I’m getting ready to run my first half-marathon on May 5, in Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA, where KKOOM’s virtual office is based. I’ll be running for my 13 amazing little sisters from “Peace House” at Samsungwon. That’s the orphanage/children’s home in Gumi, South Korea, where KKOOM was born, and for the past 8 years, I have lived with (whenever I am in Gumi) and watched these 13 girls grow up in the small ~500 square foot apartment-style “Peace House.” With them, I’ve shared laughs and tears, hopes and fears, and one bathroom for all us.
I invite you to honor these 13 Peace House girls as I run for them by making a tax-deductible donation that will benefit KKOOM’s work with them in the future. You can read more about these amazing girls below.
No one dreams of one day living in an orphanage/children’s home, but these girls’ circumstances have forever knit them–and their 365/7/24 live-in-“mom”–together as a forever family. Their courage, tenacity, and humor have carried me through my own personal challenges and struggles, and in them I see firsthand the fruits of KKOOM’s investment in the lives of kids whose pasts have failed them. It’s been an honor to share their house with them, to grow with them, and to call them my little sisters.
As I run each of the 13 miles this Sunday, I’ll pause at each mile marker to think of each of them, one by one. Here’s what I’ll be thinking.
Mile 1 for J.G.H (Age 22). Graduated from high school two years ago and despite my encouragement for her to go to college, went to work in an LG Display factory. This February, announced to her house mom and me that she had saved money on her own and had registered for college classes and would be majoring in music performance beginning in March. KKOOM currently provides her with approx. $500 per semester to help offset her living costs.
Mile 2 for J.E.J (Age 18). Quiet and kind. Always helpful around the house. Will “age out” of Samsungwon next February. Has special needs that will make finding a “regular job” challenging but could do well with the right encouragement. I try to be that encouragement but wonder if I am doing enough. Has one younger sister at Samsungwon and one older sister who lives in Busan.
Mile 3 for K.E.B (Age 17). Unofficial leader of Peace House.” Has a strong sense of responsibility and awareness of others. Displays maturity beyond her years at the same time exhibiting an extremely short-term memory (Me: “E.B. take this food from the cafeteria back to the house.” ::5 minutes pass.:: Me: “Did you get the food?” E.B. “Oh yeah!” Wants to do art therapy in the future.
Mile 4 for P.S.K (Age 17). Social butterfly. Always the first to run out of allowance money (the older kids get about $30 USD per month). Came to Samsungwon about three years ago. Has a biological “aunt” still in the picture, which sometimes creates tension with the other girls who don’t have contact with their birth families. Good at computers.
Mile 5 for K.D.H (Age 17). Probably the nicest girl you’ll ever meet. Loves K-Pop, as do most of them. Overweight, even by American standards, so she struggles with body image issues, which are real in Korea (it’s hard to find clothes above a US size 6). I make a conscious effort to get clothes from the departing expats in Korea that she can wear. She was “showing off” her latest hand-me-down, which was a pair of spring pants. It was good to see the smile those pants brought to her face.
Mile 6 for K.J.H (Age 16). The Peace House “lieutenant.” Not the oldest, but perhaps the wisest. Her two older sisters grew up at Samsungwon as well. One works for a big ramen noodle food company, and one lives in a group home for kids with special needs in the closest major city, Daegu. When I think of these three girls, I am reminded of biology’s Russian-roulette way of dealing out the genes.
Mile 7 for A.S.H (Age 15). My earliest memories of Samsungwon are of A.S.H. When I first arrived, she was just starting first grade. She was always hiding out in some corner with a book, and if you tried to peel her away from it, she would cry and rock convulsively. If you could get her to stop crying, her hugs and smile were enough to get you through tough days. I found out later that she suffers 90% hearing loss in one ear and %50 in the other. She refuses to wear hearing aids. Nonetheless, she is getting above-average grades in the subjects that interest her (Korean and science).
Mile 8 for L.S.Y (Age 15). Back when I couldn’t speak Korean, she would call me “babo” (stupid) over and over again, and hence, one of the first words I learned in Korean was “babo.” She’s still about as tall as she was 8 years ago. She eats and eats and stays the same size. I wish I had that metabolism. Her father and step-mother showed up last year and promised to take her and her brother “home.” They’ve since disappeared. If only these “parents” realized what kind of damage that sort of thing does to a kid.
Mile 9 for J.Y.J (Age 15). Clearly going through puberty. Can we say “mood swings?” Ever shifting from funny and out-of-control to irritable and silent. All I have to do is look back on my own adolescence and think of my poor parents. She loves “Hello Kitty” and is proof that you don’t have to grow out of it after 10. She is small but sticks up for herself. Rumor has it that a girl twice her size tried to pick a fight with her. The outcome? The other girl left crying.
Mile 10 for K.S.H (Age 14). Arrived at Samsungwon just over two years ago and had a tough adjustment period but is now doing great. The older girls sort of gave her the “school of hard knocks” crash course on life in Peace House, but they’ve now fully taken her under their wings and gets to sit with the “popular girls” in the Samsungwon cafeteria.
Mile 11 for C.Y.B (Age 12). I remember the day she and her younger brother arrived at Samsungwon. She was five, and their dad had brought them, saying he couldn’t take care of him by himself (divorced) because he had to work to earn a living. She had this awful boyish bowl cut and didn’t say much. Whenever I look at her, I see so visibly how much time has passed since I first met these girls. Next year she’ll go to middle school.
Mile 12 for K.S.J (Age 7). Just started first grade. You could call her a “tom boy.” No matter how nice her outfit is when she leaves for school, she comes back looking like “Pigpen” from the Peanuts. But she also has a soft side, and I predict she’ll grow out of her affinity for dirt. Her hobbies seem to be eating and napping, so we have those in common.
Mile 13 J.G.E (Age 4). Our baby genius. At barely 2 years old, she peeled half the keys off of a donated laptop computer because she was frustrated that she couldn’t change the children’s videos that were playing on a continuous loop one day. A few months later, a KKOOM donor sent over a used iPad that I loaded up with ABCs apps and educational games. She started spelling out words shortly after that. Recognizing her exceptional intellect and potential, KKOOM supplements her preschool education by sending her to extracurricular classes for English, Korean, science, and Lego block-building.
If you’re inspired by these 13 girls, I hope you’ll consider making a tax-deductible donation in their honor.