When my husband and I arrived in Bangkok in September 2015 to start settling into our new home here in Thailand, my plan was to immediately get in touch with the group of spouses of Ambassadors heading the other foreign Embassies in Thailand. Before we arrived, I had heard that there is a very active association of Ambassadors’ spouses and partners and that they call themselves “SHOM Bangkok.” SHOM stands for “Spouses of Heads of Mission”.
I learned about how it all began from its general guidelines (rules of operation). From its inception SHOM was designed as “an informal support system for spouses or partners of Heads of Mission in Bangkok. It started as an informal coffee group, known as “Diplospouse” in 2004, led by the spouses of the American and New Zealand Ambassadors (of the time). The group provided support for newcomers to the Bangkok diplomatic scene, a venue to hear speakers and to openly discuss issues and concerns related to the members’ unique representational roles.
With an invitation by the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs later that year, the Diplospouse group successfully convened the members to take part in the royal ceremony to celebrate Her Majesty the Queen’s 72nd birthday. Following this success, SHOM Bangkok was created as a more formal entity with an executive committee in 2005.” For me, SHOM was indeed the perfect place to feel welcomed as a newcomer in Bangkok. Diplomats’ spouses and partners are such global nomads. We move around every three or four years from one country to the next, and sometimes we are sent back to our capital city between assignments abroad.
When I land in a new posting, I always look forward to meeting and getting to know my fellow colleagues in the diplomatic community. It’s comforting to know that I’m in a group with whom I can share experiences, knowledge on common interests, challenges I face as an expat, and at the same time that we can provide support to one another. It’s in a way a safe haven for us to get a headstart in a new culture and setting. SHOM holds a monthly meeting at one of the members’ residences where activities and projects are discussed.
There is a five member committee which is led by a President and each position is filled on either a voluntary or recommendation basis. These posts are held for a one year term, from January to December, but can also be extended beyond a year. One of SHOM’s primary goals is to promote mutual cultural understanding between the Kingdom of Thailand and the countries of the SHOM members. We organise activities such as tours to various museums, historical houses and neighbourhoods in and outside of Bangkok, and invite speakers for talks on a wide range of cultural topics. In addition to all the activities, I find that one of the most appreciated experiences within SHOM is the camaraderie among its members as well as our deep friendship that develops with the Thai people.
Many members of SHOM are interested in engaging and supporting charitable endeavours and they do so with great passion! Most have the expertise, the skills and knowledge in different fields. SHOM provides a platform through its charity committee as there is a shared desire to give back to our host country. Over the past two years, there was an increase in the number of fundraising projects that the group successfully organised. The beneficiaries of the last three projects in 2017 were a nonprofit music school, needy public schools and libraries, as well as an organisation helping Thai families who have children with special needs.
In 2018, we staged an even bigger, very successful and truly memorable fundraising event. Entitled “A Fashion Story: Recycle, Reshape and Reuse”, the event’s aim was to “highlight the impact of fashion on the environment and draw attention to the recycling, reshaping and reusing of textiles as a vehicle to ignite and excite new fashion trends”. The broad interest and support was wonderful, and the event received a lot of media attention.
The funds raised were donated to Thai SOS (Scholars of Sustenance), an international charity formed to address global food distribution issues whose simple model is: daily rescue of surplus food and same day redistribution to those in need. We’re already planning for our 2019 charity activities with some exciting ideas floated by the members. Everyone in SHOM was enthusiastic in helping in many special ways in organising each of the above projects. In doing so, close friendships develop amongst members, Ambassadors and with our Thai partners.
This good rapport among SHOM members also transpires through our engagement with the Thai Red Cross and YWCA. Many of us support their annual diplomatic fundraising bazaars and some of us volunteer to serve as members of the diplomatic committees of both organisations.
Over the course of this summer, we bid farewell to a number of Ambassadors and their spouses, and a few more are going to leave their posting in Thailand before the end of the year. As diplomatic posts are rotated, SHOM welcomed a number of new members. After a long summer break and to give the newcomers time to settle in, new and interesting activities such as a workshop on traditional Thai art weaving as well as a visit to the campus of Chulalongkorn University are either now in place or in the pipeline to be held in the next few months. In the meantime, our Book Club and Support Group have also resumed their meetings and SHOM members are enthusiastic in their participation.
When my husband and I complete our assignment in Thailand next year, I will leave with a heavy heart when our farewells have to be said to both our diplomatic and Thai friends, just like when we left other previous postings. In addition to making new friends, the many projects that we accomplished and the support that they provided to the disadvantaged will also strengthen the understanding and links between Thailand and our own countries.