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Lawyers Joining Forces to Help Poor Children

Posted July. 17, 2009 07:37,   


"Hee-seon," is a 14-year-old girl who attends middle school in Seoul’s Seongdong district. Along with her Mongolian parents, she has lived in the capital since 2002.

Her father has worked for a logistics company and even worked at construction sites, but just earns around one million won (789 U.S. dollars) per month. His wife had worked at restaurants but had to stop after giving birth to their child in March.

Middle school requires students to pay for school lunches at the end of every month, but Hee-seon cannot afford it. She even tried to avoid her teacher since she had no idea how to explain her difficulty.

Then good fortune stepped in. A lawyer pledged to pay 50,000 won (39 U.S. dollars) per month for the next two years for Hee-seon`s lunch and other school programs.

Hee-seon said she wants to be a fashion model. A few days ago, she sent a letter to the Seoul Bar Association saying, “I might not become a fashion model, but I will study hard to become a good person like you, who helps others.”

Fifty-thousand won is not a prohibitive amount for most households in Korea, but can give hope or despair to low-income families. Along with the bar association and the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, The Dong-A Ilbo launched a campaign to encourage lawyers to pledge 50,000 won for children from low-income families in late February.

In just four months, the number of lawyers in the campaign has surpassed 1,000. The aim is to form one-on-one relationships between lawyers and children from low-income families. As of July 16, 1,002 lawyers supported 1,245 students.

The lawyers will provide 1.49 billion won (1.2 million dollars) in the first two years and also serve as mentors for students.

○ Most successful support program

The bar association since 1999 has run several support programs for students who have to feed their families and children of inmates. The association’s leadership, which saw a reshuffle in February, concluded that the programs were insufficient to change the public’s negative perception of lawyers.

Association chairman Kim Hyun suggested a promise under which all association members will perform pro bono work at least five times per year and donate one percent of their income. Many members agree to follow the suggestion.

The project is in line with The Dong-A Ilbo’s "Hope for 2009" campaign designed to support the underprivileged. The association and Dong-A immediately signed an agreement with the Seoul education office to launch a full-fledged campaign.

The response to the campaign has been explosive. In a month, more than a billion won (700,000 dollars) of financial support was pledged. In two months, around 1,000 relationships were formed.

Association team leader Choi Haeng-nak said, “The Seoul Bar Association has run several support programs to help children over the past decade but only 340 lawyers have participated in them. Given that, the new social contribution program is the most successful.”

○ Support for children from low-income families

When Dong-A initially released an article on the campaign March 9, it introduced a 15-year-old girl. Since then, Kim Yeong-ji of Yulchon Attorneys at Law has supported the girl.

Though the rookie lawyer is busy with her work, she has frequently called or sent text messages to the girl. She has even bought the girl handbooks or relevant devices.

After reading the article, several students applied for the support program but lack of budget is hampering efforts to help them.

The Seoul education office has been in charge of screening and the selection process.

The support program emphasizes children from the bracket right above the lowest income, not those from families getting basic livelihood subsidies whose school meals are being paid by the government.