A girl plays a ring toss game
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.
KKOOM President, Aimee Jachym, presides over the Christmas Party closing ceremony.
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.
Each house dressed up one of their own as a Christmas present.
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
Samsungwon kids with their presents