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‘Korea is a blessed country with an able lady President’Interview with Chairperson Amal Lahlou of ASAS

Madam Amal Lahlou (wife of the ambassador of Morocco and chairperson of ASAS*) has a very high opinion of President Park Geun-hye. She said, “The Republic of Korea has a fantastic opportunity to have a lady President and I am proud of her as President.” Then she said, “Women in the world needs more opportunities to serve the people so that more women can learn what it takes for a woman to lead and, in my opinion, when a woman is given a responsibility and an opportunity to serve, she does and gives her best and makes extra effort to prove that a woman can do as well as man if not better.” Mrs. Lahlou made the remarks at a recent interview with The Korea Post as the chairperson of ASAS as well as the wife of the ambassador of Morocco. *(Ambassadors’ Spouses Association in Seoul).

▲President Park Geun-hye (right) offers a toast with the ambassadors and their spouses at the garden of Cheong Wa Dae. Shown in the picture are, from left, Ambassador Sergio Mercuri of Italy, Mrs. Amal Lahlou (spouse of the ambassador of Morocco and chairperson of ASAS), Ambassador Mohamed Chraibi of Morocco, and Ambassador Archbishop Osvaldo Padilla of the Holy See.

Madam Lahlou reminds one of the late First Lady Madam Yook Young-soo (wife of the late President Park Chung-hee) the way she works for ASAS. Madam Yook, whom the Korean people spontaneously called ‘Mother of Korea,’ involved herself in helping needy people, sometimes even at the risk of her life embracing and shaking hands with lepers in a highly contagious stage. Madam Lahlou is very active in hosing charity events such as bazaars with her ASAS members to make donations to various charity organizations to help the needy.
Madam Lahlou appears to be a typical example of Korea’s Hyeonmo Yangcheo (Wise Mother and Good Wife) providing her husband a lot of Naejo (literally, ‘domestic support’). There is a saying common in all parts of the world that ‘behind every successful man there is a woman.’

▲Spouses of the ambassadors pose for the camera at the Embssy of Oman in Seoul: Seated at front row, from left, are: Mrs. Nathalia Timonina (Russia), Shameem Akhter (Bangladesh), Mrs. Raheela Nasrallah Khan (Pakistan), Mrs. Azza Alharthy (Oman), Mrs. Amal Lahlou (Morocco) concurrently chairperson of ASAS, Mrs. Mariko Bessho (Japan). Second row, from left: Mrs. Nehal Selim Hanna (Egypt), Spouse of an Omani diplomat, Mrs. Mah Manesh Taherian (Iran), Christine Jeon Yeon Park (Netherland), Mrs. Zhanna Baigaziyeva ( Kazakhstan), Mrs. Medeleine Wick Reding (Switzerland), Mrs. Pinar Ockal (Turkey), Mrs. Sumedha Wijeratne (Sri Lanka), Mrs. Helen Paterson of (Australia), Mrs. Mme Jiutajiu Selai Kau (Fiji), A lady to be identified. Standing on the left stairs from top to bottom: Mrs. Tazegul Mamedalieva (Turkmenistan), Mrs. Marina Nobre Quinteiro (Portugal), Maria Leonor Roura Seminario (Ecuador), One lady hidden behind Mrs. Taheria (Iran) Standing on the right stairs from top to bottom: Chisanga H M Kapumpa (Zambia), Mrs. Konul Teymurova (Azerbaijan), Mrs. Ndeye Aissatou Faye Ndiaye (Senegal), Mrs. Emna Nafti (Tunisia) and Mrs. Mihaela Fabian (Romania)

Madam Lahlou helps her husband in every way she can so that he can serve his country to the best of his ability and at the same time gave her children good education at home as well as their schools. In this sense, she resembles Madam Shin Saimdang of the Joseon Dynasty, the exemplary model of Hyeonmo Yangcheo as well as an outstanding artist and calligrapher. Madam Lahlou is also an artist painting pictures as a hobby and giving her works to charity although she is a biologist by profession. Details of the interview follow:

▲Photo shows President Park Geun-hye (left) shaking hands with Mrs. Lahlou (center) while her husband, Ambassador Mohamed Chraibi (right), looks on

Question: The President of the Republic of Korea is a lady. What is your view of a lady President?
Answer: The Republic of Korea is a highly blessed country having a lady President. And I am proud of her as a President. Women in the world need more opportunities to serve the country and people so that more women can learn what it takes for a woman to lead. In my opinion, when a woman is given a responsibility and an opportunity to serve, she does and gives her best. The woman leader wants to prove that beyond doubt women are capable of leading. Sometimes men take it as normal to be in leadership.

