Apr 122014

For the past 4 years KKOOM has participated in fundraising opportunities through GlobalGiving. Born of an idea from two World Bank executives GlobalGiving is a grassroots fundraising platform for grassroots nonprofits like KKOOM to raise funds for our causes. You know your money is going to a good cause because GlobalGiving ensures only quality programs are funded through strict oversight.

KKOOM inaugurated its first GlobalGiving campaign by raising over $10,000 and winning first and third in two competitions! It was an exciting time for KKOOM, for our generous supporters, and never would have happened without yours and GlobalGiving’s help.

One of the hallmarks of GlobalGiving is their continuous efforts to increase donor fundraising through their Bonus Days. This upcoming Bonus Day on Wednesday, April 16th is extra special in that a whole 50% of funds donated to KKOOM through GlobalGiving’s campaign will be matched by GlobalGiving and Microsoft. 50% doesn’t happen very often, which is why we are extra excited by this opportunity.

The specific program we are fundraising for is KKOOM’s College Scholarship Fund. KKOOM provides scholarships for achievement-minded young Korean orphan adults. One of the first recipients was able to fulfill his dream of traveling the world and changing peoples’ perceptions of Korean orphans and achievement. Five more this year are recipients of the award. The orphanage staff remark on the level of achievement these young adults have steadied themselves toward. KKOOM would like to further the capacity for more worthy orphans this year to take the steps toward their professional lives. Participate in the upcoming Bonus Day on Wednesday, April 16th and watch how your generous donation affects the lives of orphans.

KKOOM would like to give a special thank you to GlobalGiving and Microsoft for making this all happen!

Also, thanks a million to you, our awesomely supportive donors! Don’t forget to check out our GlobalGiving website for College Scholarship Fund updates and to donate – with matched funds – this Wednesday, April 16th!

One of KKOOM's first College Scholarship Fund recipients before jetting off to travel the world

One of KKOOM’s first College Scholarship Fund recipients before jetting off to travel the world

 Posted by at 6:06 pm
Dec 252013
Merry Christmas from Korean Kids and Orphanage Outreach Mission

Merry Christmas from Korean Kids and Orphanage Outreach Mission

We hope you all have a wonderful day as you celebrate togetherness and love with your families. We also hope that you’ve enjoyed the 12 Days of KKOOM blog series. We look forward to reconnecting with you in 2014!

Here’s a recap of the 12 Days of KKOOM blog posts.
1. Christmas Activities
2. College Scholarship Recipients
3. Sentiment without Action is Irrelevant
4. Who is an Orphan?
5.  Get Involved! Volunteer Reflection
6. What is an Orphanage?
7. Korean Educational System
8. A Line of Children Without End
9. How a Smart Little Girl Inspired Us
11. Gifts for 171 Kids
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

 Posted by at 1:28 pm
Dec 242013
A toddler from Samsungwon gets his presents with the help of his house mom

A toddler from Samsungwon gets his presents with the help of his house mom

On Sunday, December 22, 171 kids from two orphanages in South Korea received Christmas Presents thanks to the generosity of 91 volunteer shoppers and donors. These KKOOM-sponsored gift drives were put together by international expat volunteers who live in Gyeongbuk Province, South Korea. The volunteers used email and Facebook to recruit volunteers and coordinate logistics. All of them have previously volunteered with KKOOM in the orphanages where the gift drives were hosted.

This is the 10th annual gift drive KKOOM volunteers have helped host at Samsungwon, an orphanage in Gumi, and it is the 4th annual drive at Emmanuel Children’s Home in nearby Gimcheon.

At Samsungwon, the afternoon was punctuated with a fried chicken snack for everyone, which was sponsored by KKOOM. The kids submitted their wish lists to KKOOM in advance, so they all got gifts they wanted — which they were happy about. Their gifts ranged from stuffed animals and toys to snack foods and make-up products.

At Emmanuel, the older kids were given spending money (per their request, which was donated by volunteers) and the younger kids got toys and other fun presents. The Emmanuel event was capped off with a greeting from the orphanage’s pastor and group photos. The kids from Emmanuel also wrote thank you notes, which are pictured in the photo gallery below.

Photo Galleries

Samsungwon Christmas Presents 2013-12-22
Emmanuel Children’s Home Gift Drive 2013-12-22
Thank you note from the kids in Daniel House at Emmanuel Children's Home

Thank you note from the kids in Daniel House at Emmanuel Children’s Home

 Posted by at 1:46 pm
Dec 232013

This year, KKOOM was proud to support 4 volunteer groups with funding for volunteer-led projects (VLPs). VLPs are a way for expats in Korea to give back to orphanages in their communities by serving as a conduit for KKOOM funds and projects to reach at-risk kids throughout Korea. To date, KKOOM has hosted VLPs at approximately 20 orphanages and children’s homes throughout Korea.

