Dr. Seuss once said: "Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn't come from a store." This Christmas, take time to think about the community.
KUMFA (Korea Unwed Mothers Family Association) lists these numbers on the front of their homepage: the government’s rate of support per month, per child is 1,070,000 won at a family group home facility and in stark contrast, 70,000 won for a single parent (only after proving they fall under the poverty line). In short, if you’re an unwed mother in Korea—not only will you face social stigma, it’s extremely difficult to get help and that’s where KUMFA comes into the picture. Officially launched in 2009, they were originally an online community on a Naver blog (cafe.naver.com/missmammamia.cafe). Today, not only do they provide emotional support for one another—they provide counseling support, education and legal advocacy amongst other programs.
Shannon Heit (Volunteer and international outreach coordinator at KUMFA)
I got involved with KUMFA because as a Korean American adoptee, I learned that at the time I was adopted in the ‘80s, over 80% of children being sent for adoption were the children of unwed moms. Even today, that’s still the case for over 90% of children being sent for adoption. I wanted to support the right of moms to raise their children, regardless of [their] marital status. As a grassroots organization, there is so much work to be done and not enough people to carry it all out. I help coordinate volunteers, translate and interpret. We have a lot of non-Korean supporters who want to get involved, but it’s difficult to only have myself or a couple other volunteers to bridge the language gap and help facilitate involvement. I’ve been involved with the group for over six year now and I’ve been to first birthday parties of kids who are now starting kindergarten. I credit several of the moms (along with my sister and friends) for giving me the courage to find my mom. I've learned that even in the face of social stigma, harsh economic struggles and the disownment of friends and family, a mother's love for and desire to raise her child will trump any expensive toys or fancy education—these kids are truly loved and happy.
Their latest events are updated on their Facebook page (facebook.com/groups/kumfa). A one-time donation can be made to their KB bank account (547801-04-053780). E-mail email@example.com or check out: kumfa.or.kr.
All around the world, homelessness, bullying and suicide rates are serious issues that LGBTQ adolescent groups face, and the same applies here in Korea. As such, DDing Dong has been established as a multipurpose Youth Crisis Support Center for sexual minorities that supports, protects and provides the necessary mental health and physical resources that are so necessary to the survival of LGBTQ Korean youth. It is also working to set up a professional safe house that operates 24 hours a day. In order to do so they rely upon the time, material, food and financial donations from LGBTQ-ers and allies.
Lee In-seop (Office executive and counselor)
In college, I acted as the LGBT community leader. I left it for a while but returned again last summer when I joined DDing Dong. I have to admit that I feared teenagers—feared that they wouldn’t listen. I realized that the important thing is to be honest and have real conversations with them. Now, I help counsel them along with our two other workers. We are on-call 10 hours a day, five days a week via phone in addition to the other activities we do. The hardest part is not having 24-hour safe houses and having to turn away kids who are afraid to go back home. We do our best to refer them to other safe houses, but we can’t always guarantee that they’ll be LGBT-friendly. We have to send them away with that thought. It’s an emotionally tolling job but it’s worth it to see the change we see in the kids. Some of them come to us very depressed, very antisocial and we see the change in them—they brighten up. One of the programs we run is called DDing Dong Restaurant, where we have lunch together on Saturdays. Office workers, lawyers, activities, artists and musicians—people who are gay or lesbian or LGBT-friendly—run the lunches. It’s a way to show them, “Hey, you’re not alone” or “Being gay doesn’t mean you have to live a dark and shunned life” and that there is a happy future awaiting them. I wish I had had that when I was 18—just someone to tell me I didn’t have to be afraid.
You can support DDing Dong by becoming a DDing Dong Chunsa (Angel). To become a monthly donor, visit their website for more information about how to volunteer or donate and how these donations and efforts will be put to good use. (ddingdong.kr)
Korea International Volunteers
When James Kim moved back to Korea, he realized that it was hard to volunteer without making a long-term commitment or being available full time. He started Korea International Volunteers in 2011 with a few others, not realizing how big it would become. The activities that they organize are divided into four parts. The first is helping out at soup kitchens that provide meals for the homeless. The second is visiting an orphanage (twice a month). The third is teaching English to underprivileged children in various locations throughout Seoul and Gyeonggido. The fourth is a Korean conversation session every Tuesday where Koreans come and teach English to non-nationals. Today, it consists of 6,200 participants and while there were more foreigners in the beginning, there are a growing number of Korean volunteers each year.
Tina Marie Rodvong
I came to Korea in 2008 and started volunteering with Korea Volunteers in 2013. Actually, it was my birthday and I thought that a nice way to spend it was to do something for someone else. I was tired of drinking every Friday and being hungover every Saturday. I found that if I had a 10am appointment to volunteer, I wouldn’t go out as much on Friday nights. I’ve been to several programs that Korea Volunteers has, but mostly, I teach at the HOPE Children’s Center in Seongnam. I think that when I went there, I had this great sense of, “Ah, they need me,” and that’s how I ended up going regularly. Even though I live in Anyang and it’s quite far, seeing the kids is worth it. I have this one student, who in the beginning, would refuse to do work. He’d roll on the floor in refusal and after a few months of working with him and showing him some tough love, he called me over and said: “I can read now Tina, come see!” It’s different from my day job teaching because these kids appreciate it in a different way and it’s more fun. Doing this kind of volunteer work, I realized, I really don’t have any problems. One Chuseok at the soup kitchen, Thomas House, we gave out fresh fruit and underwear. And it was like: “Underwear. I never thought about the need for underwear.”
For more information, check out their website at meetup.com/volunteers or their Facebook page at facebook.com/KoreaVolunteers
Empathy for Life
This shelter for larger dogs is located in Janghang-dong, Goyang-si and it opened about two years ago. Under the leadership of Kang Kyung-mi, they rescue and protect larger dogs, which require more knowledge and experience for proper care to be done. Larger dogs and stray dogs that are raised for eating are more vulnerable to danger. It’s extremely important that larger dogs without owners get adequate protection and care. Due to their size, each large dog needs its own cage and expenses for operations, management and medical care are higher compared to smaller dogs. The shelter gets its funding from its members and because it has ties to an American animal rescue organization and foreign volunteers living in Korea, sending dogs for adoption to America or by residents and officers are being actively carried out.
As people’s awareness about animal welfare is spreading, more people are now interested in providing protection to stray dogs as compared to the past. However, the system still has a lot of room for improvement when it comes to larger dogs. So, I was inclined to help out at the shelter for larger dogs, which face more difficulties compared to regular animal shelters. I am now donating and voluntarily working here. This place is literally operated with the love and care of the members and thanks to that, the environment for these animals is relatively good. The dogs receive good care as well. For volunteer work during the winter and at the end of the year, we do different things to keep the place warm for the animals because the shelter is located in an open area (in the northern outskirts of Seoul). We also clean the cages and take the dogs for walks. Large dogs love people and they’re very expressive, so when I communicate with them, I no longer feel the cold. Because people have a lot of appointments and activities at the end of the year, the dogs in the shelter that want to go out and play are left alone. The shelter is also in desperate need of people who can take adopted dogs with them to the U.S. These dogs have gone through hard times, but they are still affectionate with people. It’ll be a nice memory to spend your time with them and to connect with these dogs.
You can look up Empathy for Life (생명공감) on Naver or visit their Facebook page at: facebook.com/groups/empathy.for.life.