Irish nun recognized for AIDS work in KoreaAn Irish nun who has quietly been working for more than three decades with pregnant women, prostitutes and AIDS sufferers, has been recognized by the government for her selfless service.
Miriam Cousins, who goes by her Korean name Go Myoeong-eun, 63, seemed rather uncomfortable with the applause and camera flashes at the award ceremony earlier this month at the Gwacheon Government Complex in Gyeonggi province.
The event celebrated National Health Day and recognized people who have contributed to improving public health in Korea. After the event, she kept silent and avoided questions from the media.
Ms. Cousins has taken care of ill women for 33 years. She has run a care center for AIDS patients for the past 10 years. But keeping in line with her low profile, the facility is not widely known.
Ms. Cousins came to Korea in 1971 at the age of 30 as a member of the Missionary Sisters of St. Columban.
Being a certified nurse and a midwife, she worked at the St. Columban Hospital in Mokpo, South Jeolla province, as a nurse. She started noticing poor conditions for pregnant women in rural areas.
After many years at the hospital, Ms. Cousins’s interest changed to helping sex workers. In 1988, she opened up a “Samaritan’s house” in Hawolgok-dong in the northern part of Seoul and started helping prostitutes.
One day, Ms. Cousins met one of the prostitutes, an AIDS patient, who was leading a life of desperation. Ms. Cousins has said she thought of the meeting as a message from God.
She took the woman to her apartment and started taking care of her. After her first AIDS patient, more people came to her for help.
In 1997, “Jageunbit Gongdongche,” the first facility for AIDS patients in Korea, was finally established.
“Ms. Cousins not only takes care of the patients when they are alive but also after they pass away,” said Choe Yeong-gil, a manager at the Korean Alliance to Defeat AIDS. “She does all the work, from washing and shrouding dead bodies of the patients to cremating them.”
“It is almost impossible to get infected by the AIDS virus without sexual intercourse. But the public’s unreasonable fear makes it much harder for the patients to live in the country,” said Mr. Choe. “When Ms. Cousins is able to take care of AIDS patients without worrying about society’s prejudice, she will start talking to the media.”
by Lee Chung-Hyeong