Here are some highlights from this year’s VLP work.

KKOOM Volunteer-led Project Korean Orphanage

Winning Team from the 2013 Jerusalem Ministry Soccer Camp

Starting in January, we connected with a volunteer in Mokpo to help kids at GyeongAeWon get resources for an English class.

In May, we helped kids from Dream Up Children’s Home in Suwon go on a field trip to Seoul for the first time.

In the summer, we partnered with Jerusalem Ministry to help kids from six children’s homes throughout Seoul attend a multi-day soccer camp. Here’s a highlight video put together by Jerusalem Ministry.

Thank you note from Jerusalem Ministry

Thank you note from Jerusalem Ministry

Finally, this winter, we helped volunteers at Sunrin Orphanage in Pohang host a Christmas party earlier this month. We’ll share a write-up from the volunteers here on our blog in January.

 Posted by at 9:17 pm
Dec 222013
This is the smart little girl I met who helped KKOOM start the preschool program

This is the smart little girl I met 2 years ago who inspired KKOOM to start the preschool program

One of the things we’re most proud of is helping kids in orphanages attend preschool 2 years earlier than they would otherwise be able to go. The Korean government provides a subsidy for orphans to attend preschool starting in the year they turn 4, but most children from ordinary families start going to preschool 2 years earlier. We’ve written elsewhere about this early access to education program.

What I want to write about today is how I learned about this gap. A few years ago, I was living at Samsungwon, the orphanage where we’ve hosted a number of programs, and I noticed an extremely bright little two year old. She had already learned her ABCs and was learning to manage a mouse with her small little hands. She would sit in front of a computer for hours, visiting websites like Yahoo Kids, watching nursery rhyme songs — often in English, curiously enough, by her own choosing.

One day when all of the older girls in her house were away at school, she peeled off half of the keys on the computer keyboard. The reason? She was tired of the song that kept playing on loop on the computer and was trying to make it stop. When the older girls came home, they were pretty upset that the keyboard had been destroyed, but they did have to applaud this little girl’s effort.

Another day, again when the older girls were at school, I walked in to find her face covered in a bright red shiny liquid. Of course I immediately thought it was blood. Rushing over, I found that it was, thankfully, not blood — but rather half a tube of an older girl’s red tint lip gloss. Evidently this little girl thought she would play a little dress-up by herself. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 9:10 pm
Dec 212013

As I mentioned a few days ago in an earlier post, I first went back to Korea in 2004. What follows is an essay I wrote in 2005, approximately 10 months after I first arrived back in Korea. It details my early involvement with the kids at Samsungwon and my own journey, which ultimately led me to start KKOOM. It was originally published in the Fulbright Review, a publication of the Korean-American Educational Commission in Seoul.

A Line of Children Without End, by Aimee J. JACHYM

when i close my eyes
i try to place your face
in the space reserved for
first memory.
but there is nothing
it is that feeling of misplacement.
where are my keys?
where is my spirit?
my love?
my blood?
blood mother
~ “waiting for mom,” a Detroit hospital lobby, June 2004

Thursday, a twenty-five-year-old father brought his 22-month-old son and 3-year-old daughter to Samsungwon in Gumi. This place has nothing to do with electronics or the Fortune 500 giant like one might expect. Rather, Samsungwon [no relation to the Samsung company] home to children who have been abandoned or, as in this case, dropped off. The father explained that, lacking a job, he was unable to care for his children and that the mother, though they had once been married, had long since been out of the picture. He promised to come back for his children when he had a job and a place to live. The caretakers, veteran to these rarely fulfilled vows, assured him that his children would be well cared for.


Hyun-bin, 2005

Today it is Saturday, and Hyun-bin and his nuna (older sister) Yu-bin now have new “homes,” new “mothers,” and new “brothers and sisters.” Their homes are part of the seven-house structure that is Samsungwon. Each house consists of four bedrooms, a common room, and a bathroom. Separated by gender, the children live in mixed-aged houses of twelve to fourteen whereby the older children help look after the younger ones. The children live here until they graduate from high school or college. Each house is headed by a permanent caretaker, whom the children know better and more lovingly as “Mom.”

Hyun-bin and Yu-bin’s seventy-seven new siblings, all their senior, are excited by their arrival. I sense the novelty lies in the fact that the youngest realize someone smaller has come to take the generally undesirable title of “baby” at Samsungwon. It would be erroneous to think that the hierarchical structure of Korean culture eludes the walls of Samsungwon, so here, as in the rest of Korea, the children take pride in the privileges their seniority affords them. Thus, the preschool and elementary school students especially are eager to show their new siblings around and teach them the ropes of everyday life, which, yesterday—one day after their arrival—included introducing them to me and my popular bag, which is always known to contain candy. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 11:07 am
Dec 202013
Kids from a Korean orphanage study English in a KKOOM volunteer class

Kids from a Korean orphanage study English in a KKOOM volunteer class

Many of you are no doubt aware of the rigors of the Korean educational system. Most high school students attend school from early in the morning until 10pm at night, after which they attend private academies for extra tutoring and instruction. Ordinary families spend approximately $1,000 per child per month on educational expenses.

