Watch one of the kids you’ve helped support wish you a Happy New Year! Thanks for all you’ve done to support the kids in Korea through KKOOM in 2014. We look forward to a wonderful 2015.
12. December, 25, 2014. Merry Christmas!
2014 KKOOM Samsungwon Christmas Highlights
Whether you’re a regular KKOOM supporter or you’ve stumbled upon this blog for the first time, thank you for joining us here. Every dollar donated, every Facebook “like,” and every “share” is a new opportunity for us to spread the word about the good work being done in orphanages and children’s homes in South Korea. And in a way, that’s the meaning of this holiday season — spreading love, sharing the good things in life with others, and helping to make the world a little better than it was yesterday. To the hundreds of you who have helped us do that, in ways big and small this year, thank you so much!
We hope you’ve enjoyed our 2014 12 Days of KKOOM blog series. Here’s a recap in case you missed any.
1. First Impressions, part 1
2. First Impressions, part 2
3. Joy for Kids
4. Commitment: A Volunteer’s Perspective
5. Jerusalem Ministry’s Camps
6. A Korean adoptee visits with KKOOM
7. Growing Up in a Korean Orphanage
8. English Teacher Meets Her Students at Samsungwon
9. Annual KKOOM Christmas Party
10. A House Mom’s Note of Thanks
11. Access to Preschool
12. Merry Christmas!
If you’ve liked this, please use the “share” links below to let your family and friends know. As always, feel free to connect with me at ajachym[at]kkoom[dot]org. I’d love to hear from you! ~ Aimee, KKOOM Co-founder and President
11. Wednesday, December 24, 2014 – Access to Preschool
Those of you with little ones in your lives know how much joy they bring, especially this holiday season. KKOOM’s tiniest angels are no exception, so we wanted to give you an update of how they’re doing in preschool.
Many of you know that we’ve been able to send Korean orphan toddlers to preschool starting in the year they turn 24 months old, which is when most Korean children begin. The Korean government, however, only pays for toddlers living in orphanage homes to go when they turn 4, which is 2 years later than all of the other kids. Common sense tells us (and our intuition has been verified by our child development expert friends and volumes of unrelated studies) that the earlier children get access to education, the better off they are in the future.
We started this program about 3 years ago, and so far, we’ve been able to send 6 (18-month-old to 3-year-old) toddlers to preschool. Through a partnership with a local Gumi preschool, we’re able to get a 50% discounted tuition rate, and it costs us about $200 per month per child for all-day preschool (8:30 am – 3:30 pm). The children attend year-round.
One of first 6 children is starting 1st grade next year in March, when the Korean school year begins. He’s already shown early signs of learning disabilities, so he’s also been able to receive extra help learning to read and write his alphabet. We’d like to think that, by helping go to preschool earlier than he would’ve otherwise been able to, some of his learning challenges may have been detected early as well.
Right now, there are two children in Gumi, South Korea attending preschool with KKOOM’s support. Jisu and Suzy are both doing very well in their respective classes. Jisu, however, doesn’t really like strangers. Recently, he asked his house mom to call the preschool and ask Santa not to come the next day! Santa was due to make an appearance to pass out presents. When asked if he didn’t want to receive a present then, he said, “Yes, I don’t want a present. Just don’t let Santa come!” Suzy, on the other hand, is outgoing and likes interacting with others. She even let an international volunteer paint her face at the Christmas party last Saturday!
KKOOM also supports one toddler living in a special needs orphanage home in Daegu, South Korea and helps him receive special therapy. Minho was born with renal dysplasia (small kidneys) and has experienced stunted development. For 2.5 years, Minho lived at Samsungwon in Gumi and then was transferred to the home in Daegu earlier this year, because the Daegu facility is better equipped to support his special needs. KKOOM’s financial aid helps Minho receive one-on-one sessions with occupational and educational therapists to help him on his way.
