Monk provides home, hope to abandoned children

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Monk provides home, hope to abandoned children

UIJEONGBU - It is 2 in the afternoon and the yard in front of Tongilanguk Buddhist Temple here in Gyeonggi province is bustling with children. Ten children are riding their sleighs down a makeshift slope on one side of the yard. A Buddhist priest in his early 50s is busy picking up fallen kids and pushing sleighs that have gotten stuck. He stops to pretend he is wounded by the snowballs that some of the mischievous children have thrown at him. The laughter on the priest's face is as gleeful as the children's as he rides the sleigh down the slope with them.

The monk Jisan, 51, has been a "daddy" for 13 years. The guardian priest of this temple, he takes care of children who have been abandoned by their family. From a 2-month-old baby to a 20-year-old young adult, Jisan takes care of a family of 48 by himself.

His day begins at 4:40 a.m. when he wakes up to check on the kids. After an hour of worship from 5 a.m. to 6 a.m., his day is devoted to looking after the children until he goes to bed at midnight. He changes diapers, picks up the clothes that lie strewn everywhere, feeds the stubborn children and helps solve difficult math problems.

Sometimes he stays up late into the night to give advice on dating and relationships for the middle and high school children. Often there's a child or two who needs to be taken to the hospital in the middle of the night.

Two hundred sponsors send monthly funds, but it still isn't enough to feed the huge family, so he goes out to ask for alms of rice and other goods whenever he can. The leftover food from a nearby high school cafeteria oftentimes becomes the children's meal. A bakery also gives them bread and pastries from the day's leftovers.

Jisan's family started in April 1990. A 1-year-old girl who had been abandoned by her divorced parents was his first child. She is now in the fifth grade, having grown up happily with the monk as her dad. After realizing how many abandoned children there are, Jisan converted the first floor of the 90-square meter, two-story temple building into a children's room and started his life as a Buddhist priest dad.

As the family grew, he built two 130-square-meter temporary buildings to use for the children's bedrooms and dining hall. He says he's had great help from the two elderly women who live at the temple and take care of the meals. In addition, five volunteers consisting of housewives and college students have been teaching the children extracurricular activities such as English, traditional music, art and piano since last March.

Jisan's biggest worry now that winter has arrived is the children's baths. There are no bathing facilities at the temple, so he has to divide the children into three or four groups and take them to the public bathhouse once a week.

"These kids have been hurt before," says the monk. "I am just trying to make sure that they don't get hurt again. I just wish we had adequate facilities for the children to live without any major discomforts."

The Tongilanguk Temple can be reached at 031-876-2235 (Korean service only).

by Juhn Ik-jin

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