Women’s activist rewarded for workForty single mothers and female victims of domestic and sexual violence have found a home in a five-story building on the road to Mount Bukhan in Pyeongchang-dong, northern Seoul. They now live in the Nazareth Sacred Home, where they undergo vocational training or study for tests for certificates equivalent to high school diplomas.
The manager of this home is Lee In-bok, 68, a Sookmyung Women’s University professor. Ms. Lee has helped underprivileged women since 1980, when she became a professor of Korean literature at the university.
In the beginning she took into her house two women who had been prostitutes. However, Ms. Lee’s place was too small for them to live together, so she used her savings and the retirement funds of her husband, Shim Jae-kee, a former Seoul National University professor, to construct a new building in 2002. She also chipped in her wages as well as profits from her books and fees from her lectures, and even used savings she had set aside for her daughters’ weddings to build the Nazareth Sacred Home. Her daughters and sons-in-law pledged to give up their inheritances for the sake of the home at the couple’s 60th birthday party. Ms. Lee said it was her mother’s influence that made her decide to help underprivileged women.
The Korean War (1950-1953) broke out when Ms. Lee was 11 years old. Her father was abducted to the North and her brothers went missing. She took her sick mother and five younger sisters to live in Bupyeong, Gyeonggi province, near a US Army camp. “We were very poor, but my mother often provided meals for prostitutes near the base,” Ms. Lee said. “I wanted to continue my mother’s spirit of humanism.” Her mother passed away in 1975 at the age of 65.
Ms. Lee and Mr. Shin, 68, graduated from Kkottongnae Hyundo University of Social Welfare in Cheongwon county in North Chungcheong province in 2003; the university classes taught them how to run a welfare facility.
Impressed by her dedication, the South Chungcheong provincial government selected Ms. Lee as the winner of the 5th Yu Gwang-sun award, giving her a trophy and 10 million won ($10,350) in prize money. “Ms. Lee’s life fits the purpose of the Yu Gwan-sun award, which is given to a person who shows a lifetime’s dedication of love and sacrifice to our people,” said Ji Yeong-ae, 55, a women’s affair official at the South Chungcheong provincial office.
“I feel content to see underprivileged women start a new life,” Ms. Lee said. “And I will do my best to help women, be they seniors, children or teenagers, start over.”
by Kim Bang-hyeon