Next year, Jinyoung, now 16 months old, will start preschool in Gumi in March. He’s an active little guy, and when the preschool van comes to pick up his older brothers and sisters every day, he goes out to watch. Sometimes he tries to climb in with everyone else. Soon it will be his turn too.
10. Tuesday, December 23, 2014 – A House Mom’s Note of Thanks
This August, the children at Samsungwon had the opportunity to visit California Beach, a large water park in South Korea with KKOOM’s support, which covered admission, transportation, and food for 77 children, staff, and 5 ex-Samsungwon young adults who served as chaperones. On this first full day of winter, it’s fitting to reflect on all of the fun we had as we look forward to another trip in 2015.
This reflection was written by Ms. Noh, one of the house mothers who has worked and lived at Samsungwon for over 30 years. We have translated and edited it to improve readability, but the original Korean text follows at the end.
Dear KKOOM Supporters!
First of all, thank you for sharing with our Samsungwon children dreams and love through your efforts.
The financial support you’ve given our colleges students has been a huge help, and we’re enjoying the furniture you’ve provided us as well.
Additionally, we are thankful for your sending us to California Beach in Gyeongju, South Korea on August 11, 2014. Last year was our first time going, and we had a hard time even finding the cafeteria then. This year, however, we all knew where we were going, and the kids had a good time going where they wanted and playing happily.
The preschool and elementary school children played in the shallow wave pool and rode the slides. The older kids had fun on the really high slides, river boat roller coaster, and ocean wave tube ride.
Through this experience, I observed how our children could learn how to react in new situations. This whole day was an experience that we would have never been able to give the kids without KKOOM’s support. So I want to express my gratitude one more time. Because of KKOOM, our children have been richly blessed.
I hope that you would also be blessed. Thank you.
9. Monday, December 22, 2014 – Annual KKOOM Christmas Party
On Saturday, December 20th, we had our annual KKOOM Christmas Party at Samsungwon, the orphanage (or children’s home, as we often call it) in Gumi, South Korea. If you have been reading the previous blog posts, you know that we do various kinds of work at Samsungwon, but the annual highlight for many of the kids is the Christmas party. One of the elementary school girls posted on her social media profile, “Can’t wait for Saturday at 3:00 pm! It’s going to be so fun!”
This year, several new children arrived at Samsungwon. Some came because a parent passed away; some because a parent abused them; some for entirely different reasons. In any event, these children, especially, were in need of better, positive memories to wrap up this 2014.
I can’t say that a Christmas party will take away the hurt and dry away the tears, but I can say — because I’ve seen it with my own eyes and felt them well up with gratitude — that this annual event is more than just a happy, temporary distraction. It’s something the kids look forward to, anxiously awaiting, as if the party was, itself, the arrival of Santa Claus (Santa does come to the party, by the way).
Last year, actually, we had a quieter, less elaborate Christmas event with the kids. We were somewhat lacking volunteers and time, so we just organized a gift drive and brought the kids their presents and some fried chicken. To us, it was still a good day, and the kids really did enjoy getting their presents. But one of the high school boys, who I’ve known since he was 6, called our quieter version “a sad party.” More than disappointed, I was surprised to hear that. I always thought the older the kids got, the less and less they enjoyed the somewhat childish games and activities we had them do, like pin the tail on the reindeer and singing English Christmas carols.
In any event, this year, even though our volunteer base has changed a lot over the years in Gumi, we endeavored NOT to have “a sad party” and, rather, to have a real full-blown day of fun like years past. Some of our 12 Days of KKOOM guest bloggers were instrumental in putting together this years’ event. Anna Orr organized the gift drive, taking care of receiving gifts purchased by volunteers and donors throughout South Korea and around the world. Marissa Segura (Anthony’s wife) handled the party activity logistics, creating from scratch games like “reindeer ring toss” and “pin the nose on Olaf the Snowman” and planning arts and crafts activities and snacks for the 70 kids and 12 volunteers. Without them, the event would have been impossible.