▲At a Live Flower Arrangement Show at the Ramian Gallery in Seoul on May 6, 2015: Seated in the front row, from left, a Korean exhibition manager, Mrs. NehalSelim Hanna of Egypt (spouse of the Ambassador of Egypt), Chairperson Lee Jong-sook of Seoul Garden Club, Mrs. Helen Paterson (spouse of the ambassador of Australia), Mrs. AmalLahlou (spouse of the ambassador of Morocco), Mrs. ChafikaDerragui (spouse of the ambassador of Algeria). Second row, from left: Korean Language Editor Ms. Yoon Kyung-sook of The Korea Post, Mrs. Ja Hyun Choi-Bontemps (spouse of the ambassador of Belgium), Mrs. AvazehKasrai (spouse of the ambassador of Iraq), Mrs. ZhannaBaigaziyeva (spouse of the ambassador of Kazakhstan), Mrs. Pinar Ockal (spouse of the ambassador of Turkey), Founder-Chairperson ImWha-kong of the Seoul Garden Club, Mrs. ZofiaMajka (spouse of the ambassador of Poland), Mrs. Mariko Bessho (spouse of the ambassador of Japan), Mrs. Park Ha-soon (chairperson of the Hahn Cultural Foundation and Hwajeong Museum), a Korean lady guest and Chairman Lee Kyung-sik of The Korea Post. Rear row, from left: Ambassador William Paterson of Australia, a lady guest, Honorary Consul Kim Young-il of Pakistan, Director James Kim of Ramian Gallery, Mrs. MarijanaLijovic (spouse of the ambassador of Sierra Leone), Mrs. TazegulMamedalieva (spouse of the ambassador of Turkmenistan), Mr. SisselPindsle of (spouse of the ambassador of Norway), Ambassador Koro Bessho of Japan, Mrs. Monika Ascensio (spouse of the ambassador of Guatemala), Mrs. Medeleine Wick Reding (spouse of the ambassador of Switzerland).

The women in leadership positions work extra hard to prove their capability in leadership that has been dominated by men. Women at work always do their best and give their best. Men as leaders take it for granted and work normally but women have to work extra hard.
Women sometimes emerge as better performers than their male counterparts. In case women are given more chances they might do wonders. President Park Geun-hye in my opinion is a very capable leader and has demonstrated that she can do it through her able leadership.

▲Mrs. Amal Lahlou (spouse of the ambassador of Morocco and chairperson of the Ambassadors’ Spouses Association in Seoul), left, speaks with Vice President Mrs. Shin Sook-won of Konyang University who in October 2000 gave an idea to Mrs. Christine Bosworth (wife of the then US Ambassador Stephen Bosworth) about publishing an international cookbook named ‘Dinner with Ambassadors’ which has the pictures and recipes of a total of 67 countries of the world with the same number of photos of the ambassadors and their spouses each with three pages of pictures and descriptions on how to cook the unique traditional foods of each country. Mrs. Lahlou and VP Shin met at Kim’s Eye Hospital to which The Korea Post organized a tour for the ambassadors and their spouses on Sept. 18, 2015 (more stories and photos in the September 2015 issue of The Korea Post).

Q: What are the main activities of ASAS?
A: ASAS is involved in many charity events such as SIWA (Seoul International Women’s Association) Bazaar, MOFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)Bazaar, Red Cross Bazaar, and also take part in various cultural activities such as Hi Seoul Festival. ASAS is well represented by 16 spouses from Asia, 21 from Europe, 10 from Africa and 6 from Latin America.
When I came to Korea in 2009 I attended the last Parade of Nations event. I remember that ASAS raised 80 million won and gave them to many charity institutions.
This year ASAS participated in ‘Planting Love’ Bazaar, MOFA Bazaar and we have made a donation to the Red Cross to help the earthquake victims in Nepal. The total of our contribution for the last six months has reached almost 24 million won and we plan to support the Red Cross charity event on Oct. 13, 2015 which will take place at COEX and also the SIWA Bazaar at Lotte Hotel on Nov. 9.

