Hearts and wallets opened to poor children worldwideMYMENSHINGH, BANGLADESH
Like many brides-to-be, Shamima Akter had until recently been fretting over getting married. Unlike many brides, Shamima is 9 years old.
Shamima’s situation is not all that rare in the rural areas of Bangladesh, including her village of Mymen-shingh, located 153 kilometers (95 miles) north of the capital of Dhaka, where girls from impoverished families quit studying by their early teens ― as Shamima’s 26-year-old mother did 13 years ago.
Shamima has been freed from a premature marriage thanks to a Korean benefactor, Kang Hi-yang, who visited in early August and promised to help pay for her education until she finishes college. The youngster, a fourth grader, is considered among the top students in her class. “I really want to be a good doctor,” she told Mr. Kang.
Mr. Kang and two other Koreans visited Bangladesh from July 31 to Aug. 5 to give moral support to the 329 children to whom they provide financial help.
As part of an effort spearheaded by the Korean branch of Food for the Hungry International, an international Christian civic organization, every month over 300 Koreans donate 20,000 won ($17) each and send a personalized letter to an equal number of households in Bangladesh. The Korean branch opened in 1989.
Rin-gku Ranidey, a 12-year-old Bangladeshi girl born with a harelip, hugged her Korean patrons and expressed her gratitude to their 2.4 million won in donations for surgery that restored her smile.
Villagers accuse a mother of being morally corrupt when her child is born with a harelip. Upon hearing this sad tale, one patron was moved to make a donation without hesitation. Little Rin-gku, along with her family, is no longer shunned by other villagers.
Shamima, who was born with a congenital heart disorder, has also regained her health, thanks to the benefactors’ help.
Earlier, she couldn’t move around comfortably; she’d lose her breath easily. Her symptoms worsened when large swaths of the low-lying country were submerged by surging river water that left millions homeless and hundreds dead this summer across Bangladesh. With the organization’s help, she could undergo the necessary surgery to improve her health.
After returning home from the heart operation, she cleaned the house without gasping for breath. “We couldn’t even afford a health test, as we have been living hand-to-mouth selling used metal,” said Shamima’s father. “So I can’t thank the Korean patrons enough now that my daughter has had surgery.”
The organization’s Bangladesh branch manager, John Marsden, a 39-year-old Briton, appealed for more support from Koreans, saying that even a little more care would be of great help to Bangladeshis, whose purchasing power is equivalent to $1,900 a year.
Another South Korean patron is Hwang In-su, a director of technology at Samsung Data Systems, who with his wife, Jang Tae-ji, has supported 13 children in nine countries: Ethiopia, Peru, Bolivia, Malaysia, Afghanistan, Nepal, Mozambique, Cambodia and Bangladesh.
On Aug. 2, the couple visited Bangladesh to meet the 10-year-old boy they sponsor, Shubho Bey. After meeting the Korean couple for the first time, Shubho, with a bright smile, told Mr. Hwang that he would become the president of the country in the future.
The boy’s father died in an accident at a construction site in 2001. Shubho’s mother makes paper bags for a living, but that income covers little more than daily necessities. “Though we have different skin color and a different nationality, we are willing to help him out because we think this is a relationship made in heaven,” Mr. Hwang said.
The couple began to support poor children through Korea Food for the Hungry International in July 1995. Since that time, they have gone on to help more children who suffer from poverty, hunger and social isolation.
“It is so unfair and unfortunate for children to reluctantly give up their dreams just because they were born into poor families in underdeveloped countries,” Mr. Hwang said.
Today, the couple has a big international family of their own. They’ve also sponsored a child in their home country. Every month, they happily donate 300,000 won from their earnings to their sponsored children. “We want to sponsor 10 more children by saving more money,” said Mr. Hwang, while looking at Shubho’s happy face.
by Baek Il-hyeon