The party began with activity stations in the afternoon. The kids traveled from station to station in their houses (designated family units), spending 20 minutes at each stop, enjoying games, winning prizes, getting their faces printed, eating snacks, and doing arts and crafts. It’s always heart-warming to see the older kids take care of their younger house brothers and sisters, letting them win at games on purpose, and helping them complete challenging tasks, such as writing Christmas cards.
After a couple of hours of activities, we all had dinner together. With KKOOM support, because of readers like you, we purchased ingredients for a special meal, which consisted of carbonara spaghetti, salad, sandwiches, fruit, and rice wraps stuffed with beef and vegetables. And of course, there were ice cream sundaes for dessert, which the staff told me I had institutionalized as an annual tradition (true, I suppose) and which they were unwilling to give up. The Samsungwon staff spent all day, literally, preparing for dinner. To give them time to do this, KKOOM also bought the kids a special treat for lunch: hamburgers and fries. As they should, the Samsungwon staff doesn’t think fast food is very healthy for the kids, so the kids don’t get to eat it very often. They were pretty excited.
After dinner, the kids completed their last activity with their housemates. They had to dress up one fellow child as a Christmas present, using foil, a roll of wrapping paper, and any recycled materials they could find. The end results are best described with a picture (as you can see).
A little after 7:00pm, everyone gathered, and we had a closing ceremony. The kids showed off their Christmas present costumes, and judges gave each house a score based on creativity, following directions, and overall concept. We awarded prizes — the favorite, and first place, prize was cup ramen. If you’ve eaten Korean ramen, then perhaps you understand… Korean kids love ramen noodles. Anyway, the children also performed some dances for the entertainment of the volunteers and their fellow house members.
Finally, everyone’s long awaited moment arrived and the children received their presents. They were asked about a month ago what they’d like for Christmas, and each wish list was given to a shopper. Shoppers used their own money or money donated to KKOOM from others to go fulfill the child’s wish list. The presents were wrapped in colorful gift bags, and as we called up each child one-by-one, it was a joy to see their faces change from expectation to elation–at least I think that’s what the beaming smiles meant.
As KKOOM’s co-founder and president, of course I’m biased, but what confirms this for me are the kids who posted pictures of what they received on social media, showing off their new stuff and bragging to their non-orphanage friends. The girls in my house, where I stay when I visit Samsungwon, were so full of energy that they wouldn’t go to sleep at night. I, however, was exhausted, so I fell asleep to the sounds of their giggles and spirited conversation.
The next morning, I was moved by one of the house mom’s comments. Two of her boys arrived to Samsungwon earlier this year: unrelated, but they’re both in elementary school and both from broken homes. She said yesterday (at the party) was the first time, since they arrived months ago, that she’s seen them laugh with joy, the first time she’s seen how beautiful their smiles are.
That really reminded me why we do this work. Yes, education is important, and KKOOM endeavors to do a lot of good sending kids to preschool, helping kids learn English, and supporting them through college. But what I’m reminded of this season is, that fleeting things, like a day of Christmas activities, are where memories are made, where a year of bad things for some of these kids, for a moment, turn into a smile, a hug, or a hope–and these are the fundamental rights of every child.
For me, it’s a joy, pleasure, and honor to continue to serve as KKOOM’s president and help facilitate this important work. But you, our supporters, and the ones who make it truly possible. Thank you. ~ Aimee Jachym
8. Sunday, December 21, 2014 – English teacher meets her students at Samsungwon
Today’s post is by Anna Orr, who lives in Gumi, South Korea, and hails from Illinois, USA. She shares how she started volunteering at Samsungwon, an orphanage in Gumi, and what drew her back from regular visits — her former students!
