His life changed, he urges, ‘Give something back’“What’s the use of increasing the gross national product?” asks Go In-gyung, president of the Plan Korea humanitarian organization. “We are still a nation that is ignorant about giving back what we received. We are still far behind.”
Plan Korea is a branch of Child Reach, a worldwide nonprofit group that provides aid to Third World children and nations under the auspices of the United Nations Economic and Social Council. Among 15 countries running Plan organizations, “Korea has the worst results,” says Mr. Go, who is also president of Pagoda Academy.
Founded in London in 1937 to help orphans of the Spanish Civil War, the group set up office in Korea in 1953 as the “Foster Parents’ Association,” helping 25,000 needy Korean children a year. Among the beneficiaries over the years were Korean university professors, a pharmacist and many small business owners.
Seventeen years after the Foster Parents’ Association closed its doors in Korea, the nation finally adopted sponsor nation status in 1996. Since that time, however, Korea has always produced the smallest sponsorship fund in the world, said Plan officials.
“Since I became president of Plan Korea three years ago, I have been diligently persuading those around me to join, and as a result, our membership has increased from 700 to 3,800. Currently, we are helping 4,000 children in 20 countries.”
By comparison, Spain, another beneficiary-turned-sponsor nation with eight million fewer people than Korea, assists more than 30,000 children, according to Plan. “Our numbers are quite embarrassing, actually,” says Mr. Go.
Using his contacts as president of the Korea Association of Foreign Language Academies, Mr. Go enacted the “One Child Aid” campaign at hagwon nationwide. At Pagoda, he enacted a policy wherein 1 percent of all students’ course fees go to Plan Korea.
Mr. Go’s passion for helping poor children emerged from a difficult time in his life, when his only son died in 1996 at age 18. To heal his inner pain, he journeyed to the Himalayas of Nepal. By chance, he witnessed a Nepalese boy die before him.
“There were many impoverished children in the mountains, but I came across a boy who was lying next to a pile of garbage. His eyes looked so much like my dead son’s. The boy seemed like he was just about to take his last breath so I carried him on my back to the nearest town. The next day, I found the boy had become a lifeless corpse.”
Upon his return to Korea, Mr. Go was reborn as a devout Plan sponsor. Shortly after, he adopted a 15-year-old boy in Nepal, and invited 17 students from a Nepali middle school to tour Korea. Mr. Go now sponsors 59 children in Nepal and Vietnam.
Mr. Go wishes more ordinary folks would make an effort to help needy children in other countries. “Some may say, ‘What fun is there in sending so much money abroad to strangers,’ but I find great joy in seeing my adopted children grow up all over the world. It almost takes away the pain of losing my own child.”
He adds, with emphasis: “I ask people to sponsor a child through Plan Korea not only for humanitarian reasons but because it will be effective in enhancing Korea’s image in international society.”
by Namkoong Wook
For more information, call (02) 3444-2216~7 or visit www.plankorea.or.kr.
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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