangkok is an informal networking platform for spouses or partners of Heads of Missions in Bangkok, Thailand. It started as a coffee group, known as ‘Diplospouse’ in 2004. The group provided support for newcomers to the Bangkok diplomatic scene and a venue to hear speakers and openly discuss issues and concerns related to the members’ unique representational roles. At the invitation of the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Diplospouse members participated in the royal ceremony to celebrate the Queen’s 72nd birthday. Following this success, SHOM Bangkok was established in 2005. Elite+ sat down with the 2022 Executive Committee for an exclusive interview.
The SHOM president this year is Madame Louise Akerblom, the spouse of the ambassador of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. She began by saying, “The objective of SHOM is to share experience and knowledge as well as provide support to all members. Support initiatives include discussing issues arising as an ambassador’s spouse, organizing group activities and providing guidance for diplomatic functions and daily living in Thailand.
Madame Louise Akerblom
Madame Louise has been an active member of SHOM for three years since her arrival. She admitted that her membership has been especially important during the past two years as Covid disrupted everyone’s lives. “Our local friends of the diplomatic community have become a substitute family. I have been heavily involved in other associations similar to SHOM throughout our postings in Madrid and Washington. Previously, working with my local spouses organization in Luxembourg, we focused on improving the status of spouses, quite successfully. As a diplomat’s spouse, one may have to give up or pause their own professional career, but it can be important to maintain one’s economic independence.
As new SHOM president, Madame Louise added, “As it does not look like the Covid situation will ease soon, we continue to work on keeping our group connected through online or face-to-face meetings at least once a month. We are most grateful to the members who open their residences, especially their gardens as long as the weather permits. It is very difficult to arrive in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language and are confined to your home while your children need to be home schooled, making one feel very isolated. We try to support each other and reduce such tensions”
Touching on plans and visions, Madame Louise said, “This now all depends on what rules we have to live by. As long as we can meet in person, we hold our monthly meetings and organize small outings and talks with interesting people. Otherwise, we hold online coffee catch-ups when possible. We’ve had a great fun when members talk about their home countries, sharing their insights.”
SHOM as a group does not actively take part in fundraising events, but many of their members are involved in different organizations, individually or as representatives of their countries. Madame Louise explained, “We make donations to different organizations and enjoy collaborating in worthwhile local projects.”
Madame Low Hui Ching, Advisor and Past President Spouse of H.E. Mr. Kevin Cheok,
Ambassador of The Embassy of the Republic of Singapore
Madame Low Hui Ching, the spouse of the ambassador of Singapore to Thailand, joined SHOM upon her arrival in Bangkok in 2019 and quickly became a committee member. She was the SHOM Bangkok president in 2020. When asked what she has gained from the organisation, she said “Being a member of SHOM and the committee has been both a privilege and a source of support. It can be lonely arriving in a new country, but as a member of SHOM, I immediately felt I was a part of a group who are always helpful. When president, I worked to implement new policies as Covid took its toll and now as an advisor, I support Madame Louise any way I can.”
Madame Ximena Rios Hamann
Another advisor, Madame Ximena Rios Hamann, spouse of the ambassador of Peru to Thailand, has been a SHOM member since May 2017. She explained, “Being a member of SHOM has given me the opportunity to get to know many interesting people and share similar challenges and joys. It has also given me the chance to learn about different cultures, mentalities, languages and ways of life. My network of friends has been enriched thanks to this group. This is the first posting of my husband as ambassador, so it is the first for me to be a member of a group like SHOM. However, I have participated in groups of Latin American spouses of diplomats and groups of Peruvians living abroad. I have also participated in volunteer groups of different sorts. This year, as an advisor, I have helped to organize various activities via Zoom or on siter. I am also in charge of the Book Club, a SHOM subgroup.”
Madame Omneya El Kouny
Madame Omneya El Kouny, spouse of the Egyptian ambassador to Thailand, has been a SHOM member for one year. She had joined diplomatic spouses clubs in other countries such as Australia, France, Israel and Senegal and described being a SHOM member, saying, “It has helped me to get to know the diplomatic community in Bangkok better. The diplomatic community is always a person's first support group when they arrive in a new country. I have joined many different activities organized by SHOM and as a committee member, I hope to contribute new ideas to help our members enjoy their stay in Bangkok.”
Madame Marie Patricia Cotter
Madame Marie Patricia Cotter, spouse of the ambassador of Ireland to Thailand has been a SHOM member since her arrival in Thailand in September 2018. She has served as vice president for two years, treasurer for one year and currently a general committee member. She shared, “SHOM plays a pivotal role in assisting new members settle in a new country. Members are always available to help each other with any difficulties they may have. SHOM organises regular meetings with interesting speakers and outings to places of interest in Bangkok. Bangkok SHOM is a particularly warm, friendly and welcoming group without whom life in Thailand would be so much poorer.”
With their posting to Thailand ending in April, Madame Marie recalled, “I have been a member of similar groups in each of our previous postings, Brussels, Zambia and Saudi Arabia. In Zambia, I was president of the DSA, Diplomatic Spouses Association, for two years and in Saudi Arabia I was president and vice president for a year each of the Europe and Americas SHOM. For now, in Bangkok, I continue to host fortnightly support group meetings.”
Lastly, Datin Catherina Christine Cherrian, spouse of the Malaysian ambassador to Thailand, has been a SHOM member since her arrival in 2018. She expressed fondly, “My SHOM membership has allowed me to interact and socialise with like-minded people. The association has enabled me to be of service to the Thai community through my participation in the Diplomatic Red Cross and YWCA Bazaar committees. During our postings in other countries, I was always involved with similar associations, like SHOM. This year, I hope to continue assisting to coordinate SHOM activities and again look forward to contributing to the Red Cross committee.”
To conclude, let me just say what impressed me most during this interview was the genuine friendship and support felt for each other amongst this group. SHOM truly reflects a unity among members from a diverse range of geographic, professional and family backgrounds, who are always there for one in need. Together, they learn more about the cultures and traditions of Thailand and member countries through their different activities.