I got involved with Samsungwon two years ago, when I signed up to help out at the 2012 Christmas party, but I’ve known a lot of the children there for much longer. Way back in 2009, when I first arrived in South Korea, I was placed at the Gumi elementary school that most of the Samsungwon children attend. Although my Korean coworkers would occasionally mention that some of my eight-hundred-plus students lived in an orphanage, I didn’t really know who any of them were.
By the time I saw the Facebook post asking for Samsungwon Christmas party volunteers, I had already transferred to a different school. I was aware that this was where some of my old elementary school students lived, though, and so the closer the day of the Christmas party got, the more I found myself second-guessing my decision to volunteer. What if my being there made the students feel awkward or embarrassed? What if I didn’t recognize them and upset them?
In the end I decided to go anyway, and as it turned out I shouldn’t have worried. Throughout the day, all I heard was surprised children yelling “Anna Teacher!” My old students were fine with me being there and were happy to see me – and to my relief, I recognized and remembered every single one of them.
For the past two years, I’ve become a regular volunteer at Samsungwon, visiting on Sundays and organizing two Christmas gift drives. I’ve watched my old students grow from elementary schoolers to young adults in middle school and high school. Despite the fact that they’re teenagers and like all teenagers everywhere have better things to do than sit and talk to adults,
they still run up to me and chat with me in a mix of English, Korean, and improvised sign language. I’ve heard fretting about English tests, questions about grammar, wardrobe critiques, makeup advice, endless jokes about whether or not I have a boyfriend, anxiety about applying for jobs or college, and recaps of quarrels with friends. I’ve had my nails done. I’ve even heard lectures about soccer rules and how I’m not following them.
Yesterday was the 2014 Christmas party. Rather than turning up a little worried and not sure what to expect, I walked in juggling an armful of gifts and shopping lists while some of the younger children trailed after me and tried to peek inside the packages. Over the course of the day I must have seen at least a dozen old students taking pictures, playing games, opening presents, and herding the little children to different activities. I still heard plenty of “Anna Teacher!”, but none of them were surprised to see me there this time.
If you had told me in 2009 that five years later I would be wearing a Santa hat and taking selfies with some of my old students – as they prepare to go to college, no less – I’m not sure I would have believed you. The fact that I have the chance to do things like that, and that I’ve become a small part of the older Samsungwon children’s lives, has been the best part of volunteering here.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post about the Christmas party at Samsungwon…
7. Saturday, December 20, 2014 – Growing up in a Korean orphanage.
People often ask us, “What happens to the children in Korean orphanages after they grow up?” “Are they able to find jobs?” “Can they get married?”
Just like it’s impossible to predict the average child’s outcome at birth, it’s difficult, at best, to characterize the thousands of children living in Korea’s orphanages today. Each situation is unique, and yet, people are often surprised when they hear us talk about the very successful young adults, who have grown up in Korean orphanages, and whom we’ve had the opportunity to meet and help.
We can’t take any credit for their success; these are very motivated and talented individuals who have risen above their troubled beginnings, often without a lot of support or resources. We all love these stories, and we need more of them.
We’re honored to share Hyedong’s first person reflection on growing up in a Korean orphanage and who he’s become. We need more Hyedongs in this world.
Hello. I’m Hyedong (Alex). I am currently working in the overseas sales department of LSIS (formerly part of the giant Korean company, LG). It’s been already 2 years since I joined this company.
Actually, I majored in electrical engineering, but one reason why I could apply for a position in the overseas sales division was because of your (KKOOM) sincere support and love. I met Aimee, who is the co-founder of this organization, many years ago when I was living in Samsungwon (orphanage in Gumi).
I’m now about 26 years old (international age) and lived at Samsungwon until I graduated from university. I still remember that I was very shy in speaking English with native speakers who volunteered to help me, through Aimee’s introduction. At that time [around 2005], I had just entered university. If I didn’t get that lucky opportunity, I couldn’t even imagine that I would work now with many non-Koreans, even though I still struggle with English.