So for children who grow up in orphanages, where the per capita allotment is approximately $3,000 per year for all expenses, you can see how they quickly end up at a disadvantage as a result of their circumstances. Some orphanages barely have adequate spaces for the kids to study. As an example, we recently purchased two desks for the kids in one house. Due to a lack of space in the home, the desks will be shared by 6 kids. Do the math. The orphanages simply do not have the financial resources to send children to after-school academies for additional studies.

Some orphanages have gone so far as to implement policies that direct all of the children to attend vocational and technical high schools, which do not have the night study requirements and prepare students for professional careers directly out of high school. In these cases, the orphanages have found that the kids display higher self-esteem because they tend to be with peers from similar socioeconomic backgrounds (lower income kids tend to attend technical schools in Korea).

Still other kids in orphanages break the mold and hold their own in the competitive “regular schools.” Despite the lack of funding, they study hard, perhaps seeing education as an escape from poverty and institutional life. Their dedication is nothing short of inspiring.

Thanks for reading! Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions at ajachym[at]kkoom[dot]org. ~Aimee

 Posted by at 9:58 pm
Dec 192013

When most of us think of orphanages, we may visualize scenes from “Little Orphan Annie” or pictures of starving children in third world countries. However, orphanages in Korea are neither of these things.

Rather orphanages in Korea would be better described as “children’s homes” or “group homes” for at-risk children. (I wrote about the kids of children who live in these places two days ago.) Most of the 250+ orphanages in Korea sprung up as a result of the displaced, homeless, and parentless children during and just after the Korean War. Many were founded by pastors, because they were the ones who may have had the immediate bandwidth to take in the children (in their churches) in terms of physical space and financial support. So still today, most of the orphanages in Korea are run by Christian families, churches, and institutions (e.g., The Salvation Army).

The Korean government does provide the orphanages with oversight and financial support, but ultimately, they are privately run, often by individual families. This means that an inherent conflict of interest exists when it comes to allocating funds in the orphanages’ annual budgets. A certain percentage of funds go to ensure the financial stability of the family owners, in the same way a family business exists to make a profit. I don’t mean to share this information to make a judgment on the Korean system, but rather I share, because I’ve found in my correspondence with our donors and stakeholders that this is a little understood facet of the Korean orphanage system.

Based on these realities, KKOOM has endeavored to implement policies and procedures that ensure that our funds (your donations) go directly to benefit the children and not to line anyone’s pockets. We do this, primarily, by relying on an external network of international volunteers serving in Korea. We screen these volunteers by requiring applications and reference checks, and then we entrust small amounts of money to the volunteers to carry out a project or make a purchase for the benefit of the children. Our volunteer-led projects are a good example of this process.

The orphanages themselves vary in terms of layout. Some look like apartments. Others actually look like stand alone houses, and still others look like schools. An overwhelming majority of the orphanages I’ve seen are arranged in  ”houses,” where kids live together under the supervision of a house parent or parents. The houses are almost always separated by gender, but sometimes the kids are mixed in age and other times, they’re grouped in age clusters. There appears to be a philosophical difference with respect to raising kids in mixed age houses versus same age cohorts. In the mixed aged houses, Korean hierarchical culture kicks in, and the older children naturally take care of the younger “siblings,” which makes each house seem more like a family. In the houses grouped in age cohorts, I’ve observed that the kids often exude better study habits, based on a uniform schedule being set by the house parent/administration.

The structures themselves are typically small. Below is a video of a walk-through of Samsungwon, one of the orphanages we’ve done a lot of work in. I estimate that the total space is about 500 square feet, and it’s shared by 12 kids and one caretaker. There’s one bathroom, and 3-4 kids share each room, sleeping on the floor. The Korean government has tried to get orphanages to upgrade their facilities to include more private space (individual closets/wardrobes and desks) for each child, but the reality is that space is limited, no matter how the facilities are reconfigured. Because many of these orphanages were established around the time of the Korean orphanage, they were built at a time that land was cheap, and since then, Korea’s rapid industrialization/expansion has now found these facilities in the middle of urban commercial and residential centers with little room to expand.

I hope this post sheds some background on the places where the kids we’re trying to help live. If you have any questions, please leave a comment or feel free to contact me at ajachym[at]kkoom[dot]org. Thanks for reading! ~Aimee, Co-founder and President

 Posted by at 8:44 pm
Dec 182013

Guest blog by KKOOM Volunteer, Joe Normile. Joe spent a week at an orphanage through a KKOOM-led Volunteer Stay at an Orphanage in Summer 2011. This is his reflection.