▲Mrs. Lahlou at her residence in Seongbuk-dong, Seoul

Yes, of course, the spouses of the ambassadors wish to attend some interesting tour on behalf of the ambassadors to contribute to thepromotion, understanding, and the friendship between Korea and our countries.
The purpose is to know each other better, support each other and learn as much as we can from each other. We hope to visit many other places and learn much more about Korea.
Besides charity we have many activities that enable us to know more about Korea. We hope to be more active in promoting cultural and other programs that enable the spouses of the ambassadors to come together and interact with Korean people and promote bonds of friendship.

▲Mrs. Lahlou (right) interviewed by Publisher-Chairman Lee Kyung-sik of The Korea Post

In this regard, we thank The Korea Post for organizing and planning tours for diplomats that give us opportunities to learn much.
I believe that the woman in general supports in many ways her husband. For us spouses of the diplomats, we have to travel very often and we have to support our husbands in the promotion of our countries and at the same time we have our private life and we have to look after our children.
It’s not easy but we say that behind any successful man there is a woman.

Q: How long have you been in Korean and what is your relationship with the people of Korea. What memories do you have about Korea?
Good or bad.
A: I have been in Korea for almost seven years and through those years I have developed wonderful relationship with many people in Korea. I am a member of the Seoul Garden Club as well as chairperson of ASAS and through these groups I have been enjoying my stay in Korea. I have interacted with many Koreans including important ladies in your country. I am pleased to say that I love Korea and its wonderful people whoare known for their generosity and their sense of hospitality.

▲Mrs. Lahlou (left) explains to Publisher Lee about her works, some of which are the live flower arrangement works done by her with other members of the Seoul Garden Club founded by famed traditional Korean Florist Mrs. Im Wha-kong. Many of the works of Mrs. Lahlou were done with acryl.

I don’t have any bad memory living in Korea.

Q: what countries have you served before coming to Korea?
A: My Husband is a diplomat and as a wife of a diplomat we had the chance to serve in Kenya, Switzerland and Yugoslavia. In general we have served in Africa, Europe and our first tour of duty to Asia is in Korea. We are privileged to be in this beautiful country and to see the tremendous economic and social development achieved in few decades.

Q: What is one of your best moments in Korea?
A: My best moment was when we collected finances and donated the money in support of single mothers. It gives me great joy to put a smile on someone’s face. I was happy to see them get the help and assistance they needed.

Q: What is your favorite Korea food?
A: I like Korean food, but more precisely, I like Bibimbap and Kimchi. We have similar foods in Morocco such as Couscous for Bibimbap and Preserved Lemon for Kimchi.

▲The Chellah Gate in Rabat, Morocco, painted by Mrs. Lahlou

Q: What are the representative Moroccan foods?
A: Morocco is very famous for its cuisine. We have diversified cuisines depending on the regions. But the main famous dishes are Coucous, tangines, mechoui and pastilla. Since Morocco is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, the country is rich in fish and seafood. Beef is not plentiful, so meals are usually built around lamb or poultry as well as fish.

Q: What are your future plans?
A: - Visit by ASAS members to Asan International Clinic on October 12.
- Participation in Red Cross Bazaar at COEX on October 13.
- Participation in SIWA Bazaar at Lotte Hotel on November 9.
More outings by The Korea Post would be highly appreciated.

Q: What are the similarities between the Korean people and the Moroccan people?
A: Korean people and Moroccan people share some common values like, respect for the elders, family solidarity, generosity, hospitality, friendliness…
In clothing field, the Korean people have Hanbok as special dress for special occasions. In Morocco, we have something similar called Caftan for ladies and Djellaba for men. Like in Korea, they are usually worn on festive or official occasions.