Let me tell you my short life story begining with my childhood. I got to Samsungwon with my two older brothers when I was 4. I think I was a pretty naughty boy and made the orphanage a mess every day. When I was young, I complained a lot about my circumstances, especially when I had to tell my family situation to others.
I also didn’t really appreciate being loved and given many things such as scholarships, gifts, free private Academy lessons, and tutoring from volunteers, etc. I wasn’t a big fan of studying, but as I knew many people around me had been praying and supporting me continuously, I couldn’t really give up studying as my role and responsibility as a student.
Anyway, I had good grades at university, but I don’t think I achieved it only by myself. I think it was a part of God’s plan. I believe God led me this way, and he tells me that I need to return the favor and love in my lifetime.
I do have a dream to definitely accomplish, which is build a scholarship foundation so that I can at least share the many benefits that I received. I sometimes forget this huge favor and pretend that I got here only with my talent and ability. Yet, I know how ridiculous and silly I am.
I think I got off track, but what I really want to tell you is: thank you very much. Thank you for everything that you have given to us.
I’m going to get married to my beautiful fiancee next year on February 28th. I can’t wait for it to come. LOL. I hope all of my younger brothers, sisters and friends who I met at Samsungwon will have a loving family in the near future, as I’m looking forward to starting.
In the end, I appreciate that you read my story. Thank you.
Note: We edited Hyedong’s post with his permission to improve the ease of reading for our English language audience. However, these are his own personal thoughts and views, which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of KKOOM.
6. December 19, 2014 ~ A Korean adoptee visits with KKOOM
Kara Waggonner is a Korean American adoptee who grew up in Michigan, USA. She’s currently teaching English at a women’s university in Seoul. She recently had the opportunity to visit two of the orphanage homes KKOOM works in. These are her thoughts on her experience.
I met Aimee (KKOOM President) back in 2004 during her senior year of college through a mutual friend. I was immediately struck by how much she showed a passion for our homeland, like I did. Within a few years, she started KKOOM and I was eager to help out in any way I could. Being a Korean adoptee myself, I definitely believe in paying it forward.
When I visited Samsungwon and Emmanuel Children’s Home this past November, I was immediately blown away by how kind the staff was and how receptive the kids were–and the other volunteers! Many of the volunteers who were there when I arrived came to Samsungwon every Sunday. What dedication!
I fell in love with two young ladies in particular who took an immediate liking to me. We spent the whole night just talking, taking selfies (and filtering them!), and drawing, along with lots of cuddles. They reminded me of some of the students I taught at a private academy in Korea. These two inquisitive young girls will be my motivation to improve my Korean, because I’d love to be able to communicate with them more.
The next day we went to Emmanuel Children’s Home. Once again we were met by such an incredibly kind staff. Then we met the toddlers. I forgot how much energy it takes to care for one toddler, let alone a roomful of them. It was so much fun playing with them and chasing around after them- I definitely got my exercise for the day! Then came nap time. Oh wow. We would put all of them in their cribs and they would just crawl out! On top of the cribs, under the cribs, behind the cribs, running out of the room! It was frustrating at the time, but what a hilarious sight.
Many thanks to KKOOM for allowing me to volunteer and to the warm staff at Samsungwon and Emmanuel. And of course, thanks to the children at both places. You have inspired me to live life fully, give kindly, and laugh often. I can’t wait to visit all of you again.
5. December 18, 2014 ~ Jerusalem Ministry’s Camps
Again this year, KKOOM had the opportunity to support Jerusalem Ministry’s soccer and arts camps for at-risk children living in Seoul area children’s homes.
The soccer camp was held in early August. Over 50 boys from 9 different children homes across Seoul attended, along with 48 committed volunteers. For three days, they met on the soccer field at Yongsan Army Base. The boys were split into four teams and went through practice/teamwork drills in the morning and then had scrimmages in the afternoon.
