Readers reach out to girl supporting familyThe world is worth living in, after all. After the May 8 J-Style story “Overnight Grown-up,” the JoongAng Daily received many letters and phone calls from readers seeking to help.
The story described 18-year-old Song Jeong-hee’s life as primary caretaker for her ailing grandfather and her 11-year-old sister. Jeong-hee’s mother died when she was 13, stabbed with a kitchen knife by Jeong-hee’s father, who is now in prison. All the money Jeong-hee has at her disposal is a monthly government subsidy that never exceeds 300,000 won ($250).
Jeong-hee’s family’s difficulties tugged at the heartstrings of Chris Laine, an English teacher from Canada. He sent an e-mail saying “I would like for the young lady to have more than one outfit and perhaps more than one school uniform. My heart is so deeply moved by your story that I simply cannot sit by the wayside and do nothing.” Jeff Mcquoid, a English teacher in Seoul, wrote “It is an amazing show of strength to overcome their problems. To see that they still have hopes and dreams for the future is remarkable.”
Help has arrived in different forms. Mike Woertz, an expatriate in Seoul, was first to extend his hand, asking by e-mail for Jeong-hee’s bank account number. John Cushing, a reader from Seoul, also sent a letter of encouragement asking for the account number, so that he could contribute an anonymous donation. Mun Jae-sik and Yun Sin-ja, a married couple in their 60s living in Ilsan, Gyeonggi province, telephoned for Jeong-hee’s address; they wanted to pay a visit to her house in northern Seoul.
Justin How, a reader from Singapore, wanted to know her street address, saying he’d like to send gifts to Jeong-hee and her little sister.
Along with offers of donations, irate readers also sent letters deploring the absence of appropriate policies for teenagers in such situations. Martin Corman, a Seoul reader, wrote that this tragedy is compounded by the “incompetence of the bureaucracy, which has furthered their heartbreaking situation.” Mr. Corman added, “Korea lacks what many would call a social safety net. If it does, it has holes big enough for a blue whale to slip through as it has left the remnants of this family in a very dreadful situation.”
Not only individuals but groups have extended offers of assistance. Nalini Taneja, a program manager at UNAIDS’s Seoul office, asked for ways the organization can help Jeong-hee’s clan. Choi Gyeong-ja, with the International Women’s Association, described her group’s interest to be of help.
Jeong-hee, who once shied at the thought of opening her life to others, was overcome with gratitude at the generosity offered her. On a recent evening, she said, “Maybe I can send [my sister] Jeong-mi on her school field trip, which looked all too impossible a week ago. I cannot put into words how grateful I am.” Her voice was trembling, just as it was weeks ago, but this time, it seemed to come from happiness.
by Chun Su-jin
Song Jeong-hee’s bank account is under her name at the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation. The number is 073-12-276160.