On the first night of arriving in Daegu as a newly inducted Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA), my phone vibrated, notifying me of a message from Instagram. Grace Lee, the Executive Director of KKOOM, had reached out to congratulate me on my graduation from Orientation and extended some words of encouragement, from one ETA to another ETA. Continuing to chat, we both realized that she would be in Daegu the next day to visit Aemangwon, a KKOOM-supported children’s home that serves the disabled community. We quickly settled details of when and where to meet, and behold – the next morning (my first official day in Daegu, a completely new place to me), I was off on my first adventure to meet Grace, a KKOOM college scholar, and some other volunteers.
At my first visit, I was able to meet some of the younger students and some of the home’s staff. Together, we played building blocks and other games with some of the children. As it got closer to lunchtime, we assisted the staff with feeding some of the children who needed extra support. We learned more about each student’s quirky personalities and feeding preferences. A few hours soon passed and to end off our volunteering session, we had a group meal (at a delicious 보쌈/bo-ssam restaurant to be exact)!
From then on, I began to have regular visits to Aemangwon. At least once a month, there would be a volunteering session led by Minyeal,1 (민열, a KKOOM college scholar) as our Korean team lead and Aemangwon coordinator, and I, as the Fulbright liaison. Every session, we would have some of the Daegu ETAs join us, as well as other local volunteers and/or KKOOM college scholars. Besides playing with the children, talking with them, and getting to know them as friends, we also helped the staff with feeding and cleaning. As Aemangwon became more accustomed to our visits, we even started to incorporate simple, English lessons to the older students. Right before winter break and the onset of COVID, we were able to slip in a winter and Christmas themed class.
My experience of volunteering at Aemangwon gave me a resurgence of hope, love, and the desire to serve. I was amazed to see the home housing 148 children with a range of physical and mental disabilities (some requiring 24/7 nursing). On top of the specific types of medical care that students needed, many also lacked familial and parental support.
South Korea already has a dearth of teachers and schools that can serve communities of people with disabilities. Though there is a push to open more schools and train more teachers, there is often resistance from local residents of where the school will be built due to misconceptions about the students and its negative effects on “neighborhood image”2.
The staff and house mothers at Aemangwon are part of a community of people that have the training to take care of children and the compassion to give them the support they need. It’s important for KKOOM to maintain the special relationship we have with Aemangwon, not only so we can provide the home extra financial support, but more importantly, so we can show the children how many people around the world love them for who they are and are cheering for their success. Their laughter, smiles, and faces full of joy are priceless – and being able to contribute to their happiness is worth every ounce of effort and energy.
-Sabrina Ku, Board of Directors
Korean Kids and Orphanage Outreach Mission
1Read more about Minyeal & his latest college life update at KKOOM’s blog post here!
2Read more about education for the disabled community: “Disabled children struggle with schooling” (2017); “Korea adds 5 new special schools” (2020)