More than anything, what the boys really received during the three days was strong love, encouragement, and healthy attention from all the adult volunteers. The volunteers made the atmosphere safe so that the boys, despite being from so many different homes and having such difficult pasts, were able to connect well with each other and have fun. By the end of the camp, some of the boys were fighting tears because it was over. Others were holding tightly to their team pictures, which each boy received to help them remember the camp. Some of the 6th graders said that they want to fail in school this year so that they can take 6th grade over and return again next year (the camp is only for 3rd – 6th graders).
KKOOM’s support helped everyone have fun at a nearby swimming pool the last day of the camp. Some of the boys didn’t have swim suits, so we were happy to be able to provide those as well as admission and snacks for the outing.
We hope you enjoy Jerusalem Ministry’s highlight video!
The 6th Annual Jerusalem Ministry Arts and Crafts Camp was held January 21-23, 2014. They had 34 girls from 6 different children’s homes and 43 volunteers. Two of the homes were first-time participants. KKOOM’s support provided everyone with two meals during the camp. To read more about the very successful camp, check out a volunteer’s blog post over here. Here’s a highlight video.
Jerusalem Ministry is a registered Korean non-profit organization, and it is not affiliated with KKOOM. To learn more about Jerusalem Minsitry, visit their website. The views and opinions expressed by Jerusalem Ministry and their volunteers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of KKOOM.
4. December 17, 2014 ~ Commitment: A volunteer’s perspective
Anthony Segura and his wife moved to South Korea earlier this year to teach English. They are from Fresno, California and were both placed in public elementary schools in Gumi, South Korea, through the Korean government teaching program known as “EPIK.” This is Anthony’s reflection on their time spent with the kids at Samsungwon, an orphanage home in Gumi.
Prior to arriving in South Korea, I had come across a video on YouTube titled, “The Baby Box.” What I witnessed in those ten minutes was heartbreaking; mothers dropping off their babies on the doorstep of an elderly man who took them in as his own. Many, if not most of these young ladies were doing so because they were having the baby out of wedlock, a very frowned upon situation in Korea. These girls would rather give their child to a complete stranger than be shunned by society. That or they didn’t feel competent enough to raise the child themselves. Whatever the case, thousands of children around the nation are being born into orphanages around the country. This video created in me a desire to volunteer at an orphanage upon arriving in Korea.
Half a year later, my wife and I were placed in Gumi, South Korea and quickly began our search for any orphanages in or around the city. It wasn’t long until we found Samsungwon. Ever since, we’ve spent our Sundays playing with and getting to know the children and teenagers who call Samsungwon home.
Over the course of the 11 or so months that we’ve been here, we’ve witnessed a tremendous difference in the way they interact with us. Initially, they were quite standoffish. During the first few visits, it was as if we were ghosts. We were lucky if we were even given a glance. Regardless of every attempt to play with them, it was as if a concrete wall stood between us. I began to think of possible reasons why we were being treated like that. It was more than them being shy and us being strange foreigners. I soon came to realize that they probably had seen many foreigners come and go, perhaps they may have started to build relationships with some of them and then all of a sudden that person would vanish. I also realized that foreigners would come to Samsungwon once or twice and then never again. So from the perspective of these kids, they must have been thinking, “Why would I want to get to know someone if my experience says they aren’t going to be around long enough anyway?”
After noticing this, my wife and I decided that we were not going to be that type of foreigner. We would be in Korea for at least a year, and we wanted these kids to know that we would be consistent; we would be people that truly cared for them. It didn’t take too many visits for them to realize that they could count on us being there every other Sunday, like clockwork.
These days, it isn’t uncommon for me and my wife to talk about specific kids from Samsungwon like they are our own. We’ve grown quite attached to these kids; I don’t know how we’re going to leave them come February 2016. Our Sunday visits are ones we greatly cherish; bringing us joy inexpressible. I hope they will forever remember us. I know we will never forget them.