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Provincial Welfare Center Creates `Miracle` for Children

Provincial Welfare Center Creates `Miracle` for Children

Posted November. 07, 2009 08:40,   


“Teacher, what do you think about physically disabled people?”

The head of Hapcheon Hope Center, Lee Chun-seon, got choked up. After crouching down at the center’s corner and leafing through books for 10 months, a 10-year-old boy named Gyu-hyeong finally opened up.

“Gyu-hyeong, a physical disorder is nobody’s fault. Anyone can get sick,” Lee said.

“Teacher, I want to be a teacher for physically disabled students,” the boy said.

Gyu-hyeong’s father is deaf and his mother is paralyzed from the waist down due to injuries suffered in a car accident. His grandmother is more than 70 years old but looks after him and his family.

When Lee first saw the boy in January, Gyu-hyeong looked gloomy. He hardly mingled with others or smiled. When Lee asked “What’s your favorite thing to do?” the boy said, “I want to play the piano” in a feeble voice.

The center is located in the township of Ssangchaek in Hapcheon County, South Gyeongsang Province. Such a small place has neither English-language schools nor piano academies.

At the time, the pastor of Ssangchaek Church, Jeon Jeong-tae, and his wife volunteered to teach Gyu-hyeong piano. Since then, the boy has walked around 40 minutes to learn piano at the church three times a week.

Gyu-hyeong’s talent has shone through his rapid progress in reading music and playing the piano. He can play all the songs in his music textbook.

After summer vacation, however, he stopped visiting the center because his parents or grandmother could not give him the attention he needed. Along with the center’s director Kang Seon-hee, Lee visited Gyu-hyeong’s parents.

His mother, who has stayed at home after being paralyzed at age 20, held Lee’s hand tightly and said, “Please help my son get along with other people.” Her love helped Gyu-hyeong mingle with other children.

Among 20 cities and counties in the province, Hapcheon is ranked 16th in self-reliance. Those aged 65 or older account for 22 percent of the county’s population. Hapcheon also has several families consisting of grandparents and grandchildren and multi-cultural families.

A considerable number of families there face difficulty making ends meet while raising their children.

The center is credited with creating “a miracle” in the county. Sixty-four students from Gahoi Elementary School and Gahoi Junior High School and 17 students from Ssangchaek Elementary School visit the center after school.

Almost all students from the three schools visit the center every day. Though a private study academy is 15 minutes away, everyone has opted to visit the center. At the center, students can learn English from Filipina teachers married to Korean men and living in the county.

The center’s teachers help students with their homework, and teachers from the three schools often visit to share opinions.

Launched in 2003, the center started off as a study room in a small village, which even lacked a nursery, set up by 10 women farmers.

Kang said, “My two sons are in the fifth and sixth grades, respectively. Back in 2003, we couldn’t take care of our children in daytime due to farm work and teach them at night due to fatigue. As a result, we decided to run a study room.”

Each farmer invested 100,000 won (86 U.S. dollars) to rent a small office in the village. Mothers put up wallpaper and fathers made desks and chairs. When the study room was completed, 16 children came.

Children asked their parents to buy fried chicken or pizza, but had to settle for sweet potatoes or corn because of money.

The study room has always suffered from a lack of operating expenses. Lee said, “We’ve done everything except for stealing.”

After hearing that a study room run by a social worker can be registered as a regional children’s center and receive state support, Lee began studying to become a social worker. She farmed by day and took online lectures by night.

Kang shook her head when saying, “When other members enjoyed singing at a karaoke box, Lee studied.”

The center was registered as a regional children’s center in 2007, when Lee received certification in childcare and social work.

This year, the study room has been expanded into the Hapcheon Hope Center with the support of the Samsung Group and the Hope Network for Our Children under the charity organization Community Chest of Korea.

The Hope Network has 12 children’s centers as members in supporting poor children and families through community networks. It seeks to create a safety network for children by preventing families from breaking up, strengthening the childrearing function of families, and connecting families and communities.

Samsung has invested 4.5 billion won (3.9 million dollars) in the network since 2006. The network initially planned to run for just three years but the second phase was launched this year after 1,463 underprivileged children benefited from the program.

Team manager Kim Seon-jeong said, “As the old saying goes, ‘Concerted efforts of a whole village are required to raise a child.’ So sustainable support would not have been possible without the participation of local communities.”