By Bill Downey, KKOOM Volunteer & Board Member. Bill has traveled to Korea and his own expense multiple times for the past two years to volunteer with KKOOM and help kids in Korean orphanages have brighter and better futures. In the post below, he shares some of his reflections on the holidays and his early memories as a soldier stationed in Korea in the late 1970s.
I find myself traveling to the Korean peninsula for the second year in a row to spend the holidays in Gumi with kids that for the most part do not have a family holiday tradition to enjoy. For some of the children that have been at the orphanage in Gumi for a long time, KKOOM is their holiday tradition.
Growing up, I was lucky in that no matter how hard a year our family may have had financially, our parents made sure the magic and joy of Christmas was always with us. My sisters and I had gifts and special traditions to enjoy year after year and we knew that our Christmases were special and we cherished them.
Much of my young adult life was spent in the military, and I was often not where I wanted to be for the holidays or any other special occasion you may care to name. I can honestly say that it was the memory of those wonderful childhood Christmases that sustained me, not only through my military career but long into this time and place I call “now.”
I do have a very special memory of my first Christmas in Korea all those many years ago. The children from the local orphanage came to our camp to give us a Christmas show at our recreation center. They did all of the standard Christmas carols, all in English, and performed some small holiday skits and other things that memory does not permit me to recall right now. We provided gifts and refreshments to complete the holiday celebration.
One of their caretakers commented that the children had prepared for months to give us this special show, and I can say that their hard work payed off as they gave us such a wonderful evening. As a young soldier, it took everything I had inside of me to not openly cry over the Christmas gift those children gave to us. Children who had so little for themselves were able to share their love with us and bring holiday cheer to a lot of really lonely soldiers, many away from home for the holidays for the first time.
This memory has come back to me many times over the years, and it came to me the day I left Korea a few years later on a new assignment. As Seoul’s Kimpo airport disappeared under the clouds, I thought about that first Christmas show and I felt that I should have done so much more for those kids. In knowing that, I hoped that one day I would have a chance to do something more for them.
All of those children, like me, have seen many days pass since then. But I never forgot them, and I like to think that it was their goodwill to us that somehow sustained this latent desire to return and fulfill my wish to give something back.
Wherever you are and whoever you are with, I hope you will find special meaning in the holidays past and present. Merry Christmas!
If you’d like to help KKOOM continue to host holiday and other events at orphanages in Korea, you can do so by making a year-end gift of any size by clicking the “donate” button at the top right of your screen. Donations of $35 or more by December 31, 2016 will be acknowledged with a picture and card from a child in whose honor the donation is given. Thank you!