Women's clubs: goodwill groups

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Women's clubs: goodwill groups

Reaching out and establishing inroads -- that's what these Brits excel at doing

"The British Women's Group is a misnomer," says Lynette Loizou, the president of the group, while enjoying her mid-morning coffee in the lounge of the Seoul Grand Hyatt with Alison Latham, who handles public relations for the group. "All community members who have any connection to the United Kingdom Brits living in Korea, Koreans married to Brits, Brits working in Korea or any nationals who lived in the United Kingdom can be a member. Members bring their husbands and children to our outings; it's an opportunity for husbands to take a back seat and make casual acquaintance with everyone."

Few people understand how to cope with a different culture better than Ms. Loizou and Ms. Latham. Ms. Loizou is married to a Greek, whom she calls a "foreigner." Her cultural crisis starts at home when her husband asks about their 22-year-old son's newly bleached hair: "What will people say back home?"

Ms. Latham says she's lived in Korea long enough to know the country, its people and its customs. She recently helped a Korean friend's daughter find a Korean community in London. "The girl is 26 years old and never lived abroad, not to mention lived alone," Ms. Latham says. "When I heard she was moving to the U.K., I knew how much her family would be concerned."

The two women usually have two or three engagements per day, at which they either meet with officials to arrange their functions or with new members of the group to help them sort out problems. Ms. Latham says that their job is vital to strangers in town. "When you arrive in a strange country, you're lost, especially without the help of the people who know the place very well."

The British women have been providing that kind of practical help in Korea since 1977. At that time a few British women in Seoul began meeting in expat niches, such as the Chosun hotel and the Seoul Club. What began as an occasional, small social gathering became a large, officially recognized organization of about 150 members. The group is now led by 14 committee members, with Enid Humfrey, the wife of the British ambassador, serving as honorary chairwoman. It publishes a monthly newsletter and holds regular meetings for newcomers, parties and charity functions, working closely with the British Chamber of Commerce in Korea.

Everyone at the group is a volunteer and is involved in social causes. They work through donations and corporate sponsorships; all of their earnings go to charities.

Ms. Loizou is an outspoken and ambitious leader. "We are in particular looking into sectors in Korean communities that have been neglected by the Korean government, such as abused women and children," she said. "To find them, we work together with Korean friends."

Recently, the group has been providing aid to troubled Korean children living in an orphanage in northeastern Seoul. Early this month, the group arranged for Sally Oliver, the wife of the mayor of London, to visit the home and make a donation.

Ms. Loizou and Ms. Latham are now busily preparing for their Queen's Birthday Ball, which will be held June 8. The annual event is one of the most important social and charitable functions for Britons in Seoul. The women expect 450 guests to come to the party.

Despite its long history, the group has never had a permanent office. But Ms. Loizou is working on that. The group has rented office space in the downtown Hilton hotel and will move in next month, when it begins linking operations with the American Women's Group.

For more information, contact loizoulyn@hotmail.com or bagend@chollian.net, or visit the Group's official Web site at www.bwgkorea.org.

Lending hands and throwing parties only part of this American organization

By Joe Yong-hee

Staff Writer

With summer about to start, who's thinking about winter?

Eleanor Pojer, the party organizer extraordinaire at the American Women's Club, is who. After all, the club's next Christmas party has to top last year's, and maintain its image as the party of the season.

But if the ball and the club's many other social events coffee mornings, children's programs, trips and tours, new-member orientations, and a monthly magazine are the public face of the American Women's Club, closer to the heart, and often unsung, is its thrift store, Second Hand Rose.

"Second Hand Rose is not well known," the club president, Valerie Briggs, said about the thrift store in Yongsan district. "But it's a very important part of the group." The store's income is donated to Korean charities for orphans and battered women and support groups for military families such as the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and the U.S.O. Last year, the store raised $150,000.

On Tuesday, the Second Hand Rose committee met at the Seoul Club. They discussed scholarships and committee elections, which will be held on Thursday, and also recognized volunteers. One volunteer, Rita Blazczyk, who has been working with Second Hand Rose since 1999, said, "I help out because I see the fruits of my labor."

The effort of Second Hand Rose is in line with the heritage of the club, which was formed in 1965. When it began, the goal was to do more than help American women. The greater goal was to serve the cause of women. The club is part of the Federation of American Women's Clubs Overseas. With 17,000 members, the federation's vision is "international goodwill and the preservation of world peace, to help one another solve problems common to them all and to aid women whose citizenship rights were being ignored or restricted."

The peppy Ms. Briggs, who has worked in sales and marketing, says, "We lobby and make a stance to the government for the plight of women wherever we are."

But for women who are not politically inclined, the group of 300 women is a support network that sponsors events like trips and tours coming up are a shopping spree to Manila, a visit to the Intangible Artisan's Museum near the COEX center, a tea for members' children who are graduating from high school, a newcomer's coffee meeting and a social luncheon. Participants of the club's Hello Friends program travel to rural elementary schools to promote early English education through games, songs and speech interaction.

"I feel good about working with a group that helps others," Ms. Briggs said. She will be starting her second year as president in June, right after the group's new office at the Hilton hotel in Seoul opens. "I'm ecstatic for what may come, and looking forward to a fantastic ball." yonghee@joongang.co.kr

For information, contact Ms. Briggs at 02-396-2751 or ujb@iltc.net.

Other clubs, schedules, contacts

Australian-New Zealander Association

Meetings: Third Tuesday of each month at the Seoul Club. A piano recital at the Australian ambassador's residence will be held Monday.

Contact: Judy Dalziell at 02-796-0943, or anzaseoul01@yahoo.com.

Canadian Women's Club (CWC)

Meetings: The first Friday of every month at a member's home.

Contact: Karen Glover at 02-793-3595 or gloverfamily66@hotmail.com

Club Ibero Americano

Meetings: Second Friday of each month at a member's home.

Contact: Rosina Barriola at 02-534-3944 or rosinarb@kornet.net.

German Club

Meetings: Third Thursday of each month at the Seoul Club, between 9:30 and 10 a.m. A trip to Beijing is scheduled for June.

Contact: Jutta Stapelkamp at 02-797-1387 or deutscherclubseoul@hotmail.com.

Overseas Chinese Women's Club

Meetings: First Thursday of every month at member's home, 10:30 a.m.

Contact: Christine Chang at 02-336-9971 or chiou_meei@hotmail.com.

Seoul Filipino Women's Group

Meetings: Last Sunday of each month at various venues. The group is celebrating its first anniversary on June 9.

Contact: Fe Santiago at 032-529-9575 or sejinkim@hotmail.com.

Seoul International Women's Association (SIWA)

Meetings: Every third Wednesday at the Hilton hotel.

Contact: Tahra Delallo at 02-763-8920 or siwaseoul@hotmail.com.

South African Ladies (SAL)

Meetings: Once a month for a potluck lunch.

Contact: Sandra Kelly at 02-795-8031

Swedish Women's Educational Association (SWEA)

Meetings: At least once a week.

Contact: Veronica Beg at 02-798-2249 or sweaseoul@yahoo.com or www.swea.org.

by Inēs Cho

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