Province honors lifetime helper of the disabledA Canadian native who dedicated her entire life to helping sick and handicapped Koreans has become an honorary resident of Gangwon province.
Blue-eyed Seo Mi-hye (Margaret Jeanstory), 68, received a resident’s certificate at the Gangwon Province Residents’ Day event at Chuncheon Culture & Art Center on July 7.
“I feel honored to be a Gangwon province resident, but it makes me feel humble too,” Ms. Seo said.
Ms. Seo is now the head of a center for the disabled in Wonju, Gangwon province. She came to Korea for the first time in 1960 right after graduating from college in Manitoba in her native Canada.
Though initially serving in a Canadian missionary association, Ms. Seo soon decided that she wanted to make a bigger contribution to Korean society. In 1963, she returned to Canada to study nursing, and subsequently took up a position looking after tuberculosis patients at Kwangju Christian Hospital.
In 1974, Ms. Seo was invited to work at Wonju Christian Hospital, where she also began voluntary work helping people suffering from leprosy in nearby Gyeongcheonwon lepers’ village.
Another seven years on, and Ms. Seo discovered that a long-time acquaintance and leprosy patient had a daughter who was being denied schooling because she was physically handicapped. Ms. Seo decided to teach the girl herself. As word spread of Ms. Seo’s class, three more disabled people came forward asking to take part. Soon afterward, Ms. Seo advertised the lessons in a newspaper; such was the response, she established a rehabilitation school for the disabled in Wonju Christian Hospital. In 1985, she opened a workroom to help the students learn job skills, and built a dormitory for them in 1989.
“Thirty years ago people did not accept the disabled as equal citizens and it was even difficult to do voluntary work for them,” Ms. Seo said. “Now there are an increasing number of volunteers at the center for the disabled. I am very glad.” Ms. Seo received a master’s degree in nursing from Yonsei University in 1974 and a doctor of science in 1984. She worked as a nursing professor from 1988 through 2004 at Yonsei University.
by Lee Chan-ho