KKOOM Volunteer Joe Normile with kids give their skit "The 3 Bears"

KKOOM Volunteer Joe Normile with kids give their skit “The 3 Bears”

Honestly, I had no idea what I signed up for. I passed on the chance to take a trip so I could stay at an orphanage with several other volunteers I did not know. The sleeping arrangements were unknown to me and I started to think that maybe my decision to volunteer was in haste, maybe I really wasn’t cutout for this. But, then I arrived. I spent my vacations traveling all around Asia and stopped in Africa before going back to the USA. The most memorable experience of my 3 years abroad are the 7 days I spent at the Emmanuel orphanage.

I was met by the most enjoyable kids I have ever known. Young and old, conversational English to none at all, everyone made every attempt to take care of me and make me feel welcome. Talk about humbling, there were houses of 10+ orphans serving me food, cleaning up after me, making room for me to sleep, just doing everything possible to welcome to their home. We played sports together, went on trips, learned how to make food, went out to restaurants, and I even had the chance to take out the older boys for karaoke. There was nothing uncomfortable at all about the stay. Every night I had an air-conditioned room with a mattress and sheets. The meals were big. I could get away everyday, if I wanted.

The orphanage staff were amazing. Thy  were friendly and so helpful. The volunteers were from all over and from different walks of life.

I’ve seen the pyramids and Angkor Wat, traveled through Japan, seen some of the prettiest beaches in Thailand and Malaysia, the infinity pool in Singapore, and road a bike through Vietnam. Through all of the countries and all of the experiences and stories I have had and made there is one thing that I could only find in one place. Have you ever wondered what it might feel like to be a person’s inspiration? To be someone’s reason to smile? Do you want to know what it’s like to be the excitement and joy for an auditorium full of children or give meaning to someone who might have nothing? Try this.


For information about volunteer opportunities at orphanages in Korea, see our volunteer page here.

 Posted by at 6:42 pm
Dec 172013
JY, age 4 mos, was abandoned on the steps of a hospital a few months ago

JY, age 4 mos, was abandoned on the steps of a hospital a few months ago

No child dreams of growing up in an orphanage. No parent plans for their child to be taken away. Yet, there are tens of thousands of children living in orphanages throughout South Korea, and we know that many of those children “know” who their parents are.

I write “know” in quotes because knowledge is all relative. In many cases, children may have a name written in a file — telling them who their father is — but in reality, they may have never met him. Under current Korean law, most of these children — the ones who have parents listed on a record — are ineligible for adoption, regardless of how long they’ve lived in an orphanage. This is because current Korean law requires that parents affirmatively relinquish their parental rights before children in orphanages can be adopted.

In some cases, children in orphanages actually do maintain relationships with their birth family members. Some visit their families on a monthly or even weekly basis. Others only see them a few times a year, during the major holidays. These children are sometimes in orphanages because their parents are incarcerated or have passed away and the next of kin cannot care for them. Others end up in orphanages because their parents divorce, and neither parent is “able” to raise the child (the default rule is that the fathers get custody in Korea).

Finally, there are still a few “true orphans,” meaning they are literally abandoned — like I was — without a trace of who their family is. JY, pictured above, is one of those children. He was found on the steps of a hospital about two months ago. Doctors estimate that he is about four months old. His house mother at the orphanage where he now lives gave him his name. The police attempted to find his parents — or whoever left him on the steps — but of course, that led nowhere.

So JY is an orphan. He lives in an orphanage, not by choice, but by circumstance. And the reality is, because of the bureaucracy of Korean adoption law (domestic and international) and individual orphanage policies, he will grow up in this orphanage until he is a young adult and enters society as a man.

KKOOM is a US-based organization, so this means we have very little influence over Korean policy and laws. We often find these stories frustrating and heartbreaking — we hate to see the kids as victims of their circumstances, but the reality is, that’s often the case. So what we’ve attempted to do is better the circumstances of kids in orphanages and make life a little better, a little brighter through each project and program we administer.

In sum, it’s likely that there will always be orphans — that is, vulnerable children raised in institutional care. Our goal is to help these kids in tangible ways, by providing the support and resources they need to grow up in a stable and loving environment. We’re grateful to the orphanage caretakers — many of whom have made it their life’s work to be “house parents” and raise groups of kids for, literally, decades. We’re grateful for the support and encouragement you, our readers and donors, have given us to carry on KKOOM’s work. It’s definitely not easy, but it’s certainly worthwhile. Seeing the smile on JY’s face — donned in the new clothes KKOOM purchased for him — is the reward and inspiration we need to continue forging ahead.

~Aimee, KKOOM Co-founder & President

 Posted by at 5:44 pm