▲Mrs. Lalhou with daughter, Loubna (left)

Q: Please introduce yourself.
A: I was born in Morocco (Rabat), and graduated from the University of Science of Rabat with a major in Biology. I have three children: two sons, Anass who is 30 years old, Omar 27 years old, and a daughter, Loubna, 24 years old.
As a diplomat family, we have lived in Switzerland, Yugoslavia and Kenya before coming to Korea in 2009.
My hobby is painting. I am a member of the Seoul Garden Club, the Gourmet Group and the Red Cross (Wednesday volunteer service) as well aschairperson of ASAS.

Q: Have you won any honors?
A: I have given four lectures at Sookmyung Women’s University in Seoul and I received a Certificate of Honor in 2013. I participated in theEmbassies Day event organized by World Master Committee where I exhibited my paintings and received another Certificate of Honor inNovember 2014. I have had two painting exhibitions in Seoul one of them at the Samsung Raemian Gallery.

▲A panoramic view of the beautifully attended garden

About the late First Lady Madam Yook Young-soo:
Korean people have a frequently used expression, Naejo, literally ‘domestic assistance’ but meaning ‘helping one’s husband.’ A typical exampleof Naejo is the devoted care by the late First Lady Madam Yook Young-soo for her husband, the late President Park Chung-hee, who is the fatherof the incumbent President, Madam Park Geun-hye.
How did Madam Yook look after her husband who was rated by some as a dictatorial President? She performed the role of an opposition leaderinside the Presidential Office of Cheong Wa Dae, which is known to have substantially counter-balanced any adverse effect that her husband might have incurred due to his repressive policies.
Even today, some people criticize President Park Chung-hee, but there is practically no one in Korea who has any negative view of the late First Lady, Madam Yook. She used to be called Gungmo, ‘Mother of the Nation.’
Naejo is not limited to taking proper care of one’s husband. It also refers to the conduct of a good mother and in this case a good example is Madam Shin Saimdang whom you find on the 50,000 Won Korean banknote. She was not only an exemplary wife but also a good mother who raised all her seven children to become important persons in society after the passage of her husband, one of whom is the famed Joseon Dynasty scholar, Yi Yul-gok, who is also on the Korean banknote.

▲Mrs. Lahlou (left) shows ‘Moroccan Kimchi’ made with lemons preserved in salt water. Koreans would call it Lemon Kimchi as they have Oiji (cucumber kimchi), Jjanji (radish kimchi) where only salt is used.

About Madam Shin Saimdang of the Joseon Dynasty:
Shin Saimdang (October 29, 1504-May 17, 1551) was a Korean artist, writer, calligrapher, noted poet, and the mother of the Korean Confucian scholar Yulgok. Often held up as a model of Confucian ideals, her respectful nickname was Eojin Eomeoni (‘Wise Mother’). Her real name was Inseon. Her pennames were Saimdang, Inimdang and Imsajae.
Shin Saimdang was born and raised in Gangneung at the home of her maternal grandparents. Her father, Shin Myeonggwa was a government official but did not actively join politics. Her mother was Lady Yi, the daughter of Yi Saon. Shin had four younger sisters. Her maternal grandfather taught his granddaughter as he would have a grandson, and being raised in that atmosphere, Shin Saimdang received an education that was not common in that period. Besides literature and poetry, she was adept at calligraphy, embroidery and painting.

▲Delicious traditional cookies of Morocco personally prepared by Mrs. Amal Lahlou, which are from left: Almond briouat, Coconut cookies, Almond ghoriba, Feqqas and Almonds cookies.

As she was raised in a son-less household, she spent much time at her parents' house even after her marriage to Commander Yi Wonsu at the age of 19, with her husband's consent. She accompanied her husband to his official posts in Seoul and rural towns, gave birth to Yi I in Gangneung, but suddenly died after moving to the Pyongan region at the age of 48.
Saimdang was able to cultivate her talents thanks to an unconventional household and understanding husband, in a rigid Confucian society.
Having had no brothers, she received an education that would have only been bequeathed to a son, and this background greatly influenced theway she educated her children.

이경식 기자  edt@koreapost.com

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