Show Appreciation for Korea’s Adopted ChildrenMrs. Bertha Holt, who died on July 31 and is now buried in Korea, was known as the Mother of the orphans of the world, because of the Holt International Child Welfare Foundation, which she founded. I thought about the reasons why Mrs. Holt started her adoption work in Korea while reading newspaper articles about her, and also thought about what we need to learn from her precious work.
The establishment of the Korean Foster Care Association is somewhat related to the Holt Foundation. That is because my motivation to get involved in taking care of abandoned children in my home, which began in 1995, was due to the escort services offered by the Holt Foundation. During my studies in the U.S. in the early 1980s, several times I accompanied five or six Korean orphans to the United States, along with another adult, in order to earn free airplane tickets.
I was a poor student then. I did it only for the free airplane ticket without any deep considerations. Once, however, I escorted a 7-year-old boy. Previously I had taken mostly infants, so we did not communicate, and I thought that those children adopted by Americans are somehow lucky to be in America, considering the poor national economic situation.
On that flight, which took about twenty-four hours via Anchorage to Chicago, the boy was excited to meet his new parents and was dreaming about his new life. At one point the boy said that after he grew up he would take care of his poor Korean parents.
But when he first saw his big American parents with their strange blue eyes, he grabbed my right arm tightly and said, ＂Auntie, you raise me, please, you!＂ I still cannot forget his hands gripping my right arm. I can still vividly remember his heart beating on my chest when he was clinging to me for help. I cried and my tears fell on his wet face while he would not let go of me, kicking at anyone who came near him.
After that incident, I stopped escorting Korean orphans abroad. And I promised to myself that I would look after those abandoned children when I reached my forties. Now I have kept my promise.
I started learning about foreign foster care systems, and now I lead a foster care association in Korea where over 150 foster caregivers work hard to take care of other people＇s children in their homes, free of charge. They are breaking the rules and concepts of Koreans who usually say, ＂I will do anything except raise another person＇s child.＂
Through various experiences of raising deserted children since 1995, I have gained very much. I wished to color my life with many different shades and hues. It is a lot more meaningful to wash children‘s dirty clothes, to sew worn out clothing, and to play with kids in muddy water than to put on a lot of make-up and skin care creams and wear beautiful clothes and go show off.
In addition to that feeling, I can think about my son Shawn, an only child who has changed considerably; he used to be selfish, demanding that everybody else live for him. He matured when many younger brothers came to live with him, bringing along their bags of clothes. I was surprised as he learned concession, cooperation, understanding, creativity and reconciliation.
Furthermore, he began to understand other people’s feelings, he learned to gently persuade other children to play the games that he wanted to play, and he learned leadership and team spirit from living with other kids, which could never be learned if he was living on his own as a single child. Then I learned that in western culture, single children almost never become top managers, which makes sense.
A child＇s personality is fully developed by the age of seven or eight. How can a child who does not need to understand others grow up to manage or direct tens, hundreds, or thousands of people in business? How can a politician properly do his or her job of leading and representing several million people without being able to understand others?
In Britain, which has a slightly larger population than Korea, fewer than 7,000 children are adopted annually; parents who wish to adopt a child have to wait several years. The number of children, especially healthy babies, who are available for adoption far exceeds those people wishing to adopt. Local authority social services departments are required by law to provide adoption services either directly or by arrangement with approved voluntary adoption societies. Laws and regulations are not too difficult to follow and civil servants provide a one-stop service to easily facilitate the procedures.
In order to promote the adoption culture in Korea, laws and regulations must change in order to better assist those parents who wish to adopt. More importantly, however, citizens should volunteer. Foreigners who live in Korea are skeptical about change in Korea; they call Korea ＂the country of slogans.” Other foreigners believe that Korea is a paradise of volunteering, because they constantly hear and see the fundraising and love-sharing events on the streets and on TV.
It is time to speak about sharing not just as a slogan without action. You can feel that you become ultimately fulfilled as a human being if you hold the warm hand of an abandoned child in your own. Many different experiences lead to a fulfilling life.
Youngsook Park, President of Korean Foster Care Association
by